MESA, Arizona — When I arrived in Mesa a little before 10 a.m. Monday, there were probably 300 people at Field 1 watching... nothing. There was no activity on the field; players were just loosening up near the team workout center.
Then I headed over to the back fields to watch batting practice and the parking lot was nearly full and there was actual traffic, a little bit of a backup when I left, and you never see this, not for practice/workout sessions, anyway.
Is this the way it’s going to be for the defending World Series champions all year? Maybe, but I finally figured out the reason for the huge crowds that included a lot of kids: a federal holiday when a lot of people are off work and schools are closed. It was obvious that a lot of locals took advantage of a sunny (though cool, about 60 degrees) morning after a rainy weekend to come out and watch some baseball.
These are by far the biggest crowds I have seen at any Cubs practice session, probably ever. It’s the fourth year at Sloan Park and though crowds for BP were large last year, they have probably doubled in size this year. And they were never this big at Fitch Park.
Lots of kids were hoping to get autographs, and Ben Zobrist, for one, obliged. Zobrist is known for being very kid-friendly and though it might seem as if the team is only out there for an hour or so hitting baseballs, that’s certainly not all of their day. They arrive as early as 8 a.m. for stretching and meetings, and have other work they do in the batting cages after public BP is over. I have no doubt these guys are putting in full days of work regardless of what we see publicly.
Tuesday will be team photo day, and for that players have to arrive as early as 7 a.m. Last year the photographers took some artsy photos at sunrise; I hope to have some more interesting poses to show you in a day or so.
If you are in the Phoenix area this week, you can attend a rally the Cubs and the city of Mesa are hosting at Sloan Park on Friday. Gates will open at 11 a.m. and the rally starts at 12. Speakers will include Mesa Mayor John Giles, Cubs manager Joe Maddon and several Cubs players. There will also be an opportunity to take photos with the 2016 World Series Trophy. Gates will open at 10 a.m. I am told there will be 1,000 wristbands for the trophy photo opportunity, so get there early!
Here are seven short videos I took Monday of various players taking live BP. Yes, there are two of Kris Bryant. And why not? He is, after all, the reigning N.L. MVP. It’s also worth taking a close look at the third video, of Jason Heyward, to look at his new batting stance. To me, he looks somewhat like Anthony Rizzo at the plate. If he can have the success Rizzo does... the Cubs will be in great shape offensively.