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MESA, Ariz. — Frank Schwindel took his swings in the batting cage Sunday morning, with players and coaches gathered around the cage. After a round of depositing balls in the outfield and hitting liners up the middle, he began taking them deep over the left field wall.
Nico Hoerner and David Ross stood together to the right side, chatting away as Schwindel continued to rotate in and out of of the cage. The Arizona sun sat high in the sky, right above the reporters and photographers gathered around the outer edge of the backstop. Meanwhile, a young fan could be heard on the other side of the right-field gate yelling “Frank” or “Nico” or “Willson,” likely hoping to nab some autographs from some favorite players.
Not that the Cubs could really hear that young fan. The conversations between players and coaches right in front of them were already drowned out by the crack of bats and the playlist of classic rock blaring out of the speakers behind home plate.
All of these sights, all of these sounds — this is spring training. This is baseball.
The mandatory reporting day was Sunday, and besides a few exceptions, every Cubs player had made it down to the team’s training complex at Sloan Park. Players were energized to be back playing baseball and preparing for the season with their clubs, something they couldn’t do during the lockout.
“It’s exciting,” Willson Contreras said. “Every time that we have to come to spring training is exciting for everybody, especially for me, being around this long. I’m just excited to be here with the guys.”
There were the familiar faces who showed up, including Contreras, Schwindel and Ian Happ. There were also some of those new faces who were picked up just before the lockout like Marcus Stroman and Clint Frazier.
There was even a surprise face on the field in Jesse Chavez, who rejoined the Cubs on Sunday morning after signing a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp (the type of deal was first reported by NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer).
“It’s been quick, easy, but like I didn’t leave,” said Chavez, who appeared in 32 games for the Cubs after being acquired from the Rangers on July 19, 2018. “We always keep in contact. I always keep in contact with the ones wherever I leave and it’s been a comfortable fit, and the good relationships that I’ve built throughout the teams that I’ve been on in the past. It’s like I didn’t leave.”
Nick Madrigal also met with reporters for the first time since making his first North Side appearance back in September. The presumed starting second baseman was all smiles on Sunday, claiming that he felt fully healed from the tear in his right hamstring that ended his season in June.
“I mean, it’s been over a month, month and a half now,” Madrigal said when asked how long he’d been full-go in his training. “It’s been a couple months since I’ve felt nervous about my leg at all. I feel like I’m at a point where I almost forget which leg it is, so it’s feeling great at this point.”
Like many other Cubs players, Madrigal had been in Arizona for a while, at first going to the training complex to rehab every day before the lockout and then finding different places in the area to train during it. He even connected with Hoerner throughout the lockout, finding a training partner in someone he’s known from playing baseball as far back as 12 years old and who might be manning the middle infield with him when the regular season starts.
“We were taking ground balls at a high school, Desert Vista High School, and getting some work in, getting familiar with each other again,” Madrigal said. “It’s exciting. We have that connection off the field, but it’s gonna be fun to get on the field and show people what we can do together.”
Following a long “offseason,” everyone is just ready to get back to playing baseball.
The lockout is over. Teams are down in their respective training sites. Chicago players are getting back into the swing of things with some teammates they might not have seen since last season, while also getting to know the new faces brought in by the front office.
Spring training is finally here, Cubs fans, and after this three-and-a-half week ramp-up, there will be baseball played at Wrigley Field.
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