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Cubs have turned morning warm-ups into must-see event this spring

MESA, Ariz. – From mimes to guitar players to karate experts, the Chicago Cubs have made their morning warm-up routine a must-watch during spring training. But that’s not what their whole day is about. It's just a few minutes every morning to lighten the mood before work.

“That’s just the way we start the day,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. “We did it last year without nearly as much attention.”

Strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss is the architect of the daily routines, with Maddon’s blessing. Some days, Buss gathers the players around him as he “performs” for them, as he did with a mime on Tuesday. Or he’ll dress up as he did for St. Patrick’s Day, or he’ll simply razz a player for something that happened in the clubhouse or the game the day before.

“Everything is on the table,” pitcher Jason Hammel said.

“I’ve enjoyed them all because it’s so new to me,” newcomer Adam Warren said. “It’s just a great way to start the day, especially during stretch. That’s the most boring part of the day.”

An informal poll of players revealed that, as morning routines go, it’s hard to top Munenori Kawasaki signing karaoke while the team warmed up wearing headbands with inspirational Japanese sayings written on them.

“That was a good one,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “I like the mime too. They’re all fun.”

Last weekend, a karate expert broke a block of cement on Maddon’s chest with a sledgehammer. Then there was the time Maddon drove his 1960s-style van onto the practice field, only to have some of his coaching staff emerge wearing 60s costumes. Every day is something new.

“It has nothing to do with your work, except your work could be better because you get off to a good start,” Maddon said. “If people misinterpret it, honestly, that’s their fault.”

To some, the Cubs might seem to be having too much fun, but 10 minutes after the jocularity begins, it's over, and the day is like any other in the spring.

“Bring a mime in on Monday,” Hammel joked. “Mondays are the worst.”

Warren added: “We’re just setting the tone for the day so you’re not all business. We know when to get serious and focus on baseball.”

That, more than anything, is what Maddon is all about: balance. Just minutes before the mime walked out of the clubhouse Tuesday, Maddon had his hitters in the batting cage, and he was stressing what he expects at the plate when they are called upon to do the little things, such as getting a runner home from third with fewer than two outs. Then the mime appeared, and so did the laughter -- before the rest of the work day got going.

“I’m sure there are people out there that think we’re pretty weird,” Hammel said. “But we don’t care.”

Neither does Maddon, who wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I would never want to not do those things,” he said. “I’ve always been an advocate of the morning joke.”

Asked how Maddon -- and, by extension, Buss -- keeps coming up with outlandish routines and special guests, Hammel quipped: “Who knows what goes on in that tornado in his head?”