Sveum's first camp gets high praise

MESA, Ariz. -- So far so good on the Dale Sveum era, as everybody from upper management to the players have lauded the spring training camp put together by the new Cubs manager.

It’s only spring training of course, but if first impressions are important, and if sticking to your word matters, then Sveum has started his Cubs tenure on the right track.

It was in the middle of camp when general manager Jed Hoyer admitted that part of what sold everybody on Sveum was that spring training set the tone, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Players worked longer this spring, they were required to pay attention to detail instead of just going through the motions and everything was done on precision timing that left little downtime.

“A lot less games on the iPad this year, that’s for sure; it was good,” second baseman Darwin Barney said. “We all were pretty happy about the pace. You were tired a lot, but it wasn’t bad. Everyone was excited. You have guys like [Alfonso] Soriano who were jumping around from station to station and running hard. He’s really a leader in that way where guys like him show us how to play the game and it shows you everyone is on the same page.”

Like Hoyer, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was impressed with Sveum’s spring training vision and was even more thrilled to see it play out over six-plus weeks in the desert.

“He prepared quite well, and I think that was clear to all the players that things were well organized from the beginning and there was an emphasis on hard work, preparation, attention to detail,” Epstein said. “Dale and the staff deserve a lot of credit for that. That said, I think the players deserve a lot of credit because there was a willing and captive audience.”

Consider Blake DeWitt a believer in Camp Sveum. Knocked off the 40-man roster before spring began, the military efficiency of this spring training didn’t allow him to dwell on the fact that lack of results would have left him on the outside looking in.

“You can tell from Day 1 that guys were locked in,” DeWitt said. “Sometimes toward the end of camp guys are ready for it to end and the attention is not there. But that hasn’t been the case this year. For whatever reason guys are locked in and the focus is getting ready for the season.”

Sveum said he wasn’t trying to change the Cubs culture. He didn’t know what it was like before other than he knows the team hasn’t won the World Series in a good long while. He was just trying to implement the best parts of the camps he had witnessed from his days as a player and coach.

It isn’t much different than other camps around baseball, but his emphasis was on getting the timing down on all fields so that people weren’t standing around waiting to get to their next drill. And then to alleviate the monotony he introduced the 64-player bunt tournament that was mostly conducted on the players’ own time after that day’s work had been completed. It was won by David DeJesus.

“I just wanted to bring in my two cents and get people to do things the way I expect them to do it and how I expect them to play the game and everybody had a great spring that way,” Sveum said. “Guys played hard and worked hard, so I can’t ask anything else of how we have played the game and have gone about our business.”

Now comes the part of maintaining that focus and keeping everybody interested in the hard work when things like losing streaks can wreak havoc with desire and focus.

“There has been an incredible amount of hard work put in by Dale and the coaching staff and most importantly the players to put ourselves in position to go out there and compete and win,” Epstein said. “There is a significant amount of talent here. That said, it’s a very competitive landscape, and we’re going to have to have a lot of things go our way.

“We’re going to have to earn a lot of victories in close games to put us in position where we look up in the middle of the year and we’re in this thing. Nothing will be given to us.”

As of now, it’s hard to find somebody predicting better than a .500 season for these Cubs, so yes, a lot of things will have to go the team’s way.

“If you listen to the prognosticators, if you look at it on paper it’s probably an uphill battle,” Epstein said. “That doesn’t mean we’re giving anything away. The goal here is to get to the playoffs and win the World Series and you start off on equal footing. We’ll make our own way this season.”