MESA, Ariz. -- First day of spring training, and the first stop had to be the Cubs.
After all, it was on reporting day last year that Lou Piniella revealed that he spent the winter reading motivational books, and that the sting of two straight three-games-and-out playoff failures still lingered in the organization. How would Piniella react now, after a 2009 season in which the Cubs went no-games-and-already-out of the playoffs?
Turns out 83-78 doesn't linger like a flop in October. Turns out Piniella already has a positive spin on 2009 ("We finished second in the division with a lot of things not going right") and that he has a forward-looking message for 2010.
"Let's get back on top," he said. "I like our baseball team."
There does seem to be an optimism around the Cubs, even after a winter where the big move was getting rid of Milton Bradley. Or maybe that's why they're optimistic.
Actually, I think some of it has to do with the new owners, because by all accounts the Ricketts family have made a terrific first impression with Cubs people.
"They're going to be like the O'Malley's," general manager Jim Hendry predicted. "I think they'll own the club for decades. They really care about running a first-class organization."
It seems reasonable to expect that the Cubs could be major players in the July trade market (last year, they could only make revenue-neutral deals), and maybe on next winter's free-agent market as well. It's worth remembering that while the Cubs could only afford minor moves last July, the rival Cardinals were getting Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa.
It's also worth remembering that as late as Aug. 7, the Cubs and Cardinals were tied for first place.
With the new ownership, there's no doubt pressure on the Cubs to make something happen this year. Piniella is in the last year of his contract. Hendry has two more years left after this one, but after spending $845 million to buy the Cubs, it's not like the cost of eating a contract would stop the new owners from making a change if they wanted to do so.
There's no indication so far that they do, and Hendry said the need to impress the new bosses doesn't affect him.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself every year," he said. "I'm going to be the same guy."
So can the Cubs "get back on top"?
Sure, if you assume that Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and others can bounce back from disappointing/injury-affected seasons. Sure, if Ted Lilly really is back from offseason surgery by May 1 or even by April 15, as Piniella said today he might be.
The point today was more that the Cubs seem to have normal spring optimism, that 2009 doesn't seem to have lingered into 2010 the way 2008 lingered into 2009.
Piniella on reporting day 2008: "I felt like I was run over by a Mack truck, I'll be honest."
Piniella on reporting day 2009: "We're ready to compete again this year."
And now, spring training can begin.