MESA, Ariz. -- In January, Anthony Rizzo predicted the Cubs would win the National League Central. He's heard from his Cubs teammates since his statement.
"They were all wondering if I was going to say, 'What are we going to finish, in fourth place?'" Rizzo said Thursday. "Everyone's really excited and it's good. We're coming in here and we're preparing to win, and the biggest thing is to get everyone pulling for each other, become one unit, one team.
"We all have to pull for each other, from the first man to the 25th man," he said. "Everyone will be able to be a hero every single day on our team. When someone is in that position to succeed, we all have to be pulling for him."
Rizzo was one of the early arrivals. Thursday was report date for pitchers and catchers; position players don't have to be in Arizona until Tuesday.
"From the [Cubs Convention in January] to the first few days here, yes, everyone's more upbeat," Rizzo said. "Then again, it's the first few days of Spring Training and everyone all across the league is upbeat. The expectations are set at a higher bar this year and we're all excited for it."
Most of the pitchers and catchers beat Thursday's deadline to take advantage of the Cubs' one-year-old state-of-the-art complex. Jon Lester tuned up with a side session on Wednesday.
"Obviously, it's still early and he's just working on his stuff right now and trying to get his rhythm and tempo on the mound," said new Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who caught Lester on Wednesday. "He looks pretty good to me."
One of the perks of Spring Training is that fans are able to get up close to their favorite players. Imagine being able to catch one of your childhood heroes. That's what happened to Cael Brockmeyer, 23, a Connecticut native who grew up a Red Sox fan. One of the Cubs' catching prospects, Brockmeyer's first assignment was a side session with Lester.
Getting to camp early allowed Jake Arrieta, who was slowed by a tender right shoulder last spring, to continue his offseason training program. He also can get the ping pong table set up. The good news for the Cubs is that Arrieta says he's ahead of last year as far as throwing.
Maddon, who will meet with the players on Friday, does have some deep Cubs connections. In his Tampa, Fla., backyard, Maddon has the sign from "Derby Lane," a dog track that former Cubs manager Don Zimmer liked to visit. Zimmer, who managed the Cubs from 1988-91, was on Maddon's Tampa Bay coaching staff from 2004-14 and an inspiration. Zimmer died in June 2014.
On Sunday, Maddon tweeted a photo of the sign and wrote: "Zim sign pointing to Arizona ... will carry his spirit and teachings with me!"
Many of the players and coaches escaped the severe cold in the north early to take advantage of the perfect Arizona weather. The forecast for Mesa called for sunshine and 80 degrees on Thursday and Friday.
"It's exciting," Montero said of the beginning of Spring Training. "Now [before camp starts], you don't have a routine, and you want to start getting into a routine. It's always fun to have something to do every day instead of looking at the roof and saying, 'What am I going to do today?'"