Cubs hungry, but not thinking World Series yet

Amid high expectations, players focus on next game

Cubs hungry, but not thinking World Series yet

ANAHEIM -- The goal this spring for the Cubs was to be well and ready. Manager Joe Maddon said Sunday he definitely feels the players are ready.

The players share that vibe. They presented Maddon Sunday with two bottles of wine before Monday night's regular-season opener.

"Apparently, there's one that says 'Embrace the target' on [the label]," Maddon said of the gift, which celebrates his motto this season. "We'll open it at the appropriate time. It's very cool that they would do something like that."

After winning 97 games last season and reaching the National League Championship Series, the Cubs head into the season with plenty of expectations. Ben Zobrist, who won a World Series championship last year with the Royals, said he's more impressed with his Cubs now than the first day he walked in the door.

Zobrist's diving stop

"These guys think like champions," Zobrist said. "You have to think like that first and then execute it on the field. This team definitely has what it takes. It will come down to executing on the field."

Which is the same message Jason Heyward has for the players.

"Here in Chicago, the only difference is everybody's hungry," Heyward said. "The fans are hungry. They're excited. They have a good team on the field, but we all understand as players that it can look good on paper, but you have to go play the game and put the work in."

Don't think the Cubs are making plans for October yet.

Heyward's two-run homer

"We're really hungry -- we're a hungry team and ready to get going," Anthony Rizzo said. "Anyone in this clubhouse thinking about the World Series right now, they're in the wrong spot. We need to think about tomorrow and win tomorrow and think about dominating in April and every day in April and keep taking small steps."

Zobrist didn't want to compare the vibe in Cubs camp compared to what happened last year in Royals camp.

"What happened in Kansas City was special," Zobrist said. "If we're able to win this year, that's going to be special in its own way. Right now, we're at day zero. We're just focused on one day at a time. Everybody knows what's ahead of us and what's expected of us. We're not thinking down the road."

Maddon is well aware of the generations of Cubs fans who have been waiting to see the team reach the World Series.

"Why would you want to go to where there's 10,000 strong in the ballpark where you're predicted to finish last? I've been there -- it's no fun," Maddon said. "I'd much rather a raucous crazy ballpark, great fan base and try to live up to those [expectations], not just because you're trying to satisfy anybody's urges, but it's because Major League players are professional and your goal is to win and that's what you want to do. If your motivation comes from the outside in, it's not going to work. The motivation has to come from within."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.