Walk around the locker rooms here at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., and to a man, the Chicago Cubs will tell you that they love the position that they are in. Absolutely no one unconnected with the team believes they have a snowballs chance on a hot Chicago summer day of having a successful season.
However, this new edition of the Cubs really and truly believes that they have a team that can stun the baseball pundits because they are playing for each other. Gone are the distractions of the past few years from Carlos Zambrano to some of the bloated contracts that belonged to underperforming players who have now moved on to other teams.
Players who were "me-first" guys like Aramis Ramirez are no longer on the roster and while he takes with him a productive bat, he also takes with him an attitude of lazy play that would never be tolerated by the new administration.
We have a great group of guys in here that are all pulling on the same end of the rope," Reed Johnson told me this morning before workouts began. "We dont have a team that can wait on three-run home runs to happen so that means that we have to do the little things correctly to win baseball games."
Starter Ryan Dempster is looking to help lead a starting rotation that has greatly improved depth from a year ago despite a lack of impact, arms except for Matt Garza.
We know that we have those that doubt what we can accomplish but everyone is really trying hard to impress the new bosses and I really like the makeup of the team we have here in camp, said Dempster.
Camp is full of interesting stories about guys who are looking to bounce back from subpar performances such as third baseman Ian Stewart, who comes over from Colorado after a brutal 2011 campaign.
David DeJesus had an injury-plagued season in Oakland but is now 100 percent and is going to open the season as the leadoff hitter and right fielder. He, too, senses something special in the air in Cubs camp.
I love the attitude I am seeing from everybody here. We are taking everything in that manager Dale Sveum is saying and it is all business with him. Guys are playing hard and I am going to do all I can in the leadoff spot to set the table for our run producers, DeJesus said.
Everyone in here came to win a championship, said second baseman Jeff Baker. "We really believe in each other in here and the attention to detail and the emphasis on playing the game the right way has been stressed by Dale and his staff since Day 1. It is up to us to execute and to get the job done."
While the question marks on this rebuilding team are many, there are some bright spots early in camp. The starting pitching depth being one and the play of some guys with a lot to prove -- such as Bryan LaHair -- being another.
Add in the newly bulked up Darwin Barney -- who gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle to help him handle the rigors of a long season -- and the improvement expected from star shortstop Starlin Castro and the optimism is somewhat understandable for an improved season over 2011 when the Cubs lost 91 games.
However, while improvement is one thing, making a run to the postseason is quite another. Johnson, though, believes the impossible is within the Cubs reach.
We are working very hard here in spring training," he said. "If we play up to our abilities, we know what we can accomplish. The attitude in here is great. That is what makes it so exciting to be a part of this team."