Chicago Cubs, White Sox spring training underway in Arizona

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image wls"><span>WLS</span></div><span class="caption-text">Spring training for the Chicago Cubs got underway in Mesa, Arizona this week.</span></div>
Spring training for the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs got underway in Arizona this week.

CHAMPION CUBS GET STARTED WITH FANFARE, BIG EXPECTATIONS

Back home in Las Vegas this winter, Kris Byrant finally understood just how much the Cubs championship meant far beyond the Windy City.

He felt the constant love from fans just by seeing people in the streets wearing Chicago gear. Or when many recognized him and offered congratulations for his huge part in the franchise's first title in 108 years.

He's hard to miss at 6-foot-5, too.

"I didn't really realize how many fans we had around the country and I really got a sense of that this year," Bryant said Wednesday, when the World Series champs held their first pitchers and catchers workout of spring. "It was kind of hard to even go places in my hometown. I was just seeing Cubs hats everywhere driving my car down the road or guys running in a Cubs hat. I'm like, 'This is crazy.' It really shows what we did, and it's something that we can be proud of."

Jake Arrieta gets it. He experienced the same thing, and he can't always hide behind his signature bushy brown beard.

"Kris can't go anywhere without getting recognized," Arrieta quipped. "He's got beautiful hair and being 6-foot-6 it's a little hard to stay hidden for him. But the beard for me kind of gives me away. I was able to fly under the radar for a couple weeks without facial hair but it came back pretty quickly."

Now that this group has its banners and baseball's bragging rights until a new winner is crowned next fall, the Cubs want to do it again. Keep flying that W in Wrigleyville.

No doubt the fanfare has reached the Arizona desert, where the Cubs were a main attraction in Mesa when they formally began 2017.

Around Sloan Park and the club's adjacent training complex, there are signs of winning: Large decorative baseballs declaring "2016 World Series Champions" and banners hanging from light posts that read "2016 World Champs."

Manager Joe Maddon has a firm but good-natured message. He is encouraging the Cubs to stay "uncomfortable," to keep pushing. He absolutely believes the "psychological crap" he speaks of matters greatly.

"The hangover component, I already started talking about it today not using the word hangover, but just addressing the method by which we're going to be able to get back there and do it again," Maddon said. "It's important that we, staff, manager, deliver the message but then the peer group delivers the message also that we don't stand or put up with anything less than that same kind of attitude that got us there. Having said all that, one of the main components of us getting there is we have fun here, and I want us to continue to have fun."

Bryant has repeatedly re-watched the jaw-dropping 8-7, 10-inning Game 7 win against Cleveland and also a film on the Cubs ending their drought at long last.

"Oh, yeah. I'll be watching that for the rest of my life," he said. "Going through what we did last year and winning the whole thing it just makes you want to go through it all over again. Playing in the Game 7, that's the most stressful game you can probably play in in sports. I think all our nerves heading into this year are pretty calm that we played in one of the most stressful games in the history of this game. I think we'll be fine."

Arrieta's spring start was immediately a success.

"I'm glad to have the blood test done. I didn't pass out this year, which was nice," the ace right-hander said.

He loves the energy surrounding the team from every angle.

"You get the goosebumps and the positive nervous anxiety to start another year," Arrieta said. "The appreciation from the fans all across the country continues to pour in and that's a really good feeling. There's support in California to Florida, where I'm at in Texas. I'll randomly get, people will walk up and I'll get a pat on the back from lifelong Cubs fans or people that just had an appreciation for what we were able to do and just like to come up and say hello. It feels great to say you're a world champion, but to be able to try and repeat and do it all again would be a little bit more special for us."

And Bryant is clear about one thing as a new season begins:

"It's still like a World Series tour," he said. "We've got to turn the page."

JOSE QUINTANA IS ACE OF THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX - FOR NOW

With Chicago rebuilding, the 28-year-old All-Star left-hander knows he could be traded.

"You never know what's going to happen, but I heard a lot of rumors," he said Wednesday. "You don't have control over that. I just kept doing my preparation for the new season, and that's about it."

Chicago dealt ace Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton during the offseason for prospects. General manager Rick Hahn said that while trade talks may continue, his focus is on the season. He is encouraging Chicago players to concentrate on the present.

"When they're here, they can focus on doing their job regardless of whatever uniform they're wearing, and block out any distractions," Hahn said.

Santana is 46-46 with a 3.41 ERA since joining the White Sox in May 2012, a reflection of his lack of run support and bullpen help. Pitching without Sale as a teammate will take an adjustment.

"We'll miss this guy," Quintana said of Sale, now with Boston. "He is truly the best pitcher in the American League. I was surprised but I know that's part of the business, that happens. But the team, they think winning for the future, and we have good players now and we have a lot of talent, younger guys. I think we have a lot of chance to compete this year."

Quintana does know one team he'll be with, Colombia, which opens the World Baseball Classic against the United States on March 10.

"This year is my first time for my country," he said. "I'm excited for WBC. I prepared my season a little bit early this year."

Colombia, which qualified for the WBC for the first time in four tries, has a pitching staff that also includes Atlanta's Julio Teheran. White Sox pitchers Nate Jones and David Robertson are on the U.S.

"I said 'Nate, hey, we'll have the last hug before the tournament starts,'" Quintana recalled.
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