Lester all in when it comes to Maddon's vibe
Veteran has come full circle since seeing quirks as an opponent
MESA, Ariz. -- Jonathan Lester used to scratch his head sometimes as he watched Joe Maddon from the other dugout when the two faced each other in the American League East for the Red Sox and Rays, respectively. Now, Lester is making suggestions for Cubs' dress-up days as he enters his fourth season under Maddon.
Lester, 34, who threw three innings against some Cubs Minor Leaguers early Saturday in his final tuneup for Opening Day, compared the Cubs' manager to former teammate John Lackey, who also is unique.
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"You play against [Lackey] and guys don't like him," Lester said of his buddy. "[When Lackey] is on your team and guys play with him, he's the best teammate you'll have. It's the same thing as Joe. You look across the way -- especially when you're in the same division. I feel it would've been a different perception if I was in the West and played him twice a year and don't see the whole deal.
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"Coming from an organization like Boston, where everything is prim and proper, you take [batting practice] every day -- you look across the way and say, 'We couldn't get away with that here. It's a different view -- maybe you're a little jealous sometimes. You don't want to take BP, and you are. You don't understand the full concept of what he brings.
"Now when [Maddon] is on your side and you see it day in and day out, and you understand why he does it -- for me, it's made things so much easier. There's not the grind of shagging every day. Our travel is pretty easy here in the Central, and he makes traveling fun."
That means dressing up in onesies, which the Cubs have done, including a memorable trip in August 2015 from Los Angeles to Chicago after Jacob Arrieta threw his first career no-hitter.
"I'm not a onesie guy -- I get too hot," Lester said. "That was a great pajama deal. The onesie thing was great. It breaks up the monotony. It's a long season. You see [your teammates] every day. To break that up and have fun with it, I think is overlooked. Some might look at it as bush league or Little League. I never thought I'd get into it, but it's actually a cool thing. The team gets into it. It's a bonding deal."
Maddon meets every year with players he calls the "lead bulls" to discuss ideas to break up the grind. Lester even made a suggestion for the 2018 season, but refused to give any info. We'll have to stay tuned.
This spring has been somewhat tame compared to when Maddon first joined the Cubs. There have been no bear cubs, no reggae bands, no mimes, just infielder Thomas La Stella's prank war with the front office. Tyler Chatwood was trying to warm up for the fourth inning on Friday and watch a video at Sloan Park that the Cubs' brass put out poking fun at La Stella and calling for a truce to the spring's shenanigans. La Stella's adventures began when he parked in spots reserved for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
"It's the front office [joining in] and it's not the players doing it to another player -- that's what makes this organization unique is the relationship," Lester said. "I'm sure everybody's had bosses who say they have an open-door policy but when you want to talk to them, the door is closed."
Maddon agreed that it's a unique situation.
"By the same token, the players know who's in charge," Maddon said. "We all know who's in charge. You don't mess with that. There's still that line. There's also this ability to blur the line a little bit when it comes to comedy, interaction. It's all in good nature."
On Saturday, Maddon met with the lead bulls to talk about the season and raved about how relaxed the session was. Lester complimented Maddon for communicating with the players.
"All we have to worry about," Lester said, "is showing up and playing."