PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Cubs are one week into their Cactus League schedule. In less than four weeks, they’ll be opening the 2020 season in Milwaukee.
Friday’s matchup vs. the Padres at Peoria Stadium marked the fourth game in the dugout for first-year manager David Ross. After missing Chicago’s first three spring contests with a flu-like illness, the former catcher is now learning what it’s like to watch Cactus League games as a skipper.
His main takeaway? It’s not quite the same as the last three years, when Ross was in a front-office role.
“Front office, I was checked out. I was just like, ‘What’s up, boys? Where are we going to dinner tonight?’” Ross joked.
It’s not the same as when Ross was a player, either. For most players who are going to make the Opening Day roster, Spring Training games are about getting your work in and leaving early.
“When you’re a player, Anthony Rizzo's not watching the game right now, he’s getting his at-bats and taking it to the house,” Ross said.
Now, Ross plays a key role in deciding who will make the team out of Spring Training. He also needs to evaluate every player in all facets of the game, as the 26-man active roster will have moving pieces throughout the season as players go up and down between the Majors and Minors.
For Ross, this isn’t difficult. He said he’s been watching regular-season games in this mode for years.
“I’m the manager now, so every detail matters,” Ross said. “Every guy’s at-bat, whether how I’m looking at it and if they’ve got a chance to make this team, I’m watching it and how they act, how they run the bases, how they carry themselves when they come in the dugout.
“Skill set’s one thing on the field, but there’s also a component of, does he get along with his teammates? Is he in the training room every day? Is he in the weight room? Is he a hard worker? Does he keep his head down and is he a rookie that comes to work and does his work? Is he too loud in the clubhouse? Is he annoying? Is he not? All that stuff matters.”
Next week, Ross said key Cubs players will begin to appear in back-to-back games, marking the next step in ramping up activity ahead of the season. He’ll continue to balance playing time and days off based on players’ health and the amount of Cactus League action they’ve gotten so far, all new responsibilities for the manager.
However, Ross said that also won’t be challenging due to the large number of veteran players he has on his roster who know how they best prepare for the year. And although those with experience will be ready to go and eager for the season to start, Ross knows the importance of timing throughout spring.
“We have a tendency to be like, ‘We want it all now.’ Especially as a new manager, I do feel that from time to time,” Ross said. “The key is to get to the last week and to be building toward the season.”