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Rockies working to improve focus from last season

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Many of the players in Rockies camp have been wearing purple undershirts with a slogan that, in PG-13 language, urges the team to defeat the opponent, not itself.

Veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who was responsible for the motivational fashion statement, said the Rockies beat the Rockies way too often last season en route to 98 losses.

"For our team, it's focus," Cuddyer said. "Being a youthful team you get caught up in the game and you get caught up in what you have to do specifically and lose focus of the big picture. Whether it's because an inning has gone on too long and now a ball is hit to you and you're not honed in enough and you make the error, or you're a young player on the basepaths and you don't want to make that mistake and get thrown out so you're a little more passive. On the pitching side of things, you don't want to give up the three-run home run, so you end up walking guys and walking a guy in.

"What I saw, even from myself, is that lack of focus at times. A lot of it is a byproduct of the rate of the game and how our games are played sometimes. The more we can home in, the better off we can be."

Toward that end, Sunday began a month and a half of drills, coaching and exhibition games to help develop the concentration level needed for the 162-game season. However, this is not necessarily an advantage.

There isn't a team that doesn't do the same. No manager or staff has ever started Spring Training by announcing it would de-emphasize fundamentals, neglect conditioning or discourage intensity.

New manager Walt Weiss isn't going to reinvent baseball, whether he came to the job from decades of experience in a Major League dugout (which he did) or fresh from a season as head coach at Regis Jesuit High School (which he also did). Like the managers he played for -- Tony La Russa, Rene Lachemann, Don Baylor and Bobby Cox -- Weiss will spend the spring teaching, but he can't determine success for his students.

"Ultimately, that's just an inside job -- that's up to the player," Weiss said. "We're going to talk about it, create an awareness about focus and intensity and those type of things. The season is a grind, we all know. Individually you need to figure out what puts that chip on your shoulder as a player.

"When it's Tuesday in June and you're running out there, you've got to have something that gets you motivated to compete. I think it does for most of these guys. But it is a grind. If we can show up like that collectively, those things will take care of themselves."

Cuddyer said what the Rockies staff says and the daily drills aren't as important as the players' willingness to concentrate and let those points become ingrained. Last year, he said, should motivate the Rockies to do just that.

"When you're a team that needed those issues addressed like we did, it should be talked about," Cuddyer said. "We don't want to harp on last year. By no means was that a good feeling. At the same time you need to look at why those things happened the way they did. You need to address those things. In our case, we need to clean up a lot of things.

"That can be ironed out by continuing to go through your drills and go through your practices and bullpens and infield and outfield with the focus and the intent of cleaning it up."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.