‘He knows how to keep it light.’ As Joe Maddon prepares to return to Mesa to face the Cubs, his Angels players are buying in to his blend of work and fun.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Some of the workout equipment resides in a tent behind the right-field fence.

A batter practices bunting off a machine from close distance with a door-sized backstop in the right-field corner.

Slogans, once printed on T-shirts, now are painted on a clubhouse wall.

Welcome to Joe Maddon’s new spring training home with the Angels. And his present and past associates couldn’t be happier that the former Cubs manager has returned to his baseball roots.

“This was home for him for a long time,” said second baseman Tommy La Stella, who went from the Cubs to the Angels one year ahead of Maddon. “He’s back home and around all the familiar faces, and now he’s bringing back the alumni. I know he was really looking forward to that. I see him enjoying it.”

Maddon, 66, is scheduled to return Monday with the Angels to Sloan Park in Mesa, the Cubs’ spring training home, where his knack for orchestrating work and fun was on display the last five springs.

While embracing the changes under Maddon’s successor, David Ross, several Cubs players said they’re looking forward to Maddon’s return to Mesa.

“Coming into camp, you knew things were going to be different,” left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. “It’s part of the game. It’s going to be nice to have (Maddon) over here and see everyone again.”

Some Cubs supporters couldn’t wait until Monday to see Maddon. John and Laurie Rizzo, the parents of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, watched their son play Friday night in Peoria against the Padres before traveling to Scottsdale to watch Maddon’s Angels face the Giants on Saturday.

Accompanying Maddon to the Angels were former Cubs coaches Brian Butterfield and John Mallee (after a two-year stint with the Phillies) and popular conditioning coach Tim Buss, who was named quality assurance coach.

Buss brought the same humor he displayed during spring training workouts with the Cubs during his five seasons with Maddon.

“He’s hilarious,” Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “He brings the light energy every day. If you’re not in a good mood, he’ll do his absolute best to change that. He’s a character.”

But while Maddon still is keeping things light, followers have observed he is intent on making the Angels competitive again. He employs many of the methods he learned coming up through the Angels system from Preston Gomez, Marcel Lachemann and Bob Clear, whose replica jersey he wore during one spring training workout.

“He had a big impact on a lot of the people here for a long time,” La Stella said, “so him coming back here, as much as it was a big deal for him, it was a big deal for a lot of people who have been here.”

Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove winner, likes the culture Maddon brought that trickles down to coaches such as Butterfield, who coached Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter in the Yankees organization.

“He’s business, but at the same time, he incorporates a little laughter in there,” Simmons said. “Sometimes you’re taking him very seriously, and he’ll start talking about something and (you’re) wondering, ‘What is he talking about?’

“Then you realize he’s messing around. He can be very business-oriented, but he knows how to keep it light. That’s the vibe they’ve brought — go to work but have fun.”

Cubs infielder David Bote appreciated the way Maddon defended his players. Bote said the Angels were a good landing spot for Maddon.

At the same time, Bote and other players viewed the transition to Ross as seamless because of the attachment to the players Ross and his coaches have.

“They’re so invested in us and have shown as much passion for us as (Maddon) did,” Bote said. “It’s cool because (President) Theo Epstein and (general manager) Jed Hoyer are hiring guys who care.

“It makes that transition seamless because they show they care. You can trust them. That’s the most important thing, that trust and their intentions are with us in mind, and vice versa.”


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