Spring Training, of course, is the time when regulars prepare for the coming season, and those on the edge fight for the remaining jobs with the major league club or, in the case of the Cubs, whether a player will get set down to their Triple-A minor league team in Iowa.
But it's also a reasonably light-hearted time. And that was the foundation of the tit-for-tat pranks that were played between Tommy La Stella -- a veteran player, though a back-up for most of his career (and one, who a couple years ago, was in fact sent down to Iowa for a few weeks, much to his disappointment, to the degree that he temporarily retired...though it didn't hold, and he returned, and eventually made it back up to the major league club) -- and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. To be clear, that's formidable opposition, given that Epstein is the team president and Hoyer the General Manger.
The prank wars began mildly enough when La Stella not only parked in Epstein's spot, he parked in a way that took up both both Epstein and Hoyer's spots. They retaliated the next day by taking his uniform from his locker, which forced him to wear a polo shirt and khakis at practice all day. Still, mild stuff.
The day after, Epstein and Hoyer came to the park to find that their spaces had again been appropriated. This time, though, not by La Stella's car, but rather a "bounce house" that he had ordered set up in the lot.
And that left it up to the two team executives. And together they put together their plan. A video that would play during an upcoming game.
It required the participation of Anthony Rizzo, the team's leader, who did the narration. And throughout the film there are clips of La Stella answering questions about himself. But it's important to know that those weren't done for the video, but actually they were outtakes from a 2015 promo that the team did. Clips that had never been used, and were just sort of off-beat. So, La Stella had no idea.
Throughout the day, before the game, Rizzo kept going up to La Stella, setting the table, and preparing things beforehand. "Tommy's a perfect candidate to be able to take something like that," Rizzo said. "All day I was telling him that I loved him and 'Tommy, I want you to know I love you and you're a good friend.' I'm buttering him up."
And then at the end of the third inning, La Stella came to the plate and line out into a double-play, ending the evening. As he walked back to the dugout, he passed Rizzo who was next at bat. "He lined out and I'm on deck," Rizzo explained, knowing what was coming in a few seconds, "and I said, 'Hey, this is the reason I've been telling you this all day.'"
And this is the video they ran on the big Jumbotron scoreboard before the fourth inning, for the entire packed stadium to see --
And knowing that this was his bosses, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who were behind the prank, the culmination of a Spring-long prank war that had been ratcheting up -- what was his reaction when La Stella saw that the video board had begun displaying his entire phone number.
"Panic," he said.
The video asks La Stella to nod if he was OK with a truce, and he did.
"That was beautifully done," La Stella said. "It might truly be a touche moment for the time being. That was awesome. I'm glad they chose me."