Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Good-bye Fitch

Today was the final day of practice at Fitch Park before moving up the street to Hohokam Stadium, where tomorrow the Cubs will hold a scrimmage game at noon. It's one of my favorite games of the spring because it's all Cubs with no pa announcments, no advertising, probably no music, a real low key affair. Just baseball!

At Fitch Park the Cubs rotate between the 4 diamonds in groups while taking bp. I've been keeping an eye on a group that includes Ronny Cedeno, Aramis Ramirez, Todd Walker, Henry Blanco and D-Lee. I don't know if Cedeno had eaten Wheaties, spinach, or was just plain swinging from his heals, but he put on a power display that had his group shaking their heads. Cedeno wasn't just hitting it over the fence, he was pounding rocket shots, several in the 400+ ft range. Maybe he was just in a groove or maybe it's a sign that the 6' 180 lb. shortstop has major league power potential, in 65 games at AAA Iowa last season his slugging percentage was .518. At any rate it was fun to watch.

Yesterday I mentioned the casual nature of spring training, well today that relaxed environment almost brought an end to non-roster invitee Michael Restovich's camp. Restovich was talking to a fan threw the chain-link fence in center field with his back to home plate when Jacque Jones hit a long fly ball that almost nailed Restovich- literally missing him by inches. Heads Up!!

As Mark Prior(see pic) walked from one field to another during practice at Fitch he stopped and signed autographs for a minute before continuing on. You don't see that very often during practice, the players usually wait until after they finish for the day.

Another beautiful day, partly cloudy just about perfect. It hasn't rained here in about 140 days but they are calling for "sprinkles" tonight...watch out!

~More tomorrow~

Prior takes a minute to sign.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Spring Thing

View my photos from today

Another beautiful sunny AZ day.

As I was walking into Fitch Park I heard one fan say to another: "Won't it be great when we come here next spring, and the Cubs are World Champions!" The guy looked at him quizzically and said "Okay?... " then with a measured pause relents and says "Ya, it sure will...why not, the White Sox did it and so did the Red Sox, anything's possible." The First guy then says "My Mother is 87 years old, and been waiting all her life for the Cubs to win it" to which the 2nd guy replied "yeah, she's due."

To me, that conversation is part of what makes spring training unique, eternal optimism or perhaps delusions, that and the absence of harsh realities like being 10 games out in mid-May.

Ron Santo(see pic) made it out to Fitch Park today. Ron and Ryne Sandberg hung out behind the batting cages for a while comparing notes on this year's club.

Certainly the players feel more relaxed during spring with no pressures of a pennant race...yet. Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre were seen singing and grooving around the batting cage today.

And only in spring training can you see a fan leaning against the outfield fence talking to a player during practice while the player shags fly balls, for the better part of 15 minutes. In this case the player was Neifi Perez who never met a conversation in any language he couldnt get involved in. Neifi said among other things, he likes the additions of Juan Pierre, and Jacque Jones. Jones has some serious pop in his bat. Neifi also said Ronnie Cedeno has major league skills and that he occasionally gives the kid some advice.

After a day like today I am almost inclined to believe those fans, that "anything's possible" and the Cubs will be "World Champions". One thing is certain, his 87 year old mother is "due".

Ryno and Ron at Fitch today.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

80 degrees and Sunshine

View my photos from today

I'm testing out this flickr photo site, so click the link above, and see my photos from today at Fitch Park. Photos of Zambrano, Walker, Cedeno, Billy Williams, Pie, Grissom, and Pierre.

At the conclusion of the morning practice Kerry Wood threw 10 pitches off the mound. The Cubs are taking the cautious approach with Wood's rehab, and according to Wood and Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild today's session went well.

Cubs minor league outfielder Felix Pie who has all the tools to make it big in the majors looks much stronger this spring. The just turned 21 year old has gained a few pounds and is starting to fill out his 6'2" frame. Look for Pie to start out this season in AAA.

Fan favorite Augie Ojeda is back for another go-round with the Cubs as a non-roster invitee. And yes, today I heard a teammate utter the words "Augie, Doggie!"

Z-Man today, click link at top 4 more!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Eye on Prior

With all the Mark Prior (see pic) Hubbub, today I thought I'd keep a close eye on the big hurler. It wasn't his day to throw, so I followed him through the usual spring drills. He doesn't look weak to me, maybe a couple pounds lighter and was throwing fine to the different bases in all the drills. He never put alot of mustard on his throws like some other pitchers, but that doesn't tell us squat. I'll have to wait until tomorrow, when he's scheduled to do live pitching, for some real Prior news.

Fitch Park is not quite as fan friendly this spring, as the Cubs or the City of Mesa (?) have added extra tarps on the fences around home plate, limiting the fan's view of the 4 fields to the small bleacher areas. They have also moved their barriers in, cutting off any access to the outfield areas where fans previously could stand and watch through the fence. I'll try to get to the bottom of this knot-hole reduction plan.

Watching pitchers field grounders over and over again can be a little ho-hum- but not when Greg Maddux is putting his glove to work. In this particular drill, the pitchers were coming up to field bunts bare-handed or with their glove and then tossing home. Maddux repeatedly scooped the ball, tossing it from his glove accurately to home plate all in same motion, never using his throwing arm. This prompted a fellow pitcher to ask him; "do you have a special glove for that?".

Mark Prior participating in drills today at Fitch Park

~More tomorrow~

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Need for Speed

Journalists, bloggers, and Cubs fans worldwide are preoccupied with Mark Prior's health issues. So, I will avoid that topic completely until I can get some concrete evidence one way or the other.

One thing I noticed at Fitch Park so far this spring, the Cubs seem to be doing more running and conditioning drills than past years. This team will definitely have more speed than recent clubs with outfielders Juan Pierre (see pic), Jacque Jones(see pic), and shortstop Ronny Cedeno. My guess is Juan Pierre's value to this team will be greater than expected, provided he brings his batting average back to the .300 range. The long-striding Pierre had a career low .276 batting average last year, but his 57 stolen bases were the 2nd best of his 6 year career. He will put alot of pressure on opponents early with that base stealing ability-something the Cubs can sure use.

Many Cubs fans were not pleased with GM Hendry's acquisition of Jacque Jones (see pic), but given his age, playoff experience, and speed compared to Jeromy Burnitz, he's still an upgrade. Jones came in early to camp, and has been all smiles. He already has developed a good rapport with his teammates and manager. Recent Cubs teams have had a significant amount of HR power, but still lacked the ability to score runs. All things considered, this group gives the team a nice blend of power and speed. Pitching, chemistry, and intangibles remain to be seen.


Pierre and Jones cruise through today's drills

Thursday, February 16, 2006

And It Begins!

02/16/06 Restovich Talking to the Lumber
02/16/06 Hairston stretchs/Jacque Jones in cage

It's been a while since I've talked to everyone. We have been updating the website, and completing The Voice of Summer DVD. New to the website this year will be audio podcasts and video blog, covering the daily happenings from Fitch and HoHoKam Parks during Cub's spring training, which will include Cubs player and coach interviews.

The Boys of Spring DVD movie is still evolving, so to tide you over until it is ready, we offer Vince Lloyd~The Voice of Summer. Vince Lloyd was the WGN radio play-by-play man for the Cubs from 1965 to 1987. You can find out about it, and watch a trailer (and take the trailer QUIZ) on the CUBS DVD page. Cubs fans that have seen Voice of Summer say they were impressed with Vince's storytelling and remarkable memory, and were surprised to hear the insider version of stories close to many baseball fan's hearts.
The Cubbies Pitchers and Catchers started working out at Fitch Park today. Last season proved that throwing an imaginary ball to home plate, then covering 1st base is a drill that Pitchers can never practice enough. Ah, the joys of spring! Pitchers and Catchers weren't the only ones who showed up - some position players practiced today including Jerry Hairston(see pic) and Jacque Jones. They took some BP along with non-roster invitee outfielder Michael Restovich(see pic), who is one big dude! (Listed at 6'4" 240) Once a power-hitting hot prospect in the Twins organization(between 2001 and 2004 he hit 88 HR's in the Minors), he could provide some power for the Cubs, if he makes the final roster.

~more tomorrow~