Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's raining, let's go to a museum

Last night I awoke to a loud crash of thunder at about 2:30am and with the appearance of a small pond in my front yard this morning I'm guessing it must have rained all night. Right now it's around 45 degrees and still raining, so it's a good day for the simulate April conditions at Wrigley. Starting tomorrow the 10 day forecast looks outstanding and we're expecting partly sunny skies and a high of 70 for Thursday's opening spring game at Hohokam.

This past Thursday evening I had the pleasure of being invited to the Mayor's Reception for the opening of the "Play Ball, The Cactus League Experience" at the Arizona Museum for Youth (AMY). They've really added and expanded the story for the "Play Ball" exhibit at the new AMY location, it's close to Hohokam and well worth the visit. As you might have guessed the Cubs are particularly well represented in the exhibit having been in Arizona for spring training 58 of the last 59 years. The Mesa Historical Museum and it's Executive Director Lisa Anderson were very much driving forces in making this exhibition come to life.

At the reception Robert Brintion who holds so many titles it's hard to keep track, not the least of which is Cactus League President gave some background on spring training and then introduced Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. The Mayor gave some words and then opened the exhibit with former Arizona Governor Rose Mofford.

Governor Mofford in large part helped save the Cactus League from extinction in the mid-late 1980's when Florida was making efforts to become the sole MLB spring training league. The course of action set by Mofford and a host of influential Arizonans has obviously worked well; with the 2010 addition of the Cincinnati Reds to the Cactus League, Arizona now has an equal 15 teams to Florida's Grapefruit League.

At the exhibit reception I ran into many friends and met others whose time and dedication helped make this exhibit possible. One of the friends I talked with is Dave Dunne who oversaw the running of Hohokam Stadium since it opened in 1997, Dave is from Chicago and a big Cubs fan. This off-season Dave was given an offer too good to refuse and has left Hohokam/City of Mesa and is now Manager of Spring Training Operations for the Arizona DBacks. Currently his job entails the overseeing of the new DBacks/Rockies spring facility being built on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land. This job change is great for Dave and his family but he will be missed at Hohokam.

Here's a few pics from the "Play Ball, The Cactus League Experience", only a few though as you need to go and see it for yourself.

Former Arizona Governor Rose Mofford speaks at Mayors reception

Dave Dunne and his donated Mark Grace
autographed door from old Hohokam Park

Just a few of the Cubs items at the "Play Ball" exhibit

Yes, you can sing along with Harry at "Play Ball"

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fun at Fitch

This is the point of the baseball season when things are as casual as they will ever get, Cubs players are having fun...sure they're working and focused but with a definite upbeat feel. That was never more evident than today when a series of drills had the players laughing and kidding each other as well as entertaining the onlookers at Fitch Park.

One of the early drills had pitchers fielding with a special "Incrediball" a kind of a soft rubber coated ball that really moves when hit. This helps the pitchers reflexes and fielding, and makes for some interesting viewing. This fauxball moves so fast and looks like a regular baseball that some players natural "pull your head away" defense mechanism kicks in. Early on Carlos Marmol had trouble fielding these shots but came around, then at the end of the drill Jeff Samardzija had some issues and needed several repetitions until he got it right. One of the players who stood out in this drill was Esmailin Caridad, he was like a hockey goalie with amazing reflexes...It may be easier for Caridad to get down low for this drill being only 5'10" as opposed to the taller pitchers.

While waiting his turn to field Big Z briefly showed some of his soccer moves using one of these spongy balls for bouncing maneuvers (think Hacky Sack) with his feet and was quite good at it.

The pitchers then got a chance to do some bp. Even though Big Z says he's willing to give up his pinch hitting this season, don't ask him to give up time in the cage. Z also gave Carlos Silva some encouragement during bp as Silva coming from the A.L. has a grand total of 27 MLB at bats in his 8 seasons. Greg Maddux was behind the batting cage while some of the pitchers took bp and at one point kept tossing a baseball into the chain link fence. I think Maddux is an excellent addition to the Cubs coaching staff and will help in many capacities but I got the feeling he really misses playing.

Ryan Theriot was practicing like normal today after being hit in the hand by a pitch yesterday, even drawing a compliment from Ryne Sandberg after a good round of bp.

Another fun to watch drill had baseballs being shot out of a machine from home plate to areas between players so the fielders had to call for it with a loud "I got it". A truly simple but valuable drill and I only saw one "near" collision...Some of the guys were giving Andres Blanco a bit of crap because Blanco seemed to call nearly every ball on the diamond. I did notice that the CF's (guys rotated in) who called "I got it" going towards left field really didn't have to call it...Soriano wasn't usually close and probably not running full speed yet...Or maybe he was, sometimes it's hard to tell.

My photos from today.

Z focused on Incrediball

2008 First round pick Andrew Cashner

Marmol awaits Incrediball

Rafael Dolis

Samardzija waits

And watches

Caridad with the glove save

Mad Dog pitching it off the chain fence

Maddux and Dempster

You want more spin?

Chad Tracy waits

Hoffpauir makes running snag

A-Ram on the move

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parties, Night Creatures, and Baseball

In this part of camp (before Cactus League games) injuries are big stories, even minor injuries. Right now we have Soriano's knee feeling better, Guzman's shoulder a bit tender, and Theriot's wrist sore due to a Rafael Dolis plunking. So far none of this is really problematic to the Cubs chances this season. Sori says he'll be ready by opening day, The Riot is day to day, and Guzman was already out waiting on his scoped knee to fully heel, it's Angel's new shoulder situation that merits watching. Guzzy says the shoulder isn't a big deal but he's been a walking injury since joining the Cubs.

Only one week until we hear the umpires around the Cactus League say, "Play Ball"! That's right baseball fans our Cubs open at Hohokam next Thursday against the Oakland Athletics who will be bringing ex-Cubs Jake Fox, Eric Patterson, and Micheal Wuertz to the party.

Speaking of parties, I hear that Cubs legend Ron Santo is being thrown one in honor of his 70th Birthday which is today. Some of Ron's Cubs pals are flying to AZ for the soiree. Since I didn't get an invite there's a couple ways I can go on this...Head up to Ron's and pull a Salahi type party crash or take my camera and attempt gorilla paparazzi pics from the bushes outside Santo's bash. Better yet, I'll just choose to wish Ron a very Happy Birthday! And while I'm at it, Birthday wishes to Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenley as well!

I blogged on Saturday about Bruce Miles and the changing media, and now more evidence appears in the form of WGN Radio Host David Kaplan's blog. Kaplan put his mini-digi camera to work yesterday and caught some images at Cubs camp. One of his more artistic shot's is a Mapplethorpe-esk image of Starlin Castro's posterior (at left). Hey, David and Bruce are very good at what they do, but photography...well...I guess fans can never get enough Cubs.

I was noticing pools of drool around the stands at Fitch which seemed to coincide with some oohing and aahing from female fans when a certain new Cub was in the vicinity. Outfielder and Non-Roster Invitee Brett Jackson the Cubs recent draft pick from Cal is drawing praise for his play from Piniella as well as longing glances from the ladies. I get plenty of email from the girls requesting more photos of Jeff Samardzija, but...could be there's a new challenger to Samardzija's status as unofficial number one Cubs' hunk. Of course he'll need to make the team for that honor.

Aside from vapid talk of physical appearance, this Jackson kid can play some baseball. Picked 31st by the Cubs in the 1st round of 2009 MLB Draft, Jackson is the fourth highest player drafted in Cal baseball history. He left college after a stellar Jr. season where he hit .321 with 8 HR's and 11 Stolen bases. At 21 years old he's a talented fielder with a strong arm and above average speed, but will definitely need some minor league seasoning.

Born in Berkeley and a Sociology Major in college, you may guess that Jackson is...well...different. Something Gordon Wittemmyer confirmed today in his article where Jackson is quoted, "I was telling (teammate Josh Vitters) when they were sucking my blood out (for annual physicals), I kind of liked it. Isn't that weird? That's weird. I enjoyed it. I like blood."

This can only help Jackson's stock with the females as Vampires and everything vampire seems to be en vogue.

Only a week before we hear "play ball" at Hohokam, the Catus League really starts gearing up tomorrow. The Mesa Historical Museum's fantastic exhibit "Play Ball, The Cactus League Experience" is relocating to the Arizona Museum for Youth (AMY). The big debut at the new and larger space is tomorrow Friday February 26th, with an expanded story and never seen memorabilia the exhibit, is sure to be a hit. Yours truly has donated several items as well as some historic photos I've collected over the years. AMY is close to Hohokam so if you're in town be sure to check it out.

I was asked to post pics of some of the players that I haven't shown yet on the blog, so here ya go.

Brett Jackson last week

Marmol after conditioning runs

Lee and Nady


Riot with the buzz

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being Here

I realized this afternoon that I had not given yesterday's blog a title...It has one now.

In my never ending quest to give you the best Cubs spring training coverage, instead of photos I've got some of today's practice on video. I shot this from outside the chain link fences at the Fitch fields, where the fans sit...So if you see the fence on occasion that is why. It's nothing fancy (editing wise) but I think it gives you a feel for being here.

Some of my focus was on young infielders, Non-Roster Invitee's # 67 Starlin Castro and # 61 Josh Vitters taking some grounders as well as pitchers doing what they do here, drills and more drills. One thing I noticed that you really can't see from my video is that Castro has a very strong arm. A former Cub pitcher soon to be headed to Cooperstown N.Y. makes a cameo at the end of the video.

I talked with Bill Keane today who's here from Waterloo, Iowa, he's been a Cubs fan for 72 years, Bill is one of those who can say he saw (or at least heard on radio) the Cubs in a World Series. At 78 years young Bill was in the Randy Hundley Fantasy Camp two years ago at the age of 76...We should all be so lucky.

Enjoy practice!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Forgot Blog Title

Warm ups before today's practice

The rain has gone and the Cubs are all here, including the Ricketts family, new owners of the storied ball club. The team arrived on the fields for the first full squad work out at 10:20am, a bit later than the usual 9 to 9:30 am having met with the owners before practice. A-Ram, D Lee, Soriano, and Kid Castro all worked out today on the Fitch Park fields for the first time this year. While the team worked out the Ricketts family was out mingling with the fans at Fitch...It's not often you get the chance to tell an owner what needs to be done to win a World Series.

A-Ram, D Lee, and Soriano all look very fit and have rehabbed their various ailments, with Soriano saying he'll be 100 percent by opening day after having had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The other new arrival was Starlin Castro the 19 year old ss phenom who had an outstanding AZ Fall League. I've always felt that Cubs fans are some of the most knowledgeable of any in baseball, they know Castro may be a star in the offing...there was a definite buzz in the stands today about this kid. I had a good chat with two long time Cubs fans and self-proclaimed baseball experts Doc Lawson and Harvey Brown...It was fun watching the Cubs while joining them in conversation about what the Cubs need to do to win the pennant.

One of the good humor guys in camp is Kevin Millar, who sure keeps things loose. It was interesting to see the grizzled vet Millar working in the group defensively with Cubs youngsters Josh Vitters and Starlin Castro...Castro and Vitters were 2 and 3 years old respectively when Millar broke into pro ball with the St. Paul Saints.

This is the kind of weather we expect during spring training in AZ, lots of sunshine and a nice day for baseball with a coolish high of 65 degrees. On my way home from Fitch I noticed the recent storm had left some snow visible on Four Peaks (pic).

Enjoy today's photos.

D Lee at the cage

Aramis takes a grounder

Lou watches

Tom Ricketts talks with fan at Fitch

Laura Ricketts at Fitch

Starlin Castro



Starlin Castro

Baseball Brain trust Doc Lawson and Harvey Brown

Four Peaks after practice

Full Squad - Full Sun

It had rained intermittently for the past 3 days and curtailed much of the Cubs workouts at Fitch Park but the front has moved past and the 10 day forecast is looking good. Today is the official start of Cubs full-squad spring workouts, and from my vantage point here at the K-CUBS broadcasting tower in Mesa there is not a cloud in the sky. I'm looking forward to getting out in the sun and watching some Cubs baseball, besides I get bored just sitting around taking Sullivan's money in poker. Full report and photos later today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cubs Weather Report

As you most likely know it rained off and on here all day yesterday, the Cubs didn't make it out to the soaked Fitch Fields and were confined to hitting in the covered batting cages.

Today's forecast: Intermittent rain showers. Cloudy with temperatures steady near the mid 50s. Winds WSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 70%.

It's not raining right now but plenty of threatening clouds, so we'll see what happens. Hoping we're getting this rain out of the way for a clear and sunny March.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rain Check

Storm on the way...SW field prior to the start of practice, batting screens blown down

It's now partly cloudy with plenty of sun here in Mesa, not the case earlier as the Cubs practice this morning at Fitch Park was cut short by rain. When I arrived I could see the storm coming from the West past Center Street (photo), the temperature was in the 50's and gusty winds as well. The Cubs worked out for about an hour before the rain came and ended practice.

As you probably heard Ryan Theriot lost his salary arbitration and will have to get by on 2.6 million this year. Theriot and Fukudome are now in camp but didn't make it out to the fields before the rain. The Riot issued a challenge of sorts to Cubs kid SS prodigy Starlin Castro, "I am the shortstop and I have been for three years," Theriot said "I feel I've done a good job and he's going to have to come get it". Castro hasn't played above AA ball but tore it up in the AZ Fall League hitting .376 and is a top defensive talent. The 19 year old Castro is a non-roster invitee this spring and is one of only four position players yet to report, Lee, A-Ram, and Soriano the others.

The media is changing before our eyes, case in point Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles clicking photos on a digital camera for his blog. Bruce is outstanding in his Cubs coverage and writing for the DailyHerald but admitted in his blog that he's a work in progress as a photographer. Which is why today I offered Bruce my photography talents for his blog, he laughed and probably thought I was kidding. I wasn't, I shoot so many Cubs photos that go unseen, we would never have to duplicate pics from his blog to mine.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know much of what I write is satirical and tongue in cheek. However if you're new to the blog you should know that once the spring games get going I do focus more on what happens on the field and how the Cubs are progressing towards opening day...Using my baseball eyes as it were but always from my own peculiar perspective.

I had a request for some Kevin Millar photos and we aim to please at BOS, so here are a couple from the other day...As well as a few shots from this morning.

Bobby Scales takes a grounder before the rain

Josh Vitters third overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft, works today

DailyHerald's Bruce Miles works the mini-digi

Millar a couple days ago

Same day Millar and Z

Friday, February 19, 2010

Going Camping

Ted Lilly's MRI on the knee came out negative, which is great news. Other than that you might be thinking it's early in camp and not much to report... Heck, even Lou can't really shed much light on the line-up yet, it's all theory at this point. Competition for roster openings and starting spots hasn't really gotten underway either, but don't fret our crack BOS team (OK, me) have uncovered some intriguing stories at camp thus far.

Much of it revolves around weight loss or gain, Soto and Big Smaller Z have lost it, while Carlos Silva has...well...maintained it. Word around the net was that my Soto and Silva photos may have been photoshopped. No my friends I download then post-em, speaking of loads I'm posting another Silva photo from this morning, you be the judge of his size and conditioning.

Another breaking story from this morning concerns Angel Guzman. We know he had his knee scoped recently but that's not the story, Guzzy it appears has been having trouble with his golf swing. Not to worry Cubs fans all is not lost as Angel was able to get some one on one instruction today and appears ready to hit the links again...that is as soon as the knee is better.

Of course the Big story of camp thus far is a BOS exclusive. Last week I showed you photos of Jeff Samardzija with the long flowing hair. As I mentioned then, I thought he would be getting a trim when Lou caught a glimpse of it. Turns out Jeff didn't even allow Lou the chance to give him a hard time about his hair. Samardjiza showed up yesterday having had a significant reduction of his mane, he must really want that 5th starter spot.

Woong-Chun Cho (photo below) is a spring instructor with the Cubs this season. T

Silva in foreground

Guzman shows his backswing

Maybe it's the arm bend?

Make sure to keep the head down

Much better follow through

Samardzija earlier this week

Samardzija yesterday

Do I really need to comment on this?