Friday, December 17, 2010

We Got Wood...Again

We are closing in on Christmas and yet in the Phoenix area the season is still fall, if you can call it that. The leaves of the deciduous trees have finally turned yellow and red and we'll have a high temp here in Mesa today of 62 degrees. Regardless of the weather, for many a Cub fan Christmas has come early with the signing of Kerry Wood. The prodigal son has come home to Chicago and back with the team that drafted him in 1995 . Only a few days ago rumors swirled that the Cubs former "Kid K" was going to sign (shudder the thought) with the White Sox. The fact that Wood turned down significantly more money offered by other teams to sign with the North Side squad gives this deal a nice reciprocal feeling. 

Dempster and a Cleveland Indian Wood, March 2009 
Every Cubs fan knows Wood's injury history, so the one year $1.5 million incentive laden contract comes with that baggage. Wood brings more than just a right arm to the bullpen and team, he brings leadership and intangibles. Now you might be saying, "come on Tim, what the frick are these intangibles?". OK, the nature of "intangible" by definition is elusive and vague but Wood choosing to leave the New York Yankees to come back and play at Wrigley Field for the Cubs is an "intangible" - He picked the Cubs. After the disaster that was last season and the recent loss of Ron Santo, this is something good for Cubs fans. Adding the 33 year old relief pitcher doesn't mean that somehow the Cubs are now division favorites, but it did fill a need. At this point since we are just talking around the hot stove, having Kerry Wood back with the Cubs just feels right.

In real terms, Wood gives the Cubs a right-handed set-up man to go with lefty Sean Marshall and lets youngster Andrew Cashner compete for a spot in the rotation. All of this will begin to play out in 8 weeks. That's right, just over 8 weeks until the Cubs open spring camp with pitchers and catchers! As usual BOS will be the mandatory check in site for the inside scoop on all things Cubs when the team arrives here in AZ. We will be revamping our website with some exciting new features and, as you've come to expect from Boys of Spring, you'll get our exclusive Cubs media (photos, video, tweets, and blog) to keep you on the "inside" of Cubs spring training. Go Cubs! 

Friday, December 03, 2010

Goodbye Ron

My brother called me this morning with the sad news. Ron Santo had passed away last night. This is difficult to write, I am truly at a loss. Yes, I was a big fan of Ron, but I also considered him a friend. So, instead of doing a biographical blog of his life, I'm going to talk about the Ron I knew.

I didn't meet or get to know the man as Ron Santo the Cubs third baseman but instead as Ron Santo, the Cubs loving broadcaster I met at Old Hohokam Park when he started announcing games for WGN in 1990. At Old Hohokam Park the press box was open air with one long metal counter top from one side to the other with no partitions. The press sat side by side and my seat as PA announcer was directly behind home plate. WGN radio would broadcast nearly all the spring games at Hohokam and Ron's seat next to mine. So, as a young punk, for about four to five hours each broadcast day during spring training from 1990 to 1996, I had the honor and privilege of working next to Ron. For another half dozen games add WGN-TV to the mix with Harry Caray in the chair directly on my other side. Imagine Ron in one ear and Harry in the other. I was on the inside of Cubs baseball - live and in stereo and lovin every minute!

The best part of this was all the side commentary and joking around 'off air' with Ron and Thom Brennaman (Pat Hughes came on board in 1996) I quickly found out how much Ron loved the Cubs. Ron's love for the Cubs was always front and center and he never apologized for it. As a third baseman Santo's Cubs teams never played post season baseball but there seemed to be something deeper than wins and losses for him, a bond with teammates, a city, fans, and a team. When you're around his kind of unwavering spirit and dedication it kind of rubs off on you, often without even knowing.

I'll never forget the last game at Old Hohokam Park in 1996, it's classic Ronnie. The stadium was going to the wrecking ball as soon as the game was finished, so we hoped for a win in the final game ever to be played at Old Hoho. It was a tight contest; I think it went 10 innings before Ozzie Timmons hit a HR in the bottom of the 10th to give the Cubs the win. Pat Hughes was in his first spring announcing with Ron and when Timmons hit that ball, Ron literally came right out of his chair, jumping and waving his arms...If you didn’t know him, looking at Ron's excitement one might have thought the Cubs had just won a World Series game. It was a just another meaningless spring game to many, but Ronnie's enthusiasm could not be contained.       

When Ron had his second leg amputated from complications of diabetes in 2003 he vowed to be back walking by spring training. Ron's fight and spirit are detailed in the film "This Old Cub", a moving tribute produced by Ron's son Jeff Santo. Sure enough, Ron walked out to the pitchers mound at Hohokam on opening day and tossed out the ceremonial pitch...It was my great honor to introduce him as he walked to the mound and accomplished his goal. His optimism and enthusiasm for life in spite of the physical issues that afflicted him was beyond amazing.

In 2009 we started spring training early because of the World Baseball Classic and for the first time ever, we played a game on Ron's birthday. Robert Brinton, former Cactus League President and Big Ho of the Hohokam, surprised Ron before the game by leading all the fans in singing 'Happy Birthday'. Looking over from my booth, I could see that it really touched Ron to hear all the fans singing collectively. When I had gone over earlier to say hello and wish him a happy birthday, Ron talked about how happy and excited he was for the games to start...Surprise, surprise. 

I last saw Ron less than two months ago at Ron Santo Day in Mesa (My Oct. 10 blog) at Hohokam. He was, as you may have guessed, talking Cubs and helping get the word out about the upcoming Proposition 420 vote to help the Cubs build a new spring training complex here in Mesa. While there, Ron ended up doing what he did so often in recent years, graciously signing autographs. At one point an older disabled man asked if I could take his photo with Ron. I said sure. Ron had to get up on his prosthetic legs from being seated (takes a little doing) and walk off the stage over to the man for the photo; he did it with a smile. Ronnie was beloved by Cubs fans and that love was reciprocated. Before and after each spring game I would watch Ron sign literally hundreds of autographs until the very last person was gone.

As for his baseball career, the numbers show that Ron Santo has the credentials to be in the Hall of Fame, like most things Ron was open about his desire to enter baseballs shrine...He may get the votes now but the honor should have come years ago. Ron was an inspiration to me and so many others for so many reasons, including his love of life, his drive to overcome hardships, his charitable fund raising, and his unwavering optimism.  Athletes are often put on a pedestal for better or worse and looked at as role models. Ron Santo deserves that place.    

Ron was a Hall of Fame human being, which in my book is the pinnacle of success. We're going to miss you Ronnie, rest in peace.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cubs Spring Schedule and Stuff

Much has happened in the Cubs Universe since we last talked, a one end-zoned football game was played at Wrigley Field, Hoffpauir is turning Japanese, Rothschild is turning evil empire, Ryno is going to the Pigs (Class AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs), and proposition 420 passed here in AZ.  With Micah Hoffpauir playing for the Hokkaido Ham-Fighters in Japan this coming season. my "turning Japanese" reference is a nod to the 1980's song 'Turning Japanese' by the Vapors. Also in case you were curious the name/mascot Ham-Fighters is what happens when your team is purchased by a meatpacking company named Nippon Ham. Ahh, the useless knowledge you can learn here at BOS.   

Ryno tosses BP - Feb. 2009
I'm going to pass over the uni-endzone game and Larry leaving and talk about Ryno going to the Pigs. Kidding aside, Hall of Fame Cub Ryne Sandberg is going to be missed, he's been a major asset to the organization as a player, coach, and manager. After retiring as a player following the 1997 season Ryne wasn't sure what he wanted to do and took some time away from baseball to spend with his family. He soon gravitated back to the game he loved, first helping out as a Cubs spring training instructor and eventually deciding he had interest in managing. Sandberg did it the right way working his way up the minor league managerial ladder from single A to being named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year at Class AAA Iowa. Many thought with Lou Piniella retiring last season that 2011 would be a perfect time for Ryne to step up to the big leagues and manage the Cubs. 

However, following a successful interim stint at the end of last season the Cubs picked Mike Quade as manager and gave him a two year contract (with a third year vesting option based on performance). When that happened Ryno waited to see what the Cubs might offer, after four days and no offer he decided to leave the organization. Under the circumstances Sandberg thought it best for the Cubs not to have him manage again at AAA Iowa and said, “I didn’t think it would be fair to everybody involved, including the fans and the new manager, Mike Quade, with the perception of me waiting for something to go wrong or for the axe to fall in Chicago. With that being said, I wish Mike Quade and the ownership of the Cubs the best of luck". Sandberg soon accepted another AAA managerial job but this one in the Phillies organization where he started out his career before being traded to the Cubs in January of 1982. Ryno has been a fixture with the Cubs for so long not seeing him at Fitch and Hohokam this spring is going to feel a little weird. Good luck Ryno!

Quade - The ability to communicate in any language
I'm sure it was a difficult choice trying to pick between a Cubs legend in Ryno and Quade who guided the team to a 24-13 record last season after taking over. Quade has more than paid his dues managing 17 season in the minors, including 2003-2006 for the Iowa Cubs in AAA. From what I've seen of Quade since he came on board as Cubs third base coach in 2007 is that he communicates well with players, has their respect, and knows the game. He also has a great sense of humor although that may be tempered in his new position. Having managed in the Cubs minor league system he should also have a good feel for the young talent. I think Mike Quade will do a fine job for the Cubs but whether he has or will be given the talent to be competitive is another question altogether.      

Shortly after my last blog we found out the Mesa voters passed Proposition 420, paving the way to fund a new Cubs spring training complex. The new complex will most likely be built at the Mesa Riverview site and will break ground late in 2011, my guess is it will be ready for spring 2014. After the Cubs opt-out lease is up following spring training 2012 they have the option of going year to year at Hohokam until the new complex is ready (you can see artist renderings of the proposed complex on my October 5 blog below).

The Cubs will likely release their tentative Spring Training schedule tomorrow but we have been able to piece together much of it already. I've been told the final game on March 30 will be a charity fund raiser and may start at 12:05. The schedule below will give the Cubs 18 home games at Hohokam this spring. I'll fill in any missing or incorrect games as soon as the Cubs release the schedule (including the Las Vegas dates).

(All game are at 1:05 PM Arizona Time unless otherwise noted)

Sun 2/27   vs. Athletics at Mesa
Mon 2/28  vs. Brewers (ss) at Mesa
Tue 3/1:    vs. Giants at Scottsdale
Wed 3/2:   vs. Brewers at Maryvale
Thu 3/3:    vs. Rangers at Mesa
Fri 3/4:      vs. Royals at Surprise
Sat 3/5:     vs. Padres at Mesa
Sun 3/6:     vs. Reds at Goodyear
                    vs. Dodgers at Mesa
Mon 3/7:    vs. Angels at Mesa
Tue 3/8:     vs. Rockies at Talking Stick (1:10)
Wed 3/9:    vs. Royals at Mesa
Thu 3/10:   vs. Indians at Mesa
Fri 3/11:     vs. White Sox at Glendale
Sat 3/12:    vs. Reds at Mesa
                 vs. Reds at Las Vegas  
Sun 3/13:   vs. Diamondbacks at Talking Stick (1:10)
                 vs  Dodgers at Las Vegas
Mon 3/14:   vs. Mariners at Peoria
Tue 3/15:   vs. Athletics (ss) at Phoenix
                    vs. Rockies at Mesa
Wed 3/16:  OFF DAY
Thu 3/17:   vs. Athletics at Phoenix
Fri 3/18:     vs. Reds at Mesa
Sat 3/19:    vs. Padres at Peoria (7:05)
Sun 3/20:   vs. Giants at Mesa
Mon 3/21:   vs. Angels at Tempe
Tue 3/22:    vs. Dodgers at Glendale
Wed 3/23:  vs. Athletics at Mesa
Thu 3/24:   vs. White Sox at Mesa
Fri 3/25:     vs. Mariners at Mesa
Sat 3/26:    vs. Rangers at Surprise
Sun 3/27:   vs. Rockies at Mesa
Mon 3/28:   vs. Indians at Goodyear
Tue 3/29:   vs. Diamondbacks at Mesa
Wed 3/30:  vs. Cubs Minor League All-Stars at Mesa