Monday, February 28, 2011

Cubs Go 0-2 at Hoho

Soon the snow will be gone on Four Peaks
The Cubs dropped their second spring game of the season at Hohokam today, losing 5-3 to a team that vaguely resembled Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers split squad team that showed up at Hohokam had some recognizable names, if you've been following the Nippon Ham Fighters and Long Island Ducks. There were a few Milwaukee starters, including Ryan Braun, but they also started Caleb Gindl, Zelous Wheeler, and Erick Almonte.  Almonte, a 33 year old minor leaguer who last played in the majors in 2003 when he  replaced an injured Derek Jeter for the Yankees, has since been a Ham Fighter and Duck among his many stops.  

The Cubs had Reed Johnson, Darwin Barney, Koyie Hill and Marquez Smith in today's starting lineup, it was not a split squad for the Cubs.  Randy Wells started for the Cubs and looked comfortable throwing 2 scoreless innings. Wells was followed by Andrew Cashner who had his ups and downs.  The downs included 2 runs on 3 hits with a base on balls and a throwing error trying to hold the runner at first.  The ups were he allowed no runs in his second inning and also ripped a double to the right centerfield gap.  Kerry Wood saw his first action of the spring and got a standing ovation from the small 5,405 crowd at Hohokam.  Wood was hit hard allowing 2 runs on 3 hits but struck out 2 batters in his inning of work.

The Cubs have hit well in the two games thus far, 12 hits today but have stranded plenty of runners including bases loaded in both the 7th and 8th innings when mostly young players and backups were playing.  Reed Johnson was 2 for 3 and Tyler Colvin hit an RBI double in the 1st, but was thrown out trying to score from 3rd on a tag play. It's still early, but one point of concern is the Cubs had 3 errors for the second game in a row (not all by starters).

In the later stages of the game, when the Cubs made it interesting, the crowd was giving a loud Augie- Augie-Augie, chant as fan favorite Augie Ojeda came to the plate in the 8th inning with bases loaded.  Augie gave them a quick thrill as he drove a line drive deep to the warning track, unfortunately it was caught for an out.  In the next half frame, Augie went far to his left snagging a grounder up the middle then spinning and throwing a strike to nail the Brewer runner at first.  On the very next hitter, CF Fernando Perez made a long run and layed out for a sweet grab and out number two.

New look in the outfield
Bob Brenly and Len Kasper were both seen at the ballpark today, prepping for their upcoming broadcast.  There maybe something strange going on and it could be affecting the Cubs play, as interesting crop circle type markings have shown up in the Hohokam outfield this season (see pic). If you've been to a game at Hohokam you know that I would at some point give the temperature here in Sunny Mesa followed up by the usually chilly temperature back in Chicago.  This year a sponsor has taken that and made it their ad copy.  Anything that can get a laugh or get noticed will usually get picked up by an advertiser at some point.

Cubs will be in Scottsdale tomorrow taking on the World Champion San Francisco Giants. Dempster and Lincecum your starting Pitchers.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cubs Lose Chilly Opener

Warning track this morning 
As I have said many a times here before, you shouldn't read too much into the scores or who won or lost spring training games. The examples I usually mention when emphasizing this point are the Cubs 84 and 89 division winning teams who had lousy spring training records. With that said the Cubs took the opener on the chin by a count of 15 to 7 against the Oakland A's at Hohokam in front of a crowd of 6,892. The opening game of the spring season is unlike the opener of the regular season and traditionally not as well attended as games later, combined with the unArizona-like cool weather it made for the low turnout.

Big Z started and pitched 2 solid innings of no hit ball with 2 K's.  Up next was Matt Garza, who didn't fare nearly as well.  He allowed 5 runs in 2 innings including a Coco Crisp grand salami and another ball that could have been a home run were it not for the batter's eye in dead center. Garza is quickly finding out that Arizona is for hitter's after spending his entire career spring training in Florida. If you only looked at Garza and not at the scoreboard you could easily tell he was having a rough outing as he shook his head in frustration and dropped some f bombs.  Justin Berg was also pummeled by Oakland hitters with 7 runs in one third of an inning.  Bergy's going to have to really do something from here on out this spring to avoid starting the season in the minors. Marcos Mateo and Carlos Marmol both tossed scoreless innings.

Cubs hitters came out strong, putting 4 on the board in the opening frame while Starlin Castro and Marlon Byrd went 2 for 3, and Alfonso Soriano going 3 for 3 including a 2 run double. The two teams combined for 34 hits but the Cubs also had 3 errors.

Barney crashes into wall - Photo by John Antonoff
The second half of the game was finished up mainly by younger players including Darwin Barney at shortstop, who showed great effort making a long run on a foul that saw him crashing into the wall (he couldn't hang on to the ball). The collision looked ugly but Barney popped right back up and ran back to short.  Barney also showed a little pop as he knocked a double deep to left center, he then proceeded to score on a very close throw at home where he made a wide slide just getting his hand on the plate a split second before the tag.

Barney slides under tag - Photo by John Antonoff
Today was Mesa Little League day at the ballpark where the Cubs gave several hundred Mesa Little Leaguer's tickets to the game.  In a pre-game ceremony,  Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Cubs GM Jim Hendry spoke to the Hohokam crowd, thanking Mesa for their commitment to keeping the Cubs here long term for spring training.  Jim Hendry mentioned the Cubs training in Mesa for the next 50 years and hopefully longer. Because of our rain last night, and snow in the mountains, it was possible to see the Superstition Mountains to the east of Hohokam with snow on them. An unusually site considering their lower elevation. One of BOS's favorites Mark the Beer Guy gave a rousing rendition of the 7th inning stretch. The Mesa grounds crew at Hohokam did a great job today after the overnight storm deposited a lot of rain.
Four Peaks today on the ride home 

The Cubs host the Brewers at Hoho tomorrow. The Mesa weather over the next 7 days looks sunny with gradually rising temps to the 70's.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Notes From Hohokam Practice

View across top of Cubs dugout
Today's Cubs practice at Hohokam before tomorrow's spring opener was conducted under mostly cloudy sky's with little wind and pleasant mid to upper 60's temperatures. The workout before the first game at Hohokam is one I always enjoy, it's usually pretty low key and all the players are on one field (as opposed to 4 fields at Fitch). Only a few hundred (at most) fans today so plenty of room to roam around for the best views and get close to the players you want to watch. With nearly as many players as fans it was that intimate feel you always here about during spring training. Players cutting through the grandstands to the locker rooms (Dempster pic) and others just chatting with friends (Marmol pic). Here are some notes from today (photos as well).

Mike Quade is a fan of "The Coach" John Wooden and enjoys Wooden's philosophical bent of "team", while developing players mental and physical quickness. There's a lot more to Wooden's approach which is outlined in several books and includes his "pyramid of success". It obviously worked well for the late coach at UCLA. I'm a fan of that mindset as well, while working on a documentary I witnessed the benefits following a high school football team from Arizona's White Mountains. The coaching staff there strives to help each player become the best he can be, much like the Wooden approach through building industrious habits and stressing team over individual. The focus is less on beating an opponent and more about finding each players maximum effort and ability, then integrating it towards the team goals. The results during the time I followed this high school football team - 64 consecutive wins and 4 straight state titles. 

Great to see Greg Maddux having an extended conversation with Cubs newcomer Matt Garza. I mentioned to longtime Cubs fan Mike Stoker that anytime I see a Cubs hurler getting some advice from the Mad Dog, it's a good thing.

Alfonso Soriano looks like he has hit the weights this off-season as he looks very strong (see pic). The Cubs really need Fonz to bounce back this season and be a run producer.

I met Chicago native Alex LoCicero a student at the Illinois Center for Broadcasting at Hohokam today. Alex was nice enough to interview me for the school's website The right place at the right time can be helpful as I introduced the future broadcaster Alex, to Pat Hughes and Keith Moreland who were going over notes for their first broadcast. Moreland might be a little nervous tomorrow as expected taking over for Ron Santo but said he is very excited about the opportunity and being a part of the Cubs family. He has a great partner in Pat Hughes.

The team finished today's practice with some base running drills. Starlin Castor is very quick and also looks stronger this spring. It will be interesting to see if he can improve his base-running, particularly his steal percentage having been thrown out 8 of 18 attempts in 2010.

Tomorrow starts it off, Cubs baseball my friends. It's a whole new year!


Reed Johnson

Dempster cutting through

Marmol chats with friends

Castro points out Soriano's shot

Justin Berg and John Grabow

Clean shaved Randy Wells

Koyie Hill runs

Blake DeWitt

Darwin Barney

One Day

I'm pretty excited about tomorrow's Cubs spring opener, of course I am every year! The Cubs are practicing at Hohokam today. Hopefully we won't have weather issues tomorrow other than the unseasonably cool (for Mesa) temps in the mid 50's.

Thought we would do something different today, so here's a video to help you get excited about our Cubs and the start of spring games. The video has an interview with Tyler Colvin and also answers the question, how does a Cubs fan/PA Announcer get ready for the season?

Spring training is here! The video is 8 minutes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Getting Close

Q fielded from the mound during base running drills
Three days away from the Cubs spring opener! Camp Q has been orderly and well run thus far and as I've mentioned before, it seems like the guys are having a lot of fun while taking care of business. The question's about the 2011 version of the Chicago Cubs will really start to be answered on Sunday.

Cubs fans know the questions - Who will be at second base? Who will be the 5th outfielder? Who will be the number 4 & 5 pitchers in the rotation? Who will end up in the bullpen? Who is going to lead off? Who will be the utility infielder? Will this camp see a young player rise up like Tyler Colvin did last spring? I better stop there, I could keep going but the relevance starts to dwindle. To me this is an exciting time of the year as we get to watch how this Cubs ballclub emerges over the next 35 days in preparation for the season opener!

Here are some of my pics from today. T

Castro working hard on his D

Angel Guzman 

Z and Garza

Aramis looks healthy and seems to have a spark

Braden Looper

The new relaxed Z

Sean Marshall working pop up drills 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cubs Photo Day

The Cubs players had photos taken this morning at the Fitch Park, which meant wearing the dress whites for the first time this spring. The photos here on the blog today are not from the Cubs photographer, or me, they are provided by John Antonoff who will be the Boys of Spring game photographer this spring season. This is much appreciated because it's impossible for me to shoot any action from up in the press box while doing the public address. John is very talented and helped BOS out for a few games last spring so it's my pleasure to welcome him aboard for the 2011 spring season!


Wrigleyville West Update

Sky view artist rendering of Wrigleyville West 
We are only days away from your Chicago Cubs taking the field at Hohokam Stadium hosting the Oakland Athletics this Sunday. The East Valley Tribune ran this article on the Cubs future spring training complex, and it looks like the Wrigleyville West development around the stadium may not be in place when the new park opens (likely 2014).

This morning is Cubs photo day so the team is delayed arriving to the Fitch Park fields. Check back here later this afternoon for photos from today's action at Cubs camp.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wet Weekend

Saturday was the first official full-squad workout for the Cubs, and with it came a winter storm to AZ. We had snow in the mountains and rain on both Saturday and Sunday here in Mesa. Luckily the team was able to complete most of the scheduled workouts on both days. Saturday turned nasty around 10AM with winds that turned into a dust storm before giving way to some heavy rain. Sunday it sprinkled lightly until about 11AM when the downpour came and shut down practice at Fitch Park.

The "three amigos" as Mike Quade called Soriano, Ramirez, and Castro were in attendance for the official start on Saturday. I took some photos both days before the weather turned.  

Aramis Ramirez  

Soriano taking aim

Kid Castro

Weather kept fans away

You will obey me - Marmol

The always animated Mike Quade

Billy Williams strikes up conversation with fellow Alabamian - Roll Tide

Dempster throwing live BP

Sean Marshall greets A-Ram

Blake DeWitt adding a little extra something to his bat

It's only a little rain, no big deal   

Friday, February 18, 2011

Upbeat Fitch

We had overcast skies by the time the Cubs hit the fields at Fitch Park this morning, but the temperature was pleasant with a high in the mid to upper 60s and no wind.  Just about perfect conditions for baseball. One of the things I've noticed in the four days of practice under Mike Quade is the upbeat feel at Fitch. The players as well as the coaching staff seem genuinely happy to be here.

One of those happy players is Carlos Pena, who seems to be constantly smiling, I'm sure it's in his nature but he appears thrilled to be a Cub. Now if he can hit his weight, Cubs fans will be happy he is too. Pena is an outstanding defensive first baseman but the Cubs are looking for his backup at first. Today we got the chance to watch Tyler Colvin play extensive infield at first, nice to see Tyler looking smooth with the glove. I talked to him briefly after practice and he said he felt pretty comfortable there and is a work in progress at first.  

The Cubs have put some special dates on the spring calendar, which include a Ron Santo Tribute Day on March 10th when the Cubs host the Cleveland Indians at Hohokam.  There's also a "Thank You to Mesa and Fans" on March 7th for helping the Cubs pass Proposition 420. This will allow the Cubs to stay in Mesa for the long term with a new spring training complex to be ready by 2014. The opening game on February 27th is also Little League Day when the Cubs will be bringing in somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 Little Leaguers to the game. I'll get you more on these festivities as I find out more info.

According the weatherman, we may have rain over the weekend here, so if you're unable to see the Cubs due to the conditions, be sure to drop by the new opening of Play Ball The Cactus League Experience at the Arizona Historical Society in Tempe. Even if it doesn't rain you can drop by the museum and see the exhibit after the Cubs morning practice. This is Play Ball's third season and opens a new location at Papago Park and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. By all accounts the Papago exhibit is by far the best yet with plenty of new items you won't see anywhere else in America. I've helped out a bit with this project and donated some items to the new exhibit, so I'm very excited to see it.

Here are some of my photos from today, also with some shots of the people who make the Chicago Cubs possible, the fans.

Jeff Baker

Ivan DeJesus instructs Colvin 

Woody and lone star protege Cashner
Pena and his bat bat

Pena fielded all day with a ball in throwing hand

Silva takes toss

Fans and Colvin

Reed Johnson and Bobby Dernier

Brett Jackson gives a young fan an autograph 

Fernando Perez 

Pena signs for youngster