Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Good Vibes, Free Games, it's Cubs World

Cubs, Palm trees, and sun!
Beautiful weather today here in Mesa as the Cubs wind up practices at Fitch Park before moving up the street to Hohokam Stadium. Tomorrow's (Thursday) practice will be the final workout at Fitch Park for the team, at least the major league players and non-roster invitees. Minor league players will begin working at Fitch, while the Cubs will hold intrasquad games at Hohokam on Friday and Saturday before officially kicking off the start of the Cactus League season on Sunday against the Oakland A's. The intrasquad games are free and open to the public, gates open at 11am with the games starting at 1pm. The grass/berm area will be closed and seating will be in designated areas. The contests will likely only last 5 or 6 innings, but the price is right!

Over the course of my years as the Cubs spring P.A.announcer at Hohokam and Old Hohokam Park I have seen 11 Cub managers hold spring camp. This gives me a bit of a feel for how things are run and the differences between managers. By the way, there have been more than 11 managers during that time (16 officially, I believe) but several were 'interim' and never held a spring camp.  It's still early yet but I'm getting a very good vibe about what's happening here at Fitch, and a feeling that there is a long term plan in place. The kind of players the new leadership is bringing in to the Cubs system bodes well for long term success.

Rizzo puts in some extra work
One of those players is first base prospect Anthony Rizzo, you likely know he was diagnosed in 2008 with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and that he overcame it with successful chemotherapy. At Fitch, Rizzo has been in a bp hitting group with Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, and Adrian Cardenas. Jackson and Rizzo appear to have developed a good rapport. These two players are part of a young and talented group who give Cub fans real hope for the future. What I like about Rizzo is exemplified in what I saw today after the team workout, he stayed on the field with third base coach Pat Listach and worked for another 20-30 minutes on his fielding. By most accounts the 22 year old Rizzo has a good glove, so seeing him specifically working at fielding difficult short hops after practice shows some dedication.

Rizzo and Jackson
You may wonder what these guys talk about during bp when they are waiting their turn in the cage, you can probably guess some of the topics. The other day we had Brian Harper throwing bp, Harp is the Cubs Double-A Manager at Tennessee and also a SoCal guy. He played for a number of MLB teams and was part of the Twins 1991 World Series winning team, in fact Harper caught the Jack Morris 10-inning masterpiece in game 7. At any rate, Harper and Josh Vitters who is also a SoCal product were saying it was SoCal vs NorCal, giving Brett Jackson (a NorCal guy) some grief. Someone said "all you NorCal's are hippies" to which the effervescent Jackson proclaimed, "Hey, somebody has to love the earth". To which Vitters stated that his "V-Neck t-shirts are made of organic cotton" and that he also eats organic. I'll try to slip Josh an all natural recycled locally grown sustainably harvested bat to help give his swing an organic boost.

I meet a lot of Cubs fans from all over the U.S. at Fitch and Hohokam. I've also met fans from Canada and Mexico, but today I met an unlikely Cubs fan from Paris, France. That's right Paris, "La Ville-Lumiere" (The City of Light), and this wasn't a transplanted American living there but a fan who grew up in the sunny south of France and now lives in Paris. I asked Ludivine how she became a fan. She informed me she was a history buff and baseball being the oldest professional team sport in America intrigued her. She lived in Washington DC for a few years and at that time decided to pick a team to follow. She identified with the plight of the lovable team from the Northside. A fan was born. What I found interesting was that she is not a casual fan, this girl knows her Cubs players and history. As it should be. We went to lunch so I could further indoctrinate her into Cubs nation and she was great company.    

The voting is closed for the Ryno award and we will be presenting all of the Boys of Spring - Best Cubs Site Awards in the next few days so be on the lookout for that.

Here are some of my photos from today and yesterday ~

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cactus League: Spring Training

I would like to bring a new book to your attention, Cactus League: Spring Training, part of the Arcadia Images of America series. The book was written by Susie Steckner and the Mesa Historical Museum. It showcases the rich history of the Cactus League in Arizona with over 200 photographs, many never-before-seen. The 128-page book, offers an insider’s look at the players, personalities, fans and destinations that helped shape the league and baseball in the Grand Canyon state.

A dozen photos from my collection are featured in the book. Most of them are historical photos that I have collected, with one that I shot at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson in 1992. I can tell you the Cubs are well represented in the book, with many vintage photos including Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, Harry Caray, and many more.  

Highlights of Cactus League: Spring Training include:

  • Unique, behind-the-scenes photographs of the Chicago Cubs, New York/San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers and more.
  • Images of two long-gone teams: the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Colt 45s.
  • Never-before-seen photographs of San Francisco greats Willie Mays and Juan Marichal.
  • An in-depth look at the famed Buckhorn Baths in Mesa.
  • Photographs of the Cactus League's ten modern-day-stadiums.
A portion of all sales benefits the non-profit Mesa Historical Museum, which houses the nation’s only collection chronicling Arizona’s spring training journey.

Author Susie Steckner will be signing copies of her new book throughout the spring season at these locations:

Glendale -  Camelback Ranch Spring Training Complex
Saturday, March 3 at the Fan Fest inside the ballpark. HOF Pitcher Gaylord Perry joins Steckner and signs your purchased book for an extra $10 donation to the Play Ball project. Perry appears from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Steckner appears from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Scottsdale -  Salt River Fields Spring Training Complex
Sunday, March 4 in the Centerfield Team Shop during the Arizona Diamondbacks – San Francisco Giants Cactus League game. Starting at 11:30 a.m.
Scottsdale -  Barnes & Noble
Wednesday, March 7 at the Barnes & Noble Book Store, Scottsdale Fiesta Shopping Center, 10500 N. 90th Street. Starting at 6:30 p.m.
Surprise -  Surprise Stadium Spring Training Complex
Sunday, March 11 in the Home Plate Team Shop during the Texas Rangers – Cleveland Indians Cactus League game. Starting at 11:30 a.m.
Surprise -  Sun City Grand Sports Interest Group
Thursday, March 15 at Sun City Grand, Sonoran Plaza, Sage Brush Room, 19753 N. Remington Drive, Surprise. Starting at 6:30 p.m.
Tempe – Changing Hands Bookstore
Monday, March 19 at Changing Hands Book Store, 6428 S. McClintock Drive starting at 7 p.m.
Mesa - Hohokam Stadium Spring Training Complex
Saturday, March 24 during the Chicago Cubs – San Diego Padres Cactus League game. 11 a.m.; exact location TBA

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bombs Away

An early day for the players started with the annual photo shoot at 7am, as is custom they wore the home white pinstripes. Highlights of the day included a Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo bomb hitting contest during BP in which Rizzo trumped Jackson with a monster blast over the 50 foot high green wall in dead center. Starlin Castro was hit in the arm by a Kerry Wood pitch but only a glancing blow, nothing serious - thank goodness. The guys finished up the day with another round of the bunting tournament wherein Manager Dale Sveum knocked Kerry Wood out of the competition.

Here are a few of my photos from today ~

Bryan LaHair

Matt Szczur


Chris Volstad


Spring Training instructor Rick Sutcliffe jokes with GM Jed Hoyer

Dave Sappelt

Jae-Hoon Ha

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dogg and Mudcat

Clevenger scores big 
I don't know about you, but Tony Campana going down to Steve Clevenger yesterday throws off my whole bracket in the Cubs Bunting Madness Tournament. I'm going to need strong performances by Dempster and Barney to get back into this thing. Yesterday's anticipated Campana/Clevenger match was the final contest of the day out on Fitch Park's back half diamond. With music pounding out of the Cubs weight room, apparently Clevenger had his "mind on his money and money on his mind" as Snoop Dogg's Gin and Juice played while most of the players and coaches watched the catcher put up a monster score. Perhaps Campana may have been over-confident going into the match, judging by some earlier comments claiming himself to be one of the favorites. A couple interesting upcoming matches include Manager Sveum vs Kerry Wood and Darwin Barney vs Bobby Scales.

After watching the bunting yesterday I headed up to Scottsdale to check out the Spring Training Festival, talk about perfect weather - 79 degrees, a slight breeze and abundant sunshine! This was the first Spring Training Festival and it wasn't overly crowded, at least while I was there. Lots of good food, music, and plenty of baseball related activities. Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins was there raising money for his foundation along with some of his Hall of Fame pals. Susie Steckner was signing copies of her new book about the Cactus League, more detail on the book tomorrow. The museum exhibit Play Ball the Cactus League Experience was on display (at least a portion of it), with great artifacts and photos of baseball history in Arizona. However the highlight of the festival for me had to be when 76 year old former major league pitcher Jim (Mudcat) Grant stepped in with Dennis Rowland's band and sang a blues tune. Here is a BOS Exclusive, Mudcat singing at the Spring Training Festival yesterday.

Only one week until the Cubs start up Cactus League play March 4th against the Oakland Athletics at Hohokam Stadium. The Cubs will play the first three games of the spring season at Hohokam (two against the A's then the Rockies) before heading to Surprise to play the Royals on Wednesday March 7th.

The Academy Awards are happening tonight and a baseball themed movie Moneyball is up for many of the big awards including Best Picture. In the spirit of awards season we have our own recognition coming up this week with the 2012 Boys of Spring - Best Cubs Site Awards to recognize all the dedicated Cubs fan sites who spend much time and energy covering our favorite ball club. You probably already noticed the poll for the Ryno Award which is for 'Fan Favorite', this award is the one you can vote and choose your favorite Cubs site. The rest of the categories are:

The Santo - Best Original Cubs Content

The Harry - Best Cubs Blog Single Author

The Billy & Fergie - Best Cubs Blog Multiple Author

The Jolly Cholly - Best Cubs Humor

The Mr. Cub, aka The Ernie - Best Overall Cubs Site

Voting for the Ryno closes on Wednesday Feb. 29, so vote now!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vote for the Ryno Award

Here are your nominees for the 2012 Boys of Spring Best Cubs Site - Ryno Award.  The Ryno is the Fan Choice Award, decided completely by you. So here's your chance to choose your favorite Cubs website/blog. Poll closes on 2-29-2012.

Vote for the Ryno Award winner for Cubs Fan Favorite site in our BOS-BCS 2012 Awards.
 free polls 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Gang's All Here

Tom Ricketts out and about at Fitch 
Today was the first official full-squad workout for the Cubs and it was fantastic weather - 79 degrees and plenty of sunshine. The Cubs didn't get out to the fields at Fitch Park until after noon because the team was addressed by some of the management which included owner Tom Ricketts. Tom then came out to chat and greet some of the Cubs faithful at Fitch. After decades of Tribune ownership it is really very cool for fans to have such access with the Cubs owners.

The main thing I have noticed here is that new Manager Dale Sveum is really about business and moving things along so as to get the most out of the workouts. In years past the pace of practice wasn't always as fluid or focused, considering it's really day one of the full Sveum camp, this is a great sign.

Here are some of my photos from today.

Starlin Castro
Randy Wells

Some fans need a little convincing 

After Barney hit a bp home run Soriano grabbed his bicep and joked 

Apparently Darwin found it funny
Ian Stewart
Castro makes the throw from second
Soriano was pounding them out of Fitch today
Castro working a drill 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Cubs Way

Theo Epstein today
Right now one of the main points of emphasis in Cubs camp is on drills to improve the team's overall defense. Yesterday Manager Dale Sveum started a team wide bunting competition that will take place this spring. Sure it sounds like a fun and useful team building exercise but it will also expose those who lack skill in this area. After watching Corey Patterson and some others come to spring training year after year and attempt to bunt, often with near comical results, this bunting competition is a breath of fresh air. It also speaks to what the Cubs organization is attempting to do in the larger picture and the new direction set forth by Theo Epstein and management. This new team ideology that will be implemented from the lowest minor league team all the way to Wrigley is detailed in a several hundred page manifesto known as - The Cubs Way. Don't get hung up on the term The Cubs Way, I'm guessing it's more of a working title at this point.

In talking with some of the hard-core Cubs fans at Fitch Park, I have heard a lot of opinions (Cubs fans are never short on those), some are skeptical (surprise), one claimed Theo is a Bill James parrot, but overall the feeling is very positive and supportive. People have asked me what I think of the new direction of the team, and I really haven't blogged about that aspect much this spring. Instead I prefer to watch and see how spring 2012 unfolds and what the differences are between the current and previous managers and GM's. However if you have been following this blog for a while you likely know exactly what I think from reading a post I wrote in August 2010 about the direction of the organization and what the Ricketts could do as the (then) new stewards of the Chicago Cubs Franchise.

Here are some of my photos from today ~

Marlon Byrd always in shape and ready

Carlos Marmol during fielding drill 

GM Jed Hoyer watches bp

Ryan Dempster 

New arrival at camp Blake DeWitt

DeWitt greets Jeff Baker

Matt Tolbert looking to catch on with Cubs 

Josh Vitters

Trey McNutt gets a fist bump after drill

Third base coach Pat Listach and Bryan LaHair during bp

Caption Contest Winners

The two winning captions for our photo caption contest are listed below the photo. Congratulations to the winners Zachery Percival and Dave Hoekstra, and thanks to all who sent the many funny captions. I will post my blog and photos from today a little later. T

Campana to Rizzo - "You mean to tell me they traded for you three times?"

Campana to Rizzo - "Wanna see me run around the bases? Wanna see it again?"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get Your Festival On

Tomorrow Cubs position players must report to Fitch Park with the first full-squad official workout on Friday the 24th. February in Arizona is baseball weather, today we had a near perfect 75 degrees and sunshine. With 15 MLB teams all training within a one-hour drive of each other, the Valley of the Sun and the Cactus League have become the Mecca of spring training. To celebrate spring baseball fever the City of Scottsdale is hosting a Spring Training Festival this coming weekend. The festival includes lots of food, live music, a feature called the Mad Science of Baseball, and Play Ball the Cactus League Experience. The festival is open from 10am to 6pm Saturday Feb. 25 and Noon to 5pm on Sunday Feb. 26 - Admission is free.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Future is Here

Anthony Rizzo today at Fitch Park
The Cubs new leadership made a trade in early January for a player they hope will soon be a cornerstone in building the Cubs to a contender with World Series aspirations. That player is broad shouldered 22 year old first baseman Anthony Vincent Rizzo who came to the Cubs from the Padres along with minor league pitcher Zach Cates in exchange for hard throwing Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na.

The Cubs expect Bryan LaHair to be the starting first baseman this season but LaHair is 29 years old with only 195 MLB at bats under his belt. He did a nice job for the Cubs when called up last season but age is not in his favor. The Cubs are rebuilding, oops I mean building with youth, and the plan is for the 6'3" 225 pound Rizzo to start the season in Triple-A. However a big spring in AZ could change that plan for the Cubs and their young first base prodigy. With the recent off-season trades and maneuvers plus some talent in the minor leagues the Cubs appear to have an interesting team building over the next couple years.

So here is new arrival Anthony Rizzo at Fitch Park today, he just looks right in Cubs blue.

LaHair and Rizzo 

Campana and Rizzo - This one just begs for a caption! Put your caption in the comments and we'll give a prize to the best two captions. Please keep it clean.