Cubs Spring Training Report

 Here is a first-hand report from Special Correspondent, Karen G… 

This past weekend was the second of what I hope will be annual trips to Cubs Spring Training Camp in Mesa, AZ. I had such a good time last year when I stopped for a day on the way back from the west coast that I decided to expand my visit to the whole weekend. So who expects it to rain in the Valley of the Sun?

Fortunately, we had one day of merely overcast weather so I got to watch three hours of practice on Saturday.

If you’re not familiar with Fitch Park, it is a wonderfully intimate place to watch the Cubs. There are four ball fields where different groups of players work on different skills. They fan out from a center court where there are small sets of bleachers but most people just stand and watch through the fence and then move from field to field to see what’s going on. It’s a little bit shabby and the Ricketts family has reached an agreement with the city of Mesa to build a new stadium and practice facility but I certainly hope they keep the “up close and personal” that’s here at Fitch Park.

I got there around 9 am and the players were not yet on the field. The ground crew was working, grooming the mound, arranging screens and wheeling out shopping carts filled with baseballs. The players came out at around 9:15 and started running in the outfield while the ground crew finished their work. They were very far away, running and stretching but soon they came in and the practice began.

First up were the infielders fielding grounders. Alan Trammel was hitting ground balls to the infielders who were making double plays and such. I enjoyed the fact that Trammel was working without a pitcher, just throwing balls in the air and hitting them like we used to do as kids when we used to play “bounce or fly.” The infielders looked good. They were mostly minor leaguers since there seems to be kind of a hierarchy of which players come out when.

I walked over to the next field and then it started to get exciting. The pitchers were lined up to throw to the catchers and then running to cover first. This was my first glimpse of name players as Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Carlos Marmol and the others waited in line to take their turns. Everyone seemed to be in good shape and Big Z looked great having shed about 40 lbs. In the off season. I, of course was starstruck because I had positioned myself next to the Gatorade bucket and got to see the players close up when they came over for a drink. I snapped a picture of Z with my iPhone and decided to upload it to Facebook. However in doing so, I missed recording the moment when Ryan Dempster came over for a drink and said hi to me.

But back to practice… All of the big names and a lot of the little names participated in what they called “live” batting practice. They called it “live” because they had real pitchers pitching rather than the coaches. Zambrano was up first and he was strong. I think we all had high hopes watching the slimmed-down Zambrano fire pitches past the minor league hitters. Jeff Samardzjia was next (having his cut his hair to a length acceptable to the Ricketts Family) and now the big name hitters were coming up including Derrek Lee who was swinging with gusto and Ryan Theriot. After taking his turn, Theriot came over to the fence where a buddy of his was sitting next to me. That’s the wonderful intimate nature of spring workouts as I was privy to their conversation to meet for pizza later.

I moved from field to field watching different pitcher/batter combinations. Marlon Byrd was looking good and wearing some very stylish sunglasses despite the overcast. Kosuke Fukodome came out followed by about seven Japanese reporters and photographers. Micah Hoffpauir was knocking the ball out of the park as well. But my favorite moment was seeing the new “phenom” Starlin Castro. He looked like such a baby but he took some good swings against Carlos Marmol until Marmol (as he usually does) lost control and beaned him in the back. Lou was out there watching the both of them and I later heard him say to the press that to Castro’s credit, he didn’t duck out of the way, he stood there and took the hit.

Big Z not quite as big in 2010

Another highlight was seeing Greg Maddux who has been brought in as a special advisor to the pitching staff. I was not able to get a good picture of him which was my big disappointment of the day but I think he’ll provide great inspiration for the staff. I saw him late in the morning playing catch with Ted Lilly who did not do any throwing from the mound.

No-shows at batting practice included Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.

Practice ended after three hours with more running and stretching and then a run for cover before the rain came. I had been looking forward to two days of workout watching but late Saturday the rain started and it was coming down in buckets. Highly unusual for southern Arizona in the spring but it was comparable to April in Chicago. So even though it was a shortened experience I still had a blast and can’t wait for the season to begin.

 Many thanks to Karen for this report! 

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    March 6, 2010  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: Uncategorized

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