A TCR Cubs Spring Training Preview for the Casual Fan

The Super Bowl is over, March Madness isn't until next month, and the NBA and NHL regular seasons (AKA the playoffs) haven't started yet. So what time IS it? Well, it's time again for Spring Training, which is when professional baseball teams gather in Florida and Arizona to prepare for the coming season. Spring Training is kind of like rehearsing for a play, except there is no script and you don't know for sure how it's going to to turn out. However, in the peculiar case of the Chicago Cubs (sometimes stupidly referred to as "YOUR Chcago Cubs"), the end of the show is usually generally well-anticipated and is practically a given. And it's never a happy ending. (Well, it was in 1908, but not since then). The Cubs conduct their Spring Training (ST) each year in Mesa, AZ. Mesa was founded by Mormon missionaries a few years ago (actually a couple of centuries ago), but oddly enough, that's not really why the Cubs have ST there. Although there is a Mormon Temple in downtown Mesa, the Cubs do not play baseball there. (The Mormon Tabernacle Cubs?) There are actually two other places of note in Mesa that relate directly to the Cubs and Spring Training. One is a place called Fitch Park (which is a City of Mesa park), and the other is a place called HoHoHam Park (which is also a City of Mesa park). So think "city park." Like Grant Park. Or Lincoln Park. Fitch Park is the year-round home to the Cubs minor leagues, and it's here that the Cubs team in the Arizona Rookie League (the AZL Cubs) play their home games in June, July, and August, and where the Cubs Arizona Instructional League team operates in September and October. It's also where Extended Spring Training (for the very lame and the very young) is conducted in April and May, after the Cubs and their four "full season" farm clubs begin their regular season schedules. And it's at Fitch Park where the Cubs (players on the club's 40-man rosters, as well as players signed to minor league contracts who receive a "Non-Roster Invitation"--or "NRI"--to ST with the major leaguers), begin their season each year in mid-February, when the pitchers and catchers report for physicals on or about February 15th. There are four full baseball fields at Fitch Park that fan out from a center area where a two-story tower is located that allows Cubs bosses to watch the action on all four of the fields. In addition to the four fields and the tower, there is a large clubhouse on the far east-side of the Cubs section of the park that includes administrative offices, workout facilities, covered batting cages, and a "pit" that allows several pitchers to throw at the same time. There is also a "half-field" used occasionally for infield drills located at the far northeast corner of the Cubs section of the park. The Cubs pitchers and catchers report before the rest of the team because it takes longer (about six weeks) for pitchers to get ready for the season, and the catchers are needed to catch the pitchers while they get their throwing in at the very beginning of ST (during the first few days). Position players need less preparation time, but even so, a lot of the position players report early anyway (right along with the pitchers and catchers). The rest of the team (position players who choose not to report early) report to camp the week after the pitchers and catchers, and so the full team is together at Fitch Park by the second week (first full week).  Workouts start daily around 9 AM, but there is no absolute start time. It starts basically when everybody is dressed and outside the clubhouse. There is a lot of meandering around, but the team eventually manages to gather for calisthenics and some running, mostly the kind of low-impact exercises elderly people do at nursing homes to keep from getting bed sores. Not a lot of stress, and not too demanding. Then around 10 or 10:30 or 11 (whenever), the team breaks up into two, three or four groups (like catchers, pitchers, infielders, and outfielders, for instance) for specialized instruction, training, and practice on the four fields. This is when the pitchers will practice the old "try and cover first base on a ball hit to the right of the first-baseman" drill, or when infielders will practice not screwing up rundown plays. By the second week (first full week) of ST, and once the fundamentals have been drummed into the players collective body memory through relentless practice and perfection, daily Batting Practice (BP) becomes the main focus, with position players hitting against their teammate pitchers, who throw BP for usually about 15 minutes each, with each pitcher throwing maybe every third day. Sometimes the coaches will throw BP after all the pitchers scheduled for work that day are finished, and it's when the coaches start lobbing the ball up to the plate when the hitters can really unload moon shots! (Sammy Sosa used to regularly hit 'em off the City of Mesa Public Safety Communications Building across the street). ST BP typically runs about 90 minutes (like maybe from 10:30-12:00). Then the players are finished for the day and they head for the nearest golf course or bar, careening out of the players secured parking lot at about 80 MPH. By the middle of the third week (second full-week), the taxing 90 minute morning workouts stop and the games begin, as the Cubs relocate a half-mile north up Center Street (or Centre Street, for those of you in the UK) to HoHoKam Park. (The HoHokam were a mysterious indigenous people who lived in the Phoenix area many, many centuries ago, long before the Cubs started having Spring Training in Arizona, and even before Phoenix was known as "Pumpkinville"). HoHoKam Park is where the Cubs play their "home" Spring Training games, at 1:05 PM (plus an occasional 7:05 PM night game) during the month of March. (Some games are called "Split Squad" games, as the team occasionally will "split" into two "squads" and simultaneously play a home game at HoHoKam AND a road game somewhere else at the same time... the "Cubs" are literally two places at once!). Unlike Fitch Park, though, there is an actual real baseball stadium (with dugouts, a press box, box seats and grandstands, concessions, rest rooms and a gift shop) located at HoHoKam Park (capacity about 12,000+), and this facility is known as "Dwight Patterson Field." (Dwight Patterson was the guy who helped bring MLB Spring Training to Arizona many years ago, and to Mesa in particular). As the major leaguers move up to HoHoKam on or about March 1st, the Cubs minor leaguers (about 125 strong) take over Fitch Park (and this is called "Minor League Camp"). Meanwhile, the Cubs players assigned to the major league camp play ST games against 11 other MLB clubs (AZ, CHW, COL, KC, LAA, MIL, OAK, SEA, SD, SF, and TEX, with CLE scheduled to relocate from Florida to Arizona in 2009) who also have their Spring Training in Arizona. MLB clubs play ST games just about every day, with only one scheduled day off (usually on a Wednesday) in the middle of March. However, individual players (especially established guys) get frequent days off throughout ST. The other 11 MLB teams who train in Arizona are located at sites in cities like Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson, Peoria, and Surprise (and Goodyear starting in 2009). Some clubs share their ST facility with another MLB club (SEA with SD in Peoria, KC with TEX in Surprise, and CHW with AZ in Tucson), while others (like the Cubs) are all alone. As ST progresses through the month of March, players on the 40-man roster who don't win a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster are "optioned" to one of the Cubs minor league clubs (Iowa, Tennessee, Daytona, or Peoria) training at Fitch Park and non-roster players who don't make the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster are "sent to the minor league camp for reassignment." (The Cubs four "full-season" minor league teams that train at Fitch play Spring Training games, too, but they play their games on the four fields at Fitch Park, not at HoHoKam). At the end of Spring Training (right around the end of March), the Cubs "break camp" and head to Las Vegas for a couple of final tune-up exhibition games, shows, and non-stop gambling. And then the regular season starts! (The Cubs four full-season minor league teams training at Fitch Park leave Arizona a few days after the Cubs depart, and Minor League Opening Day is usually the Thursday or Friday after MLB Opening Day). So with that information as prelude and background, I give you the TCR 2007 Chicago Cubs Preview for the Casual Fan (Spring Training Edition): STARTING ROTATION: The Cubs have about a dozen legitimate starting pitcher candidates going into Spring Training, so new Cubs manager Uncle Lou Piniella will have a LOT of choices. If everybody is healthy come Opening Day (and that's a real long-shot), the most-likely five-man rotation is Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and two of three from among Wade Miller, Rich Hill, and Mark Prior. (Again, that's only if everybody is healthy and ready to pitch on Opening Day). Because he re-signed with the Cubs prior to the end of the Free-Agency Filing Period, Wade Miller does not have an automatic "no trade" through June 15th. (Lilly and Marquis do). So Miller could be traded at the end of Spring Training if there is a logjam in the starting rotation, although the Cubs might still want to hang onto him anyway. Or if they are healthy but ineffective--or even just because of a numbers crunch--Hill and/or Prior could be optioned to AAA, because both have minor league options left. Prior will have the right to refuse an optional assignment to the minors once he accrues five years of MLB service-time, but the earliest that can happen is 41 days into the 2007 season, which will be sometime in May.  With three other lefty relief candidates (Eyre, Ohman, and Rapada), Neal Cotts (acquired from the White Sox for David Aardsma) will be available for starting duty if needed, and Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo, Jae-kuk Ryu, and Ryan O'Malley (all of whom started at least one MLB game for the Cubs in 2006) also would be available for consideration should injuries or ineffectiveness attack a couple of the other starters higher up on the pecking order. Top pitching prospects Sean Gallagher and Jeff Samardzija will be in the major league camp, but neither figure to be ready for MLB before 2008 (Gallagher) or 2009-10 (Samardzija).      Although they have been rotation starters the past couple of years, I would expect Marmol, Mateo, and Ryu to be moved to the bullpen in 2007, with Marmol groomed as a closer (for some reason, Marmol dials-up his fastball about 3-4 MPH when he throws just one inning), and with Mateo and Ryu prepped for future roles in middle relief. There just is not going to be enough room for all of them in the starting rotation at Iowa, much less in Chicago! BULLPEN:  Ryan Dempster had a TERRIBLE last couple of months in 2006, but he still comes to camp next week--and will probably start the '07 season--as the Cubs closer. However, if Kerry Wood's shoulder will allow him to pitch on consecutive days, Woody could very well supplant Demp as closer before too long. Bob Howry and Scott Eyre are valuable and experienced set-up guys, and Will Ohman is a quality MLB lefty reliever. Michael Wuertz has a history of being either very good or very bad, but he is at the point in his career where he should be able to start displaying greater consistency from appearance-to-appearance. So that's six relievers right there, leaving one spot left.  Competition for the one last spot in the pen should be spirited, featuring a battle between Cotts (if he doesn't start), Ryu, Marmol, Mateo, Roberto Novoa, rookies Clay Rapada and Rocky Cherry, and Randy Wells and Carmen Pignatiello (both of whom once again get an NRI to ST with the big club). Other than Dempster, Howry, Eyre, and Wood, all of the other bullpen candidates (including Ohman and Wuertz) have minor league options available, so it really doesn't matter who gets the last spot or if Ohman or Wuertz can't hold their slot. In addition, there will be four more pitchers in camp with extensive minor league and some MLB experience (Ben Howard, Jason Anderson, Les Walrond, and John Webb) who were signed to minor league contracts and who have received non-roster invitations to Spring Training, and it is not inconceivable that one of them could pitch "lights out" and unexpectedly contend for a spot in the pen.       CATCHER: We all know that Michael Barrett is by no means a "Gold Glove" defender behind the plate, but he certainly is one of the better offensive catchers in MLB today, and Henry Blanco is a solid, veteran back-up who consistently throws out 40%+ opposing base-stealers each year. Geovany Soto will likely be back at AAA for the third consecutive season, and he would probably get the "first call" if anything happens to either Barrett or Blanco simply because he is already on the 40-man roster and because he is very familiar with most all of the Cubs pitchers. Switch-hitting Koyie Hill will probably share receiving duties with Soto at Iowa, and he would be a second option should Barrett or Blanco go down for an extended period of time. Hill was once a hot-shot prospect in the Dodgers organization, before having his career adversely affected after suffering a broken leg shortly after being acquired by the Diamondbacks in the Steve Finley trade a couple or three years ago. Veteran 3B-1B-LF-RF-C Mike Kinkade and rookie 3B-1B-C Casey McGehee (who had the best winter ball season of the many Cubs playing in Latin America post-2006) could be a third catcher if Piniella wants the 5th man on his bench to have that capability. Otherwise, the primary utility infielder (probably either Ryan Theriot or Tomas Perez) will be the #3 (emergency) catcher. INFIELD:  1B Derrek Lee and 3B Aramis Ramirez will provide the 3-4 punch in the middle of the Cubs batting order, and having D-Lee available for the entire season should give the Cub lineup a huge lift. And Ramirez should be better by not having to be the prime-mover "main man" in the middle of the order, as happened last year when Lee went down with a fractured wrist early in the season. Cesar Izturis was an N. L. All-Star shortstop with the Dodgers in 2004, before suffering a torn elbow ligament and undergoing season-ending "Tommy John" ligament transplant surgery in 2005. But his main problem last year wasn't rehabbing and trying to comeback from the TJ surgery, it was a cranky hamstring that kept him out of the lineup. If Izturis is 100%, he is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, and the offensive numbers he put up prior to his elbow injury were comparable to what Rafael Furcal did at a similar point in his career. Ronny Cedeno will likely be optioned to Iowa (he has one minor league option left), where he hopefully will build on his fine Venzuelan Winter League playoff performance and get his confidence back to where he can perhaps maybe be the Cubs #1 shortstop in 2008. Mark DeRosa has excelled in recent years as a jack-of-all-trades super-sub utility player, but he chose to sign with the Cubs because he was (apparently) promised the starting 2B gig. Whether DeRosa can be a quality everyday MLB defensive 2B remains to be seen. If DeRosa falters, Ryan Theriot is available to play 2B. Meanwhile, Eric Patterson will be at Iowa trying to improve his defense to where he can maybe be an MLB second-baseman by 2008. Maybe. If DeRosa does indeed hold the starting 2B job, then Theriot will probably be the #1 back-up middle-infielder. If Theriot struggles, veteran switch-hitting infielder Tomas Perez will be in camp as a non-roster player, and he could possibly grab the #1 utility infielder slot if Piniella is unhappy with Theriot. The Theriot/T. Perez battle will be the litmus test to determine if Lou Piniella is Dusty Baker Redux. If Piniella chooses to keep two reserve infielders but doesn't want the two to necessarily be Theriot and Perez, ex-Cub Bobby Hill will be in camp. The switch-hitting Hill spent the entire '06 season in AAA (Padres), but he was one of the best PHs in MLB with PIT in 2004-05, and he could provide an additional back-up at 3B and at 2B. Also, the Cubs signed versatile IF-OF Derek Wathan (ex-FLA) to a minor league contract, and he could maybe factor into the Cubs bench at some point in '07.   Speaking of pinch-hitters, Daryle Ward was signed as a free-agent during the off-season. The left-handed hitting Ward was THE best PH in all of MLB last season, and he can also give Derrek Lee an occasional rare day-off at 1B and play a corner OF spot in a pinch. But Ward is first and foremost a PH De-Luxe. OUTFIELD: The Cubs didn't sign Cliff Floyd to play just once a week and pinch-hit. If Floyd's achilles is close to 100%, it's VERY likely that Floyd and Matt Murton will alternate in LF, and it will probably be a true platoon, with the one exception being that Floyd will probably rarely play a day game following a night game. Otherwise, Murton will start against all LHPs and Floyd will start against all RHPs (and Floyd is every bit as bad against LHP as Jacque Jones). Although he is a prolific home run hitter, Alfonso Soriano will hit lead-off (I guess he just feels more comfortable hitting there) and will play either CF or RF, with Jacque Jones the starter in the third outfield spot. Soriano has the speed to play CF and the arm to play RF, but he has really only been an outfielder for one year, and he may still have problems judging fly balls, line drives, and balls that are hooking and slicing. With Wrigley Field having one of the toughest--if not THE toughest--RF in MLB (late afternoon sun, wind, and a bullpen mound in foul territory), it would probably be better to play Jones in RF, even if Soriano has the superior arm. Top CF prospect Felix Pie could very well be ready sometime during the 2007 season, and if he does play well enough at AAA to force a recall, Jones will probably get traded at that time, with Pie playing the more-difficult Wrigley RF while Soriano finishes the '07 season in CF. Then depending on how things go with Soriano in CF, Pie and Soriano could possibly switch spots in 2008.   Angel Pagan is a protypical "4th OF" (a switch-hitter with some power, above-average speed, and the ability to play all three OF spots), but (barring injury) the only way Pagan can avoid getting optioned to AAA to start the 2007 season is if Piniella opts to go with only one reserve infielder. Scott Moore has outstanding power and runs well, but he also strikes out a LOT. With Ramirez signed through 2011, Moore will likely be moved from 3B to the OF at Iowa in 2007, where he will be groomed as a Geoff Blum/Rob Mackowiak-type IF-OF-LHPH (with a MLB ETA in 2008). Buck Coats is another potential athletic-type IF-OF-LHPH-PR super-sub with some MLB experience who will likely be at Iowa in '07.  OUTLOOK FOR 2007: Cubs Win!!!! Cubs Win???!!!!! Woo-hoo!!!! Cubs Win!!!! (I'm having a heart attack!!!) Cubs Win!!!!!!
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Comments

Hill seriously could start the season in the AAA rotation?????

O'Malley is still with the club, and is healthy?

hill's pretty much been given the job to lose, but if he shows up as the hill of the 1st 1/2 of 06 with a lack of control over a second/third pitch he's expendable given miller/cotts/marshall/guzman are there and available just as easily (assuming a healthy prior).

Transmission — February 8, 2007 @ 10:14 am
Hill seriously could start the season in the AAA rotation?????

O’Malley is still with the club, and is healthy?

=========================

TRANS: Yes, Hll could end up at Iowa to start the 2007 season. It would take a bad ST and a couple of other things would have to go a certain way, but Hill had a bad ST last year, and if he has a similar ST this time around, and if Miller and Prior are both healthy and pitching effectively (not too likely, but possible), and/or if Cotts isn't needed in the bullpen but fits into the rotation and clearly outpitches Hill, it could happen. So if he doesn't throw in ST like he did at the end of last season, Hill could be the victim of the proverbial "numbers game" and end up at Iowa to start the season. And as I said, the same thing could happen to Prior, although it's not real likely.

As for Ryan O'Malley, he says he's healthy. He also said that he received offers from other MLB teams after he was released by the Cubs last November, but he chose to return to the Cubs (minor league contract). Why, I don't know, because he doesn't have much of a chance of making the major league club, and he might not even be able to pitch in the Iowa rotation if Marshall, Guzman, Mateo, Ryu, and Wells are there. I guess he bleeds Cubbie Blue.

Hey AZPhil - how about doing an article on where to stay and what places to visit if you are going to come to AZ for Spring Training. You know what hotels are teh best for the money or what bars/restaurants you recommend. Best places to bump into Loupa. What do ya think?

Great stuff as always, Phil.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm being told that Andy Masur is leaving WGN & the Cubs pre & post game duties to be the new voice of the Padres.

I'm glad for Andy, personally. I always really liked him.

AZ -

you understand this part of the game much better than i do so i will ask

IF Prior pitches well and Miller does not, could Miller be sent to Iowa to pitch? Would he have to clear waviers, and if so what do you think the chances of that happening are?

One more - do you think that Perez has a legit chance of making the team? I know that he played for Lou in Tampa Bay so that may work in his favor. If he does make the team what does he add to the bench? (ok that was two)

Thanks

Can't we expect Hill to have a poor spring, as curve ball pitchers aren't helped by pitching in Az right?

BTW, I second the proposal for a spring training travel guild to help us first time visitors.

someguy — February 8, 2007 @ 10:53 am
AZ -

you understand this part of the game much better than i do so i will ask

IF Prior pitches well and Miller does not, could Miller be sent to Iowa to pitch? Would he have to clear waviers, and if so what do you think the chances of that happening are?

One more - do you think that Perez has a legit chance of making the team? I know that he played for Lou in Tampa Bay so that may work in his favor. If he does make the team what does he add to the bench? (ok that was two)

Thanks

=============================

SOME GUY: Wade Miller has one minor league option available, but because he has at least five years of MLB service time, he cannot be optioned to the minors without his permission. (BTW, players with at least three years of MLB service time can refuse an Outright Assignment to the minors).

Most MLB players who have the right to refuse an Optional Assignment will exercise that right and refuse the assignment. However, a couple of years ago, the Cubs had an OF named Ben Grieve who had 5+ years of MLB service time, and he DID agree to accept an option to the minors. So Miller could do that, I just don't think he would. However, if he were to agree to an Optional Assignment to the minors, it would probably have to be for a pre-determined relatively short period of time (with a certain deadline), and I don't know if the Cubs would be able to make (or would want to make) that type of promise. I think it more likely that if Miller doesn't start the regular season on the Cubs 25-man roster, it will be as the result of him being on the DL, or because he gets traded at the end of ST.

If Miller were to agree to an Optional Assignment to the minors, the other thing involved with optioning him to the minors is that he would have to first clear Major League Waivers. Any player who has spent parts of at least three seasons in the majors has to clear Major League Waivers before he can be optioned to the minors. There are several other players on the Cubs 40-man roster (Neal Cotts, Roberto Novoa, Will Ohman, Mark Prior, and Michael Wuertz) who can't refuse an optional assignment because they don't have at least five years of MLB service time, but because they have spent all or part of at least three seasons on an MLB regular season roster, they would have to first clear Major League Waivers before they can be optioned to the minors.

Getting a player through Major League Waivers in order to option him to the minors came into play a couple of years ago when the Cubs optioned Corey Patterson to AAA in mid-season. While he couldn't refuse the Optional Assignment (because he didn't have at least five years of MLB service time), he did have to first clear Major League Waivers because he had spent all or part of at least three separate seasons in the major leagues.

But because Major League Waivers are "revocable" (meaning the club can pull the player back if another club makes a claim), they are usually just a formality. (If the player is subsequently placed on Major League Waivers a second time in the same waiver period, the waivers become irrevocable and the club can't pull the player back if he gets claimed). This all changes, though, when the waiver period that begins on August 1st commences, because starting on that date and during that waiver period, players can only be traded after they first clear Major League Waivers, and a lot of times clubs will put in a waiver claim on a player who is placed on Major League Waivers during the waiver period that starts on August 1st to keep another club above them in the standings from making a trade. For instance, the year C-Pat was optioned to the minors after clearing Major League Waivers in July, he was claimed by another MLB club (WAS) when the Cubs placed him on Major League Waivers again in August (and then the Cubs pulled him back). But for the waiver period that ends on the 31st day of the season, and the one that runs from the 31st day of the season through July 31st, getting a player through Major League Waivers is USUALLY no big deal. That is, unless one of the other MLB GMs doesn't like you and decides to be an a-hole and puts in a "nuisance" claim on the player you're trying to option to the minors. Then it's not just a formaility!

As for the chances of Tomas Perez making the Cubs Opening Day roster, I believe Piniella will give him serious consideration. Personally, I believe choosing Ryan Theriot over T. Perez SHOULD be a "no brainer," but that's why I wrote that Piniella's decision to keep Theriot or T. Perez as his #1 back-up middle infielder will be a litmus test to determine if Uncle Lou is Dusty Redux. Of course, Piniella could decide to keep both Theriot AND T-Perez on the 25, but that would depend a lot on whether The Riot proves in ST that he can play CF, and whether Piniella decides to take a pass on (for instance) Angel Pagan, Bobby Hill and Mike Kinkade. But if it becomes a choice between Theriot and Perez, Perez IS the one with considerable MLB experience as a utility infielder. How much will that matter to Piniella? We'll see. It should be interesting.

I am so excited for Spring Training. I have felt this way as the clock expired on the Super Bowl. YAY! Next week - Pitchers and Catchers report next week - ya!!

I third the motion.

AZ Phil -

Any recommendations on other parks in the Mesa area to visit (i.e. which are the best to see a ballgame)?

How many of us are going out to AZ? Are there any gatherings planned?

I'll be there from March 2-11.

I'll be out there from 3/21 - 3/26. Lots of hanging out on the lawn at HoHoKam and golf on the agenda.

arrororyoroyoyroyo signs a 2/25 extension.

arroyo/harang to anchor the staff through 2010...not a bad support for bailey and whoever else they wanna drag through their system.

I'd be much more worried about the Reds if someone else was the GM......

Doug Dascenzo — February 8, 2007 @ 11:59 am
I third the motion.

AZ Phil -

Any recommendations on other parks in the Mesa area to visit (i.e. which are the best to see a ballgame)?

===========================

DOUG D: I like all the parks, but the one I like best is wherever the Cubs are playing that day! Actually, when the Cubs aren't at HoHoKam, I usually just go to minor league ST games at Fitch Park. (And they are free, BTW). You'd be surprised how often a big-name Cubs pitcher will pitch (unannounced) in a minor league ST game at Fitch to get his "work."

As for the other ST ballparks in Arizona, the new one in Surprise (KC and TEX) is a beautiful facility, but (for me) Surprise is like half way to California. Same goes for Peoria (SD and SEA) and Phoenix-Maryvale (MIL). Rush-hour traffic in Phoenix is TERRIBLE, so I try and stay away from the west-side. And Tucson (CHW, AZ, and COL) is a couple of hours away, so I rarely see a game there unless I'm down there for some other reason that day.

I mainly confine my attendance to ST games in Mesa, and occasionally Scottsdale (SF), Phoenix-Papago Park (OAK), and Tempe (LAA). If you have family tagging along and they're not too crazy about baseball, the Phoenix Zoo and the Phoenix Botanical Gardens are across the street from Phoenix Municipal Stadium (where the A's play), and the Angels' park in Tempe (actually right on the border with Phoenix) is cool because you can eat at the Top of the Rock restaurant at the Buttes Resort (next-door) after the game. 

BTW, if you happen to go to Papago Park (Phoenix Muni Stadium, the Zoo, and the Botanical Gardens), the A's have what would be their "Fitch" at the northwest corner of Galvin Parkway (64th Street) and McDowell, and if you drive a half-mile north from there, to 64th Street and Oak, that's where the WWII Prisoner of War camp was located where the German POWs (mostly U-Boat guys) made their "Great Escape" in December 1944. And you'll find several flower shops owned by Japanese-Americans on Baseline Road (between Central and 40th Street) in Phoenix, because that was where a Detention Camp for Japanese-Americans was located during WWII. (That was for those of you who are into WWII era historical-trivia).      

Scottsdale Stadium (where the Giants play) is located on the south end of downtown Old Scottsdale (at 74th Street and Osborn), and there are many shops (including art galleries that specialize in southwest art, and jewelry stores that specialize in southwest Indian jewelry), restauarants of all kinds, and night clubs in the immediate area. The Pink Pony (and no, it's not some gay bar, it's a steak joint) is the place where Jack Brickhouse and all the Old School MLB guys (managers, coaches, and scouts) used to hang out after games, especially when the Cubs used to have their ST operations in Scottsdale (pre-1980). The Pony (which is located around the corner and up Scottsdale Road from Scottsdale Stadium) still has a lot of baseball memorabilia and stuff, but I don't know if many MLB guys go there anymore. You're a lot more likely to find an MLB player at one of the fashionable night clubs on Scottsdale Road. 

Downtown Tempe (Mill Avenue) has a lot of restaurants, and I highly recommend attending a college baseball game (especially if you've never been to one) at Packard Stadium (Arizona State University) on the far northeast side of the ASU campus at Rural Road (Scottsdale Road) and Rio Solado Parkway. (You could eat at a restaurant on Mill Avenue and then walk over to Packard for a night game). It's best to go to the Friday night games, because Friday night in college baseball is when teams use their #1 starting pitcher. That's automatic and always has been. I have seen many, many future MLB players (including future Cubs) play in college baseball games at Packard over the last 30 years or so.

Mesa really doesn't have much night-life. The restauarant formerly owned by Steve Stone and Harry Caray (I forget what it's called now) is located east of Center Street and north of Main Street next to some big hotel, and I believe it's still set-up as a Cubs-oriented place. I haven't been there lately. If you happen to find yourself on Country Club Drive between US 60 and Baseline Road, you will notice that there is a bend in the road. WGN radio Cubs broadcaster Jack Quinlan apparently did not notice the bend, however, because in March 1965, Jack had a car crash that took his life. Right there, just south of the Home Depot.

Sometimes there's Cubs or historical baseball stuff going on at the Mesa Public Library during the month of March (they sometimes have speakers and/or memorabilia displayed), and there is a mini "Cubs Convention" called ChicagoFest (including a Q&A with the Cubs manager, GM, and some of the Cubs players right down on the field) at HoHoKam Park usually the afternoon they play their one home night game. I don't know how ChicagoFest is going to work this year, though, because there are no home night games scheduled at HoHoKam. BTW, did I mention the Mormon Temple? That's the big tourist draw in Mesa.

As for where to stay, I would say staying within walking distance of Fitch and HoHoKam would be a good idea. I know people who come down just for ST, and some of them rent places near Brown and Center or at least somewhere in Downtown Mesa. The Best Western Mezona Inn on Main Sreeet in Mesa used to be the Cubs "official" Spring Training HQ, but I don't know if they still do that or have that kind of connection with the Mezona. Some of the Cubs players would stay there, but most of the players who don't already live in the Phoenix area get apartments during ST, and you would be more-likely to catch them on a local golf course in the afternoon while the team is still at Fitch (pre-March 1st), or at one of the night clubs in Scottsdale in the evening, or maybe with their families at Scottsdale Fashion Square or at Fiesta Mall in Mesa, or even just eating breakfast at one of the local restauarants (I'm not going to name them all, but some of you know the ones I'm talking about), than you would see them anywhere else.

For those of you who have never been to Phoenix, you will be surprised how many Chicago people you will meet here. The place is absolutely crawlin' with expatriated Chicagoans. And most of them are not just here for Spring Training, either. As I tell people, Phoenix is truly the far, FAR southwest side of Chicago. It really is. I'm not kidding.    

My spring training guide:

1. Get a cheap rent a car
2.Stay at a cheap hotel in Phoenix area
3. If the Cubs are going to Tucson, get a room there for the night, ideally on a thur-saturday when school is in session
4. Wake up- go and get huevos rancheros from any mexican place you never heard of before, it's going to be better than the crap they sell in Chicago.
5. Drive out to Hohokam and pay your $5 to park
6. Watch the pitchers run drills on the field next to the stadium
7. Watch BP
8.Watch the game
9. Go to 'downtown mesa' there is a parking garage by the antique shops and tourist bars, can't remember the corner, park there.
10. Watch NCAA tournament and get drunk and curse the teams that kill your bracket
11. Sober up and drive back to motel 6
12. Repeat from step 4

I try to do at least two double headers, the Mariners-Rockies park (I think) is on the other side of town from Mesa, but they have lots of night games due to the 2 teams, and it is a really nice park. It get's cold in the desert in March, especially if you're sun burnt so bring a pullover for that.

I forgot, 7.5 read the BP Annual, or whatever your favorite baseball book is, or make your fantasy draft lists.

CUBS 2007 Spring Training schedule (all games 1:05 PM MST start unless noted):

Thu 3/1 vs Giants at Mesa
Fri 3/2 vs Angels at Mesa
Sat 3/3 vs A's at Phoenix Municipal Stadium
Sun 3/4 vs White Sox at Mesa
Mon 3/5 vs Mariners at Peoria
Tue 3/6 vs Brewers at Mesa
Wed 3/7 vs Athletics at Mesa
Thu 3/8 vs Padres at Peoria
Fri 3/9 vs Padres at Mesa (ss) and vs Rangers at Surprise (ss)
Sat 3/10 vs Royals at Surprise
Sun 3/11 vs Brewers at Mesa
Mon 3/12 vs Giants at Scottsdale
Tue 3/13 vs Diamondbacks at Tucson Electric Park
Wed 3/14 - OFF
Thu 3/15 vs Mariners at Mesa
Fri 3/16 vs White Sox at Tucson Electric Park 
Sat 3/17 vs Padres at Mesa
Sun 3/18 vs Angels at Tempe
Mon 3/19 vs Mariners at Mesa (ss) and vs Brewers at Phoenix-Maryvale (ss)
Tue 3/20 vs Rockies at Tucson (Hi Corbett Field)
Wed 3/21 vs Rangers at Mesa
Thu 3/22 vs Padres at Peoria
Fri 3/23 vs Giants at Mesa
Sat 3/24 vs Giants at Scottsdale
Sun 3/25 vs Angels at Mesa
Mon 3/26 vs Angels at Tempe
Tue 3/27 vs Royals at Mesa
Wed 3/28 vs Rockies at Mesa
Thu 3/29 vs Diamondbacks at Mesa
Fri 3/30 vs Mariners at Las Vegas - 7:15 PDT
Sat 3/31 vs Mariners at Las Vegas - 1:05 PDT

What are the chances that Jones is playing right field for the Cubs on opening day? July 4th? Labor day?

With no real competition in spring training this year, it is questions like this that has me thinking. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Jones moved before the end of spring training and Floyd in RF. Not sure this makes us better, but I would not be surprised.

someguy — February 8, 2007 @ 1:18 pm
What are the chances that Jones is playing right field for the Cubs on opening day? July 4th? Labor day?

With no real competition in spring training this year, it is questions like this that has me thinking. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Jones moved before the end of spring training and Floyd in RF. Not sure this makes us better, but I would not be surprised.

===============================

SOMEGUY: Based on media reports and the Jacque Jones interview on ESPN, I thought it was a given that Jones would be traded before the start of Spring Training, or at least before Opening Day '07.

But after Lou Piniella talked to Jones, and told him that Jones was "his kind of player," now I'm not so sure. But Jones probably will be traded whenever the Cubs decide it's Pie Time, although that could be 2008.

In the meantime, I believe Jones will play RF most every day. His splits versus LHP are no worse (possibly even better) than Floyd's, so I can't see Floyd playing RF on an everyday basis. I think it's extremely likely that Floyd and Murton will platoon in LF, and that Soriano will play CF (where he is less-likely to get hurt), and that Jones will play the far more difficult Wrigley RF (until he gets traded, which will probably depend on whenever Pie is deemed "ready").

Neal: #17 - Terrific, funny post! You might consider publishing a Frugal Cubs Fan Spring Training Primer!

But ez on the Mexi diner - I have my favorite hole-in-the-wall crap huevos stand right in Chicago in Humboldt.

Thanks AZPhil on the Spring Training Primer, schedule and others who added their two cents. I havent been there for a while and i was planning to get out there so all of this is helpful. If I can make one suggestion to TCR - I think a lot of others would benefit from this information and not everyone reads all of the comments so it might make sense inlcuding it in a separate article on TCR. Maybe even a permament article that Cubs fans can tag.

http://cbs.sportsline.com/mlb/story/9978978/rss

More on DirectTV and on page 2, the actual number of subscribers...

One reason baseball is gambling that this move won't alienate too much of its fan base is because the numbers aren't overwhelming. According to industry sources, about 500,000 folks bought the Extra Innings package last season. Of those, roughly 270,000 got it through DirecTV -- so their lives wouldn't change.

As for the rest, the sources say, approximately 50,000 others got Extra Innings through Dish Network, and about 180,000 through cable.

So we're talking about 230,000 households that will be shut out this summer unless they buy into the DirecTV or computer models.

Excellent article, AZ Phil. Warms me up just to think about sunny HoHoKam Park...

The Peoria park is a great place to watch a game once you get there. There is also the side benefit: if you want, you can park in the mall parking lot just north of the stadium right by an In-and-Out Burger, then hoof it over to the game with your animal-style burger and fries in tow.

For pure seating comfort, the Peoria and Maryvale are good places to watch a ballgame, with relatively good concessions. Papago is perhaps my least-favorite park because the parking can be far from the stadium and many of the seats are of the steel bench variety and are uncovered (HoHoKam has slats to create some shade).

Hmm.... my spring break is the last week of march, I'll have all my lectures written well in advance of that, and I finally have a bit of money....

Phil you are a great representative for the AZ Board of Tourism.

Anyone visiting Scottsdale with a taste for arugula, smoked salmon, and asiago cheese also needs to get the Stetson Salad at Cowboy Ciao, on 7133 E Stetson Road (hard to find but it's right by all the riverwalk construction). Worth a special trip and an excellent place to forget about how poorly you did in your NCAA tourney bracket.

"Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo, Jae-kuk Ryu, and Ryan O’Malley (all of whom started at least one MLB game for the Cubs in 2006) also would be available for consideration should injuries or ineffectiveness attack a couple of the other starters higher up on the pecking order."

Didn't the Cubs also re-sign Les Walrond? He's not on the 40 man roster though

KM: I mentioned Les Walrond together with Ben Howard, Jason Anderson, and John Webb in the "BULLPEN" section, as pitchers with a lot of minor league AAA experience and at least some MLB experience, who signed minor league contracts with an NRI to ST, who could conceivably make the Opening Day roster as a reliever, should one of them have an absolute "lights-out" ST. 

However, I don't see anyone from that group (including Walrond) as a candidate for the Cubs starting rotation. If Walrond (or any of the other three) has an unexpectedly outstanding ST and somehow makes the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster, or if one of them pitches well at Iowa and gets called up to the Cubs later in the season (and that's if the four even make the Iowa staff, because it's going to be very crowded), it will likely be as a reliever, not as a starter.

Or at least I hope and trust that things won't get quite as desperate and crazy in the Cubs starting rotation in '07 as they got last year!

Go Cubs!!!!!

Last year, Matt Murton put up .295/.356/.426 against righties, compared to .301/.385/.485 against lefties. So naturally, the Jim Hendry/Lou Pinella brain trust decided that he needed to be platooned.

On the other hand, last year, Mark DeRosa played 60 games in RF. Over the last three years, his line against southpaws was .306/.367/.509, compared to .226/.280/.370 for Jones. It apparently never occurred to Hendry and Pinella to platoon these two in RF, and give Theriot a chance to compete for the 2B spot.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

I lived in Chandler for 7 1/2 years and went to every spring training from 1997 thru 2003. AZ Phil really covered it well for those going to Spring Training. Like AZ Phil, I lived in the East Valley and stayed on the Mesa side of spring training. I really like Scottsdale for games, and Phoenix (A's) is really easy to get to, park, and watch the game. Early in ST, you can walk right up on game day and get tickets (even to the Cubs). If you go after March 15th, you should call first if you don't have tickets.

A couple of restaurants we really enjoyed were Manuel's for Mexican food (Southern and the 101) which is about 15-20 minutes away from HoHoKam. Our favorite (especially those of you from Chicago) was Vito's for Italian and pizza. Vito is originally from Taylor St in Chicago and has the best thin crust pizza I've ever had (including in Chicago). You head north from HoHoKam on Center St until you hit McKelleps, then turn right (East) and go about 8-10 minutes to Lindsay. It's on the right side, just after the intersection. Enjoy.

Luogo molto buon:) Buona fortuna!

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Very interesting website. Keep up the outstanding work and thank you...h

I\'l be back... :)A

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