Cubs Head North
The Cubs moved their Spring Training operation a half-mile north up Center Street from Fitch Park to HoHoKam Park today, and as was the case each of the previous two years, Manager Lou Piniella once again eschewed the ubiquitous and traditional intrasquad game most MLB clubs play the day before Cactus League and Grapefruit League games commence. Lou just does not like to play any more games than necessary during Spring Training, even if it's an informal seven-inning intrasquad game.
With Stadium Operations crews busy accepting food deliveries and scrubbing the rest rooms in preparation for the Cubs Cactus League home opener versus the Dodgers at Dwight Patterson Field tomorrow, Manager Piniella, his coaches, and about a half-dozen Spring Training instructors (including Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, and Bob Dernier) ran the position players through a 2-1/2 hour general work-out (baserunning practice, fielding practice, and soft-toss BP) before about 300 enthusiastic Cubs fans under clear & sunny skies and 75 degree temperatures on the two fields at HoHoKam.
The position players were divided into two groups, essentially an "A" team and a "B" team. The "A" team held their work-out on Dwight Patterson Field (the "main" field), while the "B" team worked-out on the seldom-used back field behind the "Green Monster" (the CF hitting background). .
It's always fun to watch big leaguers take cuts against the slow BP slop of coaches throwing from in front of the mound, and today was no exception. It was Home Run Derby time, with Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, Milton Bradley, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano taking turns slamming moonshots off the scoreboard and totally out of the park. Even Ryan Theriot hit a couple of dingers.
It also appears that Cubs fans may be underestimating the possibility that Luis Rivas will win the 25th slot on the roster. Lou seems to be pleased with what he has seen of Rivas, as the veteran utility infielder was assigned to the "A" team today, taking FP at 3B and SS, and BP in the same group with Soriano, Bradley, Ramirez, and Koyie Hill. (Micah Hoffpauir was assigned to the "B" squad on the back field). Lou specifically walked up to Rivas after his BP session, put his arm around him, and appeared to be praising his work.
I know there has been some talk in the early days of Spring Training about the Cubs going with only one back-up infielder (Aaron Miles) or maybe with an 11-man pitching staff and a six-man bench, but I strongly suspect that when push-comes-to-shove, Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild will talk Lou out of going with only 11 pitchers, and Lou will talk himself out of going with only one back-up infielder. This means that as of right now, Luis Rivas could very well be the front-runner for the last spot on the bench, even though Uncle Lou may not even realize it yet.
Of course, it's also quite possible that Jim Hendry will find a better second back-up infielder who can play SS and 3B at the end of Spring Training (preferrably a switch-hitter with the speed to be used as a late-inning pinch-runner, making Joey Gathright rather than Micah Hoffpauir the "odd man out"), just like he did last year when the right-handed hitting 4th outfielder Jimbo had been looking for the entire off season (one Reed Johnson) fell into his lap at the end of Spring Training 2008
It also appears that Paul Bako and Koyie Hill will be engaged in a fight to the death for the back-up catcher gig. Or at least there should be a spirited competition for the job, until the Cubs are faced with Bako's contract becoming guaranteed if he doesn't get released (probably around March 20th). Both Bako and Hill are in good physical shape, and either of the two could win the job.
Because of the World Baseball Classic, this will be the longest Cactus League season I can remember, with an extra week of games having been tacked onto the front of the schedule and a whopping 19 home games at HoHoKam. I imagine Lou and the boys will be really tired of the grind by the end of Spring Training.