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The Astros hate the Cubs. Everyone who is not a Cubs fan hates Carlos Zambrano. And the Houstons are opening the season at home with the best pitcher in team history on the mound. You'd think that would be enough to activate their adrenal glands. But of course, there's that other business left over from 2008:

Strange times in the news business—I figured there would be all sorts of coverage about the new Yankee Stadium, where the Cubs will conclude their Spring Training schedule tonight and Saturday afternoon. But no, not a peep, not a detail anywhere. It's like no one is paying attention to the first-ever Major League game in that billion dollar edifice. For all anyone would know, the Yanks are still going to be playing in the old park across the street.

Seriously...

Last week, Arizona Phil offered a thoughtful, reasoned analysis of the Cubs' threats to vacate their spring training home in Mesa, absent major improvements at Fitch Park. In the meantime, with in-laws living in Vero Beach and no baseball to watch out at Dodgertown during my family's annual spring visit to Florida, I have been thinking about what a swell replacement the tradition-rich Cubs would be for the tradition-rich Dodgers, who began training in Vero way back in 1949. The Dodgers are currently enjoying their first spring training out west, at the Camelback Ranch complex in Arizona Phil territory.

Author Charles Fountain, who recently wrote a book about the history of Major League spring training, took up the Cubs to Vero Beach question in a column published in a local paper on Friday. He writes that the notion of the Cubs moving into Dodgertown is beyond a longshot. Beyond even a long, long, longshot.

-- Tigers, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Astros; that's your complete list of the teams which ranked lower than the Cubs in Kevin Goldstein's organizational rankings at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required).

Goldstein's comments about the Cubs, who stood 16th in his '08 rankings:

"Josh Vitters is one of the best pure hitters in the minors; 2008 top pick Andrew Cashner's post-draft struggles were a fluke and his stuff will play; Jeff Samardzija finally began figuring things out."

"Other than Vitters, there is
really not a single hitter in this system that excites anyone; the
weakness in terms of the organization's depth is the key reason that
the long-rumored Jake Peavy deal never went down."

"Samardzija is the only player who is likely to lose his prospect status; there's no reason to see (the Cubs) moving up considerably (in the rankings)."

--We all know that spring training numbers mean next to nothing, but since Opening Day is, what, another 11 weeks away?, they're the only numbers we have, so let's enjoy them, dammit!

Paul Sullivan reports in the Tribune that Sean Marshall has been officially anointed the Cubs' 5th starter.

Says Manager Lou:

"Marshall is going to be the fifth starter, and [Aaron] Heilman is going to pitch in that seventh-eighth inning role."

Less positive news on Corey Koskie, subject of our earlier post. Koskie came out of today's win over the Mariners in the third inning.

"I think when he dove for [a grounder] it caused him some problems,"
Piniella said. "He mentioned he wasn't feeling well, so we just took
him out."

Haven't seen a lineup yet for this afternoon's Cubs-Mariners game, but Lou Piniella's stated plan with Corey Koskie is to "probably play him every couple days and see how he does..."

Koskie started Tuesday's game against the Dodgers and ripped a double off the centerfield wall in his first at-bat. He also walked and grounded out.

In looking for some information on Koskie, I came across an mlb.com article from April of last year, when the longtime Twin, still suffering from the after-effects of a concussion he suffered as a Brewer, dropped by the Metrodome.

"...Elton John's going to help us win some ballgames."

So says Crane Kenney in explaining how the extra revenue the Cubs will realize from three Wrigley Field concerts this summer, including the Elton John/Billy Joel event in late July, will translate into additional payroll flexibility.

More from Kenney:


"The CBOE [seat] auction last year paid for Rich Harden. The 'Road to Wrigley' game sponsored our Asian scouting operation. That's the way, from the business end, we look at these things. All
these elements really help our business move forward. My view is if
you're a Cub fan, you should enjoy the concerts whether you're an Elton
John fan or not."

The Giants visit the Cubs in Mesa Wednesday afternoon (3:05 Central). Ryan Dempster and A-Ram are expected to be in the starting lineup. The game can be heard via mlb.com Webcast.

Here's your Cactus League Attendance Trivia for Wednesday:

The two highest-drawing Cactus League games ever have been played in the last three weeks. The top draw was yesterday's Cubs/Dodgers game at Camelback Ranch (13,046). Now in second place is a February 28th game which drew 13,010. It was also played at Camelback, this one hosted by the White Sox...also against your Chicago Cubs.

There seems to be a pattern here.

As noted here and everywhere else yesterday, Lou Piniella has decided to give Carlos Zambrano the Opening Day assignment at Houston. It will be the fifth time Zambrano has had the honor; the Cubs have gone 2-2 in Z's previous Opening Day outings.

Fergie Jenkins started seven openers for the Cubs, while Rick Sutcliffe started five, and Rick Reuschel, four. The real fun in looking over this list at Baseball-Reference.com is noting which Cub pitchers got to go in Game #1 once, but never again. Here are the last ten such Cub pitchers:

In Friday's New York Times, Alan Schwarz profiled Geo
Soto, and we learn that despite being born in Puerto Rico and attending
high school there, Soto played his first "significant game" in New
York. The Cub catcher lived with his family in the Bronx from the time
he was four until age eight.

Soto remembers it very clearly. It might have been just
below the reservoir. Or maybe down near that ice rink. But it was
definitely in Manhattan's Central Park.


"It was awesome," said Soto... "You go with your dad to
the practice field, but never in my life I'd ever put a uniform on and
played with other kids. I felt like, 'Wow, it's really happening—I'm
going to play baseball.'"

Schwarz also writes about Soto's rapport with the Cubs pitching staff.

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