Springing Forward

I can already tell that I’m going to run out of quotes and clever post titles with “spring” in them before I run out of spring training related posts. Blogging… don’t let anyone tell you it’s an easy life, kids.

In any case, here are my latest commentaries on all things Cub.

Intrasquad Games: The great thing about intrasquad games is that it’s impossible for the Cubs to lose. Of course, it’s impossible for them to win, too, but that’s a small detail that I am personally willing to accept.
So far, the victories have all lain with the hitters (though they had help from some interesting wind conditions, from what I hear.) Brett Jackson has been showing his mettle, hitting jacks and doubles all over the place, as has FBB-favorite Matt Szczur, who scored from second base on a sacrifice fly (it may have been due to right-fielder David DeJesus’s having got his hand stuck in a chain-link fence, but still…) AND hit a grand slam. You go, Matt.

“Real” Games: The Cubbies played their first “real” match-up of the spring yesterday afternoon, against the A’s. Of course, these games are not REALLY real, but they are more real than intrasquad affairs.
The farmboys showed up the veterans in this match-up. The same thing sort of happened in the intrasquad games, and I am delighted. Watching the youngsters have success is a joy to behold, even in the preseason. Outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha, one of several Cubs prospects who hails from South Korea, knocked in 2 runs with a triple. Infielder Adrian Cardenas (of whom I have no further knowledge to offer as of now) drove in three with a home run in the 6th inning. Keep up the good work, kids!
In the end, the A’s came out on top with a very typical Spring score of 12-10. Fortunately, as it IS the spring, we have no reason to care for scores or outcomes. We can just be happy that baseball, once again, is.

Bunt Tourney Update: Dale Sveum has pulled off a couple of upsets, defeating Kerry Wood and favorite Ryan Dempster respectively in the first two rounds. There are just sixteen competitors remaining, now, and it’s hard to say who will come out on top. I can’t see a clear-cut favorite anymore, especially not the way things have gone so far. Pretty much all the guys we assumed would excell have been eliminated.
The sweet 16 match-ups, as per Carrie Muskat, are as follows:
Jeff Beliveau vs. Trey McNutt

Chris Rusin vs. Casey Coleman

Jeff Samardzija vs. Randy Wells

Paul Maholm vs. Dale Sveum

Adrian Cardenas vs. Blake Lalli

Welington Castillo vs. Steve Clevenger

Joe Mather vs. Starlin Castro

Jeff Baker vs. David DeJesus

I’m going to be super random and pick Chris Rusin to go all the way. I think he’s crafty enough to pull it out. On a side note, I’ve been meaning to dedicate a Farm Boy Files post to Chris for at least a year. Hopefully I’ll get that done one of these days.

Dale Sveum celebrates his victory over Kerry Wood.

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“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”

My friends, spring has sprung. Like a jaguar out of hiding… like a slinky falling down a flight of stairs. It is upon us.

Here is a random collection of thoughts on Cubs camp happenings thus far:

So long, Chris Carpenter: It hurts to lose a promising young pitcher, but at least the saga of the Theo compensation will nag at us no longer. I extend all my best wishes to Mr. Carpenter, but I’m not looking back on this one. At least not until Chris goes and wins the 2012 AL Cy Young for the Red Sox. Which wouldn’t shock me one bit.

As you can see, Jeff Samardzija is going with the Alexandre Dumas look again this season:

This is fine with me, as it is an excuse to bring back my good friend, the musketeer lego man. All for one and one for all!

On the other side of that coin, Brett Jackson has cleaned up considerably since the winter…

If Jeffrey wants a pal to swashbuckle with, Travis Wood might be the best candidate.

I don’t quite know how a spring training bunting tournament ballooned into a spectacle that has Cubs personnel, media, and fans everywhere taking notice. But I like it. I like it a lot.
Tony Campana had emerged as the early favorite on the position player’s side, only to be upset by Steve Clevenger in the first round. The man to beat now might just be youngster Matt Szczur. My sources like Ryan Dempster on the pitcher’s end (the outcry to his being seeded as a #10 was significant. ‘Tis a head-scratcher, indeed, as Ryan has always been a most proficient bunter.) I always pull for the underdog, so you can bet I’ll be supporting whichever unlikely candidate makes it the farthest.
I know one thing for sure. After all the extracurricular bunt practicing and tourney hoopla, this team better be able to bunt with lethal precision once the regular season rolls around.
Stay tuned!

I have already heard some griping about what a pain this Cubs team is going to be to watch this season, what with all the young, inexperienced players we’ll be trotting out. It baffles me how such pessimistic souls live with themselves. I mean, they’re probably right. It is very likely that the Cubs are on their way to limping through yet another sub-par year. But, for goodness sake, it is Spring Training! A game has yet to be played. If you can’t feel at least a little excitement at this point, I pity you.

Hey, guys… the first real game of the preseason is just five days away! Be ready to jump for joy (or, even more appropriately, spring for it.)

Here are just a few more visuals to tide us over:

Marlon Byrd offers some of his expertise to Reed Johnson’s little boy.

Dale Sveum can see you.

Brotherly love.

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”

I had hoped I’d be able to scrounge up a little audio by this point. No such luck. Next week, perhaps. Instead, here are some more springy photos for our eye-feasting pleasure, which have been scavenged from various sites across the web.

Angel Guzman gives a pat on the head to fellow relief pitcher Carlos Marmol. The real question: Why is he wearing a batting helmet?

Newbie Marlon Byrd shows the fans a little love

Mike Fontenot and his hair

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild and air-horn… this might be the picture of the spring so far.

It happens every spring

Every spring and every team has it’s own little tree of story-lines to keep fans interested. Today’s post is dedicated to identifying the branches and twigs of Cubness that are likely to keep the Chicago faithful atwitter for the next month and a half.

The Geovany Soto Chronicles One of the most prevalent subjects I’ve seen thus far concerns our young catcher. Which Geo will we see in 2010? The 2008 Rookie of the Year? Or the 2009 disappointment? Time will tell. On Tuesday, Geovany responded to speculations that he’d been on steroids (the 40-pound weight loss raised suspicions.) Here are some selected quotes from his statements:

I wasn’t strong. I was just fat.” (Good answer, Geo.)

My dad used to tell me, because I used to open the refrigerator a lot, ‘Just eat right, small portions throughout the day, it’s a lot better,’ We didn’t know that [growing up]. I got a personal trainer, a professional in that area, to try and help me. I stick to the program and it worked. I’m really happy I did it, because I feel a lot better.” (That’s good enough for me.)

A little before and after.

The Progressions of Ted Lilly When will our lovable lefty be able to pitch again? Ted wants to be ready by Opening Day, which seems… optimistic, to say the least. But, hey! If anyone can do it, Ted Lilly can. If he came back early and threw a no-hitter in his first start of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised. Seriously, though, this is what Ted himself had to say:

If it turns out to be May 1 or whenever after that, then that’s what it is. The whole idea is to not only come back as soon as possible and start contributing, but to be productive, too.”

He also spoke of the early arrivals to camp of many Cubs players:

I would hope that failure is a major motivator. This is my opinion, but us not getting to the playoff is failing. We’ve got a lot of talent, and we expect that of ourselves.”

Ted also had this to say, on 2010 being the last year of his contract.

I think the best thing to do is not make it be about yourself. I don’t want to draw attention to myself that way or distract from anything our club is trying to do. I don’t think it’s all about me. That’s my perspective, and I’d like to keep that behind closed doors.”

I love this man.

The non-story of Carlos Marmol It irritates me that people are already making an issue of “Marmee.” It’s as if folks are expecting him to fail. I do not see Marmee as a problem at this point. HE IS OUR CLOSER, LET US ACCEPT HIM AS SUCH AND GET BEHIND HIM ALREADY.

The Return of Greg Maddux He’s back! Squeeeeee! Who isn’t happy to have Mr. Maddux amongst us? Beat reporter Carrie Muskat twittered the following on Wednesday: “Greg Maddux just strolled into the Cubs facility at Fitch Park, looking more like a special ass’t to GM than a pitcher.” Oh, how I smile. Because, let’s be honest… Greg Maddux has always looked a little more like a general manager’s assistant than a pitcher.

Battle for the back end of the rotation So we got Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. We hope Ted Lilly will be ready soon and that Randy Wells will be able to replicate his outstanding rookie season. Then we got Carlos Silva, Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzellany, and Jeff Samardzija in competition for the fifth spot (and the fourth spot, whilst Ted R. Lilly is vacant from it.) My money is on The Shark.

Battle of the pine-riders There is also competition for a spot (probably just a single spot) on the bench. Combatants include Micah Hoffpauir, Andres Blanco, Kevin Millar, and Chad Tracy. I can’t help but root for James Micah Hoffpauir. At the same time, I have a major crush on Andres Blanco’s glove. Sigh.

Is the future now? What kind of showing are we going to get from super-prospect Starlin Castro? This is probably going to be the most interesting twig to keep an eye on throughout the course of the spring. Cubs legend and minor-league manager Ryne Sandberg had these things to say:

Is it too big a jump at his age? It’s all up to the individual. But I’ve never seen a guy start at low A, go to high A, then Double-A and the Arizona Fall League all in one year and dominate like Castro did.”

“We don’t know how he handles adversity because he hasn’t had any. But when he was with us at Double-A, I saw a lot of good things. He was disappointed if we lost, or if he didn’t advance a runner, or didn’t feel like he had a quality at-bat.”

He could be slated for Triple-A, but if he has a big camp, he might give them no choice.”

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For even more good springy info, check out this Bruce Levine chat from Tuesday.

The Daily Herald has some photosBoys of Spring has better ones.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago has some nice video.

The happiest of possible words: Pitchers and catchers report

Pitchers and catchers report. To a baseball fan, there cannot be too many four words together that carry more excitement or anticipation (Maybe, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” Maybe.) It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of the reigning World Champions, or the team that lost 100 games the previous year. When pitchers and catchers report, there is always hope.

Spring training, after awhile, is always kind of like an h’ors d’oeuvre, or a movie trailer. By the end, you’re ready for the main course, or the real movie. Starting off, though, there is nothing like it to whet one’s appetite after a long hungry winter.

Here are some assorted photos to offer us all a little spring warmth.

This isn’t actually a spring training photo. It was taken in Japan a couple weeks ago, I believe. But when I saw those shorts Ichiro has on, I knew I couldn’t let it pass.

Hey, look! It’s two of the most admirable men in baseball.

John Grabow and Randy Wells, already feelin’ the burn. (Courtesy Tim Sheridan’s Boys of Spring blog)

Big Z hits a monster shot while youngster Tyler Colvin looks on.