Dee-Fense!

MESA, Arizona -- First of all, I was absolutely thrilled to see the fastest game of the spring yet, 1 hour and 56 minutes, and I imagine the players were too, considering they've got a day game tomorrow in 95-degree weather. In fact, the game almost seemed faster than my drive from Scottsdale over to Mesa, which normally takes about 15 minutes -- except for a night game, you're fighting rush hour traffic, which is getting more and more LA-like in the Phoenix area. I finally wound up getting off the 101 freeway and taking the "shortcut" through the Salt River Indian Reservation. Shh! Don't tell anyone about this shortcut!

Greg Maddux was in midseason form, throwing his usual efficient 60 pitches or so (in six innings), and he also put on a fielding clinic, starting a nifty 1-6-3 DP and snagging another ground ball that was about to go up the middle, as the Cubs beat the A's 1-0 and Scott McClain hit his sixth homer of the spring, which leads all major leaguers, for the game's only run. I was sitting with George from the RF bleachers, who I finally ran into today, and his son, and I said before McClain hit, "How about another home run here and let's go home." No, really -- ask George, I really did say that.

McClain is an interesting player, a guy who had a cup of coffee with Tampa Bay in 1998 and has spent the last three years playing in Japan. At 31 he's no prospect and has no chance of making the team, with Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee (who had a cheering section in the LF corner today, one guy yelling "Derrek!" and then several others yelling "Lee!") entrenched at the only positions he can play. But he surely has impressed management with his hitting this March, and he strikes me as a very useful player who can capably back up in case of injury. It'd be better if he hit lefthanded, but you can't have everything.

Other Cubs got in on the defensive show. Ramon Martinez also started a nice DP, backhanding a ball in short CF and flipping it back to Todd Walker. Corey Patterson made a nice running catch and appears to be suffering no after-effects from the knee injury of last year, though there's now talk that Dusty Baker might rest him a time or two a week. This isn't necessarily a bad idea early in the season when it's cold.

The regulars got half the game off, since there's a day game against the Giants tomorrow, and I'm sure they all appreciated the quick pace of tonight's match. There were only two walks, both by A's pitchers, and Cub pitchers struck out only three (two in the 9th by Mike Wuertz, who will probably be the closer at Iowa this year), so nearly every ball was put in play.

In the "I'm Getting Old" department, the A's center fielder was Nick Swisher, son of former Cub All-Star (yes, he was an All-Star in a year he hit .236, and you can look that up) Steve Swisher. Nick was a top draft pick and will, in a couple of years (he's surely not ready yet and went 0-for-4) begin a much better career than his dad had.

It was absolutely gorgeous tonight, not a cloud in the sky, a crescent moon, and about 85 degrees at game time, which in this climate feels really comfortable. The Ho Ho Kams kept the outfield berm closed until after the Cubs took batting practice, something they started last year after a couple of kids got trampled by adults running after BP homers. This is a double-edged sword; I can understand this thinking, but I would have liked not to have to stand around for half an hour waiting to sit down, then have to run to stake out a spot. If anything it was more crowded on the berm than it was on Sunday afternoon. Tomorrow, it's unlikely anyone will take BP, so this won't be an issue. Otherwise, it was fairly peaceful out there -- probably because the game was too short for anyone to really get out of control. There were also a lot more kids there tonight than on Sunday.

Frankly, I'm not that crazy about night games during spring training and I don't think the players are either. Granted that night games are more routine during the season, but in March you play only one or two of them and this day really must break up their rhythm. Add that to the fact that Ho Ho Kam Park's lights aren't really major league standard (and I don't think any of the spring training parks have major league quality lights), and I'm not sure why the Cubs bother, since they sell out (12,712 today, another sellout) anyway and there's no broadcast involved.

Sight seen: a vendor carrying buckets selling water, wearing a t-shirt reading: "The Waterboy: Beer Is The Devil". Too bad one of the buckets had a sticker promoting a beer company.
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