MESA, Arizona -- The sun was out and it was about 62 degrees when I left for today's game, so I wore shorts and a T-shirt.
Big mistake, as it turned out -- it started getting cloudy, and a little before 3:00 the sky got really dark; the sort of sky that if you were in the Great Plains you'd fear a tornado was nearby, but here, all it meant was a raging downpour, and so after six innings the ballgame was called, a 4-4 tie with the Brewers.
But the big story was Sean Marshall. Marshall threw three innings, gave up a bunt single to Bill Hall and a looping single to J. J. Hardy; he walked one and hit Geoff Jenkins (who went to first base wringing his hand and left the game later on) -- and that was it.
Marshall has mound presence. Marshall has the curveball we all wish Rich Hill had. Marshall mixed up his pitches well, and even looked OK in his time at bat, hitting a hard line drive to right field for an out.
OK, it's only one game, and only three innings, but I imagine that's enough to get him another start five days hence, and put him in the frontrunner's spot for the fifth-starter slot once the Cubs need one come April 15.
BCB reader "San Diego Smooth Jazz Man", who many of you have seen post here, was at the game today, and he and I agreed on the description of Marshall I posted above. (See some more of his comments on today's game in this diary.) He came out to the lawn to say hi before the game, we talked for a while about the Cubs, about BCB, and about the media biz that we both inhabit in our day jobs. Then he went back to his seat behind 3B; I called him when I left the game... which, I will admit, was one-half-inning short of the completion.
Hey, it's an exhibition game. I had shorts on, and once the rain started it was cold and windy, and I had my blanket wrapped around me and I was STILL cold -- and I figured, correctly, that once the game was stopped they wouldn't continue. I got to my car just as it started pouring; later I got a call from the Jazz Man telling me it was a "deluge".
This was my first time at Ho Ho Kam Park this year, and the crowd was definitely smaller than previous years. 11,483 was the announced attendance; that's about 1000 short of capacity, and the lawn, while somewhat crowded, wasn't anywhere near the packed, unable-to-move-around throng I've seen for the last couple of years. I managed to avoid He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named until I was on my way out, when I was walking toward the CF exit and he was traipsing through the crowd toward LF. I hope he got soaked.
Other good things that happened today: Ronny Cedeno hit a two-run HR, which landed about ten feet in front of me, sitting in front of the clock on the LF scoreboard. Made a play for it, but someone with a glove grabbed it before I could get hold of it. This happened after Matt Murton walked, showing really nice plate discipline off a tough pitcher, Chris Capuano. Note to Dusty Baker: with Cedeno's HR (his first of the spring), this walk did NOT clog the bases.
When Geoff Jenkins batted in the fifth with a man on first and one out, the Cubs put on a Barry Bonds-like shift, with all the infielders on the right side of 2B. Jenkins obliged by hitting a ground ball right to Cedeno -- playing where the second baseman normally would. He flipped to Aramis Ramirez -- covering second base and Aramis made a nifty pivot move, completing a weird 6-5-3 double play.
Bad things today: after Marshall's excellent three innings, Bob Howry came in and gave up three doubles and two runs, and two of the doubles were pounded far over Juan Pierre's head to the deep reaches of CF, more than 400 feet away. It is my opinion that Pierre plays far too shallow -- this isn't the first day that I've seen balls fly over his head. I gather he wants to use his speed to catch up with those, and thus maybe be able to catch balls hit more shallow. This might work in Wrigley Field, but it doesn't in the larger outfields of the Cactus League.
After Howry's appearance, Matt Ciaramella (the PTBNL in the Jermaine Van Buren deal) batted for him and grounded out -- but the Cubs added a run on a couple of singles and a sac fly by Ramirez (on which Brewer CF Brady Clark made a nice diving catch), after which Les Walrond came in to pitch.
Why? Why? Why? First of all, everyone knew rain was coming and this was supposed to be Ryan Dempster's day to throw an inning. Walrond has less chance of making the Cubs' 25-man roster than I do. He will probably be released at the end of camp. Why put him in a game? He obliged the Brewers by issuing two walks and two hits, resulting in a tie game, and further resulting in another day that Dempster has to wait to pitch again.
That's where it ended after the rain poured down, and I'll spare you the cliched "kissing your sister" jokes. Tomorrow, Greg Maddux will go against the Padres in Peoria in the Cubs' first night game of the spring -- and we won't see Derrek Lee yet again. His return is being postponed till "later in the week".
I'm going to trust that is the truth, and not bad news.
Finally, they haven't changed the concession choices at Ho Ho Kam -- I think that'll finally happen next year. But they have fixed the PA speakers on the berm, so I could actually hear the lineup announcements and changes. And they've added one that I first heard at the Brewers' park at Maryvale -- they announced the game-time temperature (62), followed by the temperature in Chicago (32).
Nice, but it works a lot better when it's 92 here.