Before I report on what was, unfortunately, a not-very-newsworthy day at Fitch Park, a quick note or two on the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Rockies in Tucson. I didn't follow on Gameday until quite late, but it seems from the boxscore and also some of your comments in the game thread, that Ted Lilly got hit pretty hard -- nine hits and two walks in five innings is not my idea of a good outing. However, the Rockies are a good-hitting team. So maybe it was just one of those days. The good news is that Ryan Dempster was back, apparently with no ill effects from his goofy "sleeping wrong" the other day, throwing a scoreless inning. I thought I saw Will Ohman at Fitch, but unless he has an evil twin (and with Ohman, who knows?), it couldn't have been, because he also threw a scoreless inning at Tucson. I did see Henry Blanco at Fitch; apparently he's there every day when he's not playing in the regular game, getting some extra at-bats. Good for him.
I see Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run. That's also good, and I suspect we'll see a few of those this season. Not so good: the Cubs had only eight other hits, seven singles and a double by Angel Pagan, who had a decent day (he also walked) -- and he's going to need to keep doing that, in order to keep his bench role on the 2007 Cubs.
Now, on to my day at Fitch -- there were quite a few more people there than I expected, maybe 60 or 70 people watching two games (one was a Triple-A squad, the other, the one I watched, a Double-A game), likely because there was no major league game in Mesa today. It was an assorted bunch of players' girlfriends and wives, retired guys, and people like me just hanging around baseball.
Billy Petrick, who was once a highly-thought-of prospect after he had a very good year in 2004 at Lansing, pitched in the AA game. There's a photo of him below. He's spent most of the last two years hurt, and now at nearly 25 is just hanging on. He's a big guy -- 6-6 -- and throws really hard, but much of the time he doesn't really have very good command. He threw two innings and gave up one run, and then someone named Roberto Sotolongo came in. Sotolongo bears a physical resemblance to Carlos Zambrano, but that's where the likeness ends -- he slings the ball across his body with a pitching motion that's going to wind up getting him a shoulder injury, if he doesn't already have one. He gave up three runs, including one with a bases-loaded walk.
Chris Robinson, the catcher the Cubs got from the Tigers in the Neifi deal, started behind the plate (see photos below). He seems to have a good head for the game -- he went out a couple of times to talk to both pitchers -- and swings the bat pretty well. He'll likely be the starting catcher at Double-A this year, and if he can hit the way he did in the Tigers organization, there's a chance the Cubs might have an actual catching prospect on their hands. He bears watching, anyway.
Watching the umpires come out on the field, I noticed one of them had long hair. That's odd, I thought -- then I realized it was a woman, and in checking this out, I learned that she is Ria Cortesio, the only current female umpire in professional baseball. This will be her ninth season; she'll be in Double-A, the Southern League. She appeared to get along well with the two other umpires in this game, and called the bases (she was officially the 3B umpire, which in a 3-person crew meant she covered 3B and 2B) well. I wish her luck and hope that someday, baseball will be enlightened enough to bring her to the major leagues. At 30, she is still young enough that if she proves herself, she could have a fairly long career as a major league umpire.
Other things seen: Eric Patterson was around, but didn't play in either game. I saw him walking away with someone who looked like one of the strength coaches. And most interestingly, I spotted trainer Mark O'Neal having a very long and animated conversation with John McDonough (which Jim Hendry joined for a short time). It appeared, though I have no official way of knowing this because I didn't want to look like I was eavesdropping, that they might have been discussing the future of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Food for thought, anyway.
Till tomorrow, when Jason Marquis will face the Rangers -- and Sammy Sosa, appearing before a Cubs "home" crowd for the first time since 2004. For the record, in his career with the Cubs, Sosa was 4-for-12 vs. Marquis, with three walks, a double and three RBI.
UPDATE [2007-3-21 0:23:28 by Al]: I misread the media guide -- the guy who relieved Billy Petrick, Roberto Sotolongo, is nearly 25. Petrick's going to be 23 this year, so if he does throw at Double-A, he still might have a shot at resuming prospect status. A long shot, but still a chance nevertheless.
(as always, click on thumbnail to view full-size in new browser window. If you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image in the new window to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image. Photos by Al)