"Put The Girl Over There!"

MESA, Arizona -- That's what someone on the LF lawn yelled when Cubs minor league catcher Mark Reed was called out at first base in the fourth inning by major league umpire Mike Winters on a very close play.

Everyone laughed, but the best thing about Ria Cortesio's appearance as one of the three-person umpiring crew today, the first time a woman has called plays at a Cactus League game since 1989, is that she wasn't noticed. And when an umpire is doing his -- or HER -- job, that's the best thing you can say, that they weren't noticed.

Cortesio rotated around the bases with Winters, with another minor league umpire, Jason Kiser, calling the balls and strikes on a sun-kissed, 70-degree afternoon in the Valley; just when it appeared that the Cubs might be fighting toward their third tie of the spring, Micah Hoffpauir's three-run homer, just inside the right-field line, in the last of the 7th inning, gave them a 7-4 win over the Astros Diamondbacks.

What is it with teams? Can't they come up with original color schemes? Sure, the D'backs' new red-and-sand-and-black uniforms are nice enough, but they look exactly like the Astros from a distance, and that is, of course, where most fans at the ballpark are going to be viewing them from.

Well, I'm sure they'll sell a lot more authentic game jerseys and caps -- Jim from AZ Snakepit, and Mrs. Snakepit (it's OK, even he calls her that!), at whose home I attended a nice BBQ a couple of weeks ago, had bought their own personalized jerseys in the new color scheme, and I'm sure they're not alone. Today's crowd of 12,917 -- an all-time single-game Cactus League record, incidentally (and the total attendance at Ho Ho Kam Park this spring was 175,891, the fourth-highest season total for any team in spring training, whether in Arizona or Florida) -- included quite a few red (or is that maroon? I can't tell) clad D'backs fans, who, if they'd like, can see their actual major league players tonight at the BOB (some of the locals told me that they can't bring themselves to call it Chase Field).

There sure weren't any of those players in evidence today in Mesa. It was an all-rookie and backup team (I confess, I hadn't heard of any of them except for Dee Brown, and I know that's not the basketball player, but doesn't it seem like there are "Dee Brown"s in just about every sport?) that took the field for Arizona and promptly scored a first-inning run off Wade Miller, helped along by a throwing error from Mark DeRosa on a sacrifice attempt. Miller gave up another run on two hits in the second before throwing a 1-2-3 third, and then leaving the game, for pinch-hitter Derrek Lee.

Yes, many of the regular Cubs got the day off today also -- Aramis Ramirez and Cliff Floyd also made cameos as pinch-hitters -- as I got my first look at last year's #1 draft pick, Tyler Colvin, who started in right field today. Colvin had two hits and played a competent right field, and though he got his career off to a rather slow start in short-season ball last year, I know the club has high hopes for him to fast-track his way up the organizational ladder.

Bob Howry, who's had a rather shaky spring, threw an uneventful scoreless inning, and Hector ("I'm Not Danny") Almonte pitched two 1-2-3 innings, setting the stage for Hoffpauir's homer, which followed a walk to Matt Murton and single by Ryan Theriot off D'backs reliever D. J. Carrasco.

Ronny Cedeno had two more hits today. Whoever this guy is inhabiting Cedeno's body -- please don't wake him up till October, OK? The performance this spring -- and I am well aware that spring stats can be deceiving -- is what we all hoped we might see from Cedeno coming off the small-sample-size 2005 season he had. If he can play like this coming off the bench, the Cubs will have two of the better backup infielders (along with Ryan Theriot, who also had two hits today, in addition to a walk) in baseball.

The early game start was, in part, so that the Cubs could head to Sky Harbor Airport for their charter flight to Las Vegas. I, too, am heading to the airport shortly after I finish this post for my flight back to Chicago, not wanting to leave the sunshine and new friends made on the LF berm; I'm going to forget some names if I try to name all of you -- so I'll just say thank you for welcoming me, for saving me a spot today, and for the three of you who live in the Chicago area, and you know who you are (and yes, I'll say hi to Steve Dolinsky for you), I'll see you in the bleachers this summer.

I'm excited for this season. There's a feeling of a new sense of purpose to this team, organization, direction, and a goal, which we all share. Can't wait for Opening Day on Monday!

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