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Minor Leaguers Are People Too

MESA, Arizona -- As we "shocked and awed" (and who came up with that stupid phrase?) Iraq, I drove to Fitch Park, home of the Cubs' minor league complex, to watch a couple of games between Cub farmhands and Oakland Athletics farmhands, on an absolutely gorgeous, near 80-degree day, with a few fair-weather clouds scudding on by.

While this was going on, unbeknownst to most of the 100 or so people gathered at Fitch, Kerry Wood was throwing a six-inning simulated game, closed to the public, at Ho Ho Kam Park. He pronounced himself healthy and ready for Opening Day; he'll throw one more spring start, on Wednesday vs. Anaheim.

On the two fields at Fitch, the Lansing roster and the Daytona roster were playing their respective A's counterparts. I mostly watched the Lansing game, primarily -- and I know this is a stupid reason -- because that way I could get more sun directly on me; considering how awful the weather has been up to now, I hope you can forgive that indulgence.

Starting pitcher for Lansing was lefthander Justin Jones, a second-round pick last year. He threw five innings, gave up one run, which in fact was the only run of the game, and was betrayed by a shaky defense, which was responsible for allowing the run. Jones throws pretty hard and he'll be a mainstay of the Lansing rotation this year.

Of the other prospects in that game, probably the best known is Felix Pie, a speedy outfielder who played first RF, then shifted to CF. He showed a good arm; I wish I could say more, but he was 0-for-4. He tried to bunt his way on to start the game, but popped up. He clearly has talent, but is very raw.

More polished was catcher Chris Miller, who threw out two runners stealing with a gun of an arm. He didn't hit much last year at Boise; if he can develop a bat, he can move up fast in the Cub system, which is pretty bereft of catchers.

Finally, Jason Wylie, who had 11 saves at short-season Boise last year, threw the 9th and was very impressive. No one there had a radar gun, but the ball was popping off the catcher's glove. Must have been mid-90's at least. Plus, he has a personality -- I spotted him after the game running off, still in uniform, hand in hand with a young lady who I presume was his girlfriend.

I watched a bit of the Daytona game to watch Chadd Blasko, a sandwich pick last year, throw. He impressed me most with his offspeed stuff, though the A's were hitting him around pretty good -- 3 runs allowed in five innings. Luis Montanez played SS in this game and made one nice diving catch of a line drive.

The brass was all there -- Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and John McDonough. However, they stayed mostly in the off-limits-to-fans tower overlooking the field and weren't accessible. I swear, that tower looks like a prison guard tower and you expect someone to pull out the machine guns if they don't like the way someone is playing.

Many of the players would sit on the bleachers behind the fields when they weren't playing -- and since so many of the low-minors kids are Hispanic, there was a constant chatter going on in Spanish. Wish I understood more of it, because with all the laughter, I wonder how much of it was baseball-related.

Ran into my friend Ron Hayden from the LF bleachers today; he managed to last a couple hours there before he went on back to his hotel room.

More tomorrow from Mesa; here's hoping that the human air-raid siren has been deported (or something like that) by now.