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We Got Wood!

MESA, Arizona -- I hereby pronounce Kerry Wood ready to start the regular season on Monday.

OK, OK, I know -- my opinion doesn't really count, but Wood showed no effects of the flu he battled for most of March, and was terrific for three innings, and decent enough for the five he threw, allowing five hits and two runs, striking out five, and the Cubs used their scrubs to rally in the 9th to beat the Angels 7-6. Results like this show how meaningless spring games are.

The Angels starter, John Lackey, who may be their opening day starter with Jarrod Washburn questionable, only threw two innings. Reliever Scott Shields shut the Cubs down, then the Cubs came back nicely against Troy Percival (who allowed ringing doubles to Ramon Martinez and somebody named Francisco Salas who looked like he had just suited up from the ground crew), and John Snyder, who the Angels probably regret signing to a minor-league contract, who didn't get anyone out in the 9th as the Cubs scored three runs.

Before I summarize this game, let me mention that today was the first time I had seen the Cubs take a "conventional" batting practice -- i.e. not one on the practice fields. It is HoHoKam policy this year to not allow the outfield berm open before BP is over -- apparently last year there were some incidents with adults running over little kids going for balls. At about 12, with BP still going, one of the security types came by and opened the gate, letting us in. He then proceeded to get into a huge argument with one of the HoHoKams about whether or not it should have been opened. But by then 100 of us were already in, so the point was moot. Kids and teenagers wound up shagging several dozen HR balls during what remained of BP, with no incidents.

This is just a sample of how poorly people are treated at HoHoKam Park -- the "no backpack" rule is so arbitrary, and in fact, MLB has recently rescinded this ban at ML parks, but apparently the small minds that run the park at Mesa can't figure out that simply having a backpack open for inspection, like any other bag, should be OK. There is nothing inherently "evil" about backpacks, and thanks to MLB for finally figuring this out. Maybe it'll filter down, but I doubt it. I've written before about the rotten food and souvenir selection at Mesa, and in the next day or two I'll write a comprehensive review of the AZ spring training parks (at least, the ones in the Phoenix metro area).

Back to baseball. Wood looked really sharp in the first three innings -- I went and sat with friends for a while behind the plate and saw his readings on the gun -- consistently 93 or over. One Wood bugaboo came back -- he has a tendency to get rattled if a ball/strike call doesn't go his way, and that showed in the fourth, when he allowed three hits and a walk after two were out. I didn't get his pitch count but it couldn't have been much over 80 or so. There' s no reason he couldn't start on Monday in New York, and I expect him to.

Moises Alou homered for the second game in a row, and he appears to be turning his game up a notch. Hee Seop Choi came into the game late, and hit an absolutely monstrous home run to right-center field leading off the 9th inning rally, which was capped by a double down the LF line by Javier Cardona, a catcher who bears watching in the organization, especially since the Cubs really don't have any catching prospects, except at the lower levels. Tom Goodwin, who apparently will make the team, also tripled in this rally. For some reason, Alan Benes hasn't been cut yet, but after allowing two hits and a run today, I'd think his days are numbered. Francis Beltran, who was ticketed for Iowa anyway, had a really bad inning, and allowed an absolute rocket of a home run to Garret Anderson.

I have heard that with Antonio Alfonseca out, Rod Beck will get the last bullpen spot, and there are unconfirmed rumors that a deal "for a hitter" may be in the works before the week is out.

This will be my final report from spring training for 2003, as I return to Chicago tomorrow. It's been a wonderful time, and despite all our complaints, the Cubs do somehow seem to find ways to win -- in the ten games I've seen, they're 7-2 with the one tie vs. the Giants. Let us all hope that the winning attitude, at least, carries over to the games for real, beginning on Monday.