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Back To The Drawing Board

PEORIA, Arizona -- I could blame Ernie again, but he and Carole were at the Grand Canyon all day, and didn't get to the game untiil the second inning, by which time the Cubs were already down 1-0.

Incidentally, here is Ernie's analysis of spring training: "Spring training is all about being physically prepared for the season, not mentally prepared. They weren't mentally prepared to play tonight, and tonight they weren't mentally sharp."

You can't argue with that, especially tonight, when what is likely to be the opening day lineup lost to the Padres 7-1 in the final night game of the Cactus League season (I'm not counting next Friday night's game at Bank One Ballpark against the Diamondbacks, because that one will have a regular season feel to it).

Jeff & Krista & I met at a recommended "cheap eats" place near Peoria Stadium called Caramba's, which was as advertised, good Mexican food at cheap prices. It's fairly easy then to get into the Peoria Sports Complex parking lot, though as usual, the local police make you go what is inevitably the opposite direction to where you want to go when leaving. Luckily, there are plenty of places to turn around and go the right way.

If you think I'm avoiding talking about the game, I'm going to do some more of that. We had first row seat down the third-base line and couldn't get there before the game because literally hundreds of people were trying to get Cub autographs. Moises Alou did come over and sign a few after warmups, and Jeff was sitting close enough to reach out and... well, let's not go there.

There were six military parachutists who landed on the field before the game, and that seemed to enthrall the Cub players more than the game itself; they all stood and stared at the precision landings, except for Alou, who was sprawled out, appearing to take a nap.

The game program they sell at Peoria ($3) has some really nice photos of the Padres' new stadium, Petco Park.

Was supposed to meet Eric Margheim from the Cubs newsgroup, but he never came by. Perhaps tomorrow at Mesa.

OK, I have avoided discussing the game long enough. Greg Maddux started tonight, which surprised me -- what's happened to Matt Clement? His last start was last Saturday in the split-squad game against the A's and tonight should have been his turn. Maddux threw well enough, until he started to not get some strike calls that he wanted, from Alfonso Marquez, who has a reputation as a poor ball-and-strike umpire, and that helped turn a 1-0 game into a 5-0 game in the fifth, the big blow being a 2-run homer by Cub tormentor Brian Giles; I'm very happy that Giles is no longer in the NL Central, meaning we only have to face him six times this year instead of 18.

Andy Pratt (wearing uniform #29) made his Cub debut in the sixth, throwing an uneventful scoreless inning. He's got a quirky little motion and if he can get his out pitch, the sinker, across the plate I think he will be quite successful. Everyone else would have gotten out of the game unscathed if not for a dropped fly ball by Tom Goodwin, which allowed two unearned runs to score off Joe Borowski, who had walked a couple of batters in the bottom of the 8th after getting two easy outs.

Meanwhile, the Cubs could not generate any offense; two doubles in the first inning were wasted after Jake Peavy settled down and struck out the side and the only excitement later was a triple by Michael Barrett (wasted) and a couple of singles sandwiched around a walk to Todd Walker, which resulted in the only Cub run, and even then the rally was snuffed out when Tom Goodwin was thrown out at second. The whole team didn't look like they wanted to be there today; I hope they have their good attitudes on for tomorrow. At least the game was fairly fast and merciful, two hours and twenty minutes.

One of the greatest names ever to wear a Cub uniform, Buck Coats, who has spent the last two years at Lansing, played half the game at SS. Coats is tall and skinny and will probably play this season at West Tenn (double-A).

I cannot figure this out for the life of me -- the seat next to us was occupied by at least four different people throughout the game, telling us they were "switching", though why they did that is beyond me. I also saw that their ticket had been purchased two days ago. How can this be, when I bought the five tickets immediately adjacent on January 30?

Finally, there is disquieting news about Mark Prior -- there's an unsubstantiated rumor that he might be out till June, which Larry Rothschild was quick to deny. But you cannot deny that Prior has been held back another couple of days, and the Cubs website says he'll probably miss at least the first two weeks of the season.

Let us hope they are just being overly cautious.