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Spring Training The Way It Used To Be

PHOENIX, Arizona -- Twenty years ago, I went to spring training for the first time. You could walk up to the window, buy the best seat in the house for $3 and sit anywhere you wanted.

That's the way it felt today at Maryvale Baseball Park, which was less than half full -- 4,031, the smallest crowd I've been a part of so far this spring. In fact, when I arrived, I was literally the only one sitting on the right field berm. It's the first time I've been on the berm at Maryvale and it's very steep, the steepest one I've seen, so I sat near the back. The steepness is good because then no one's blocking your view, but then, there wasn't anyone sitting in front of me anyway. I kept thinking, why couldn't they have built a park this lovely in Mesa? It's open and airy and they still could have had as many seats, without the too-crowded atmosphere they always seem to have at Ho Ho Kam Park.

It was fun. The guy next to me sat doing his crossword puzzle, kids played catch and rolled up and down the hill (a wet-blanket security guard who couldn't have been older than 19 chased a kid away from the wall, but I think he was trying to impress his girlfriend), and on a lovely afternoon (they announced the game-time temperature as 92, then said it was 39 in Milwaukee and 46 in Chicago, a nice touch), the Cubs dismantled the Brewers 12-4, and the game wasn't really that close.

Ben Sheets, who's been a thorn in the Cubs' side for a long time, had nothing today. Michael Barrett smacked his first homer of the spring, a monster shot to left, followed in the next inning by a similar bomb from Derrek Lee, and the rest of the Brewer staff (including Dave Burba, trying to hang on for dear life, and he gave up four runs to a bunch of Cub minor leaguers) wasn't any better. Aron Weston, a Cub farmhand, homered off Adrian Hernandez, and the ball was caught on the fly by a guy sitting about 20 feet away from me.

Meanwhile, Kerry Wood breezed through four quick innings, and I found myself surprised to see him yanked so early, but then I saw him walk off the field, smiling and joking around, so I'm sure there's no problem. Kyle Farnsworth threw two good innings as well.

In the box score, you'll see Todd Wellemeyer's line as 3 runs in 1.2 IP, but he gave up two infield singles that would have been turned into outs by major league infielders, and both runners eventually scored. Same with LaTroy Hawkins, who's shown an alarming tendency to lose focus without the game on the line -- he came in for the 9th, gave up a bleeder hit, got two quick strikeouts and then gave up two line-drive hits which scored the Brewers' last run. Want to feel old? That RBI went to the substitute right fielder... Tony Gwynn, Jr., who at the plate looks like a clone of his dad, the younger version, at least, not the heavyset Gwynn Sr. of his later years.

Sammy Sosa got razzed when he dropped an easy fly ball, but the next three batters made out.

I love the park at Maryvale, it's in a nice setting in spite of the out-of-the-way location and the most expensive parking in the Cactus League ($7 -- Howard and his family, who spent the morning touring Taliesin West didn't have to pay by the time they arrived), and by the time we left some angry-looking dark clouds were blowing up to the south, and there are some scattered rainshowers in the area, the first I've seen in two weeks here.

Tomorrow is the final day of the regular Cactus League season, and it was supposed to be Randy Johnson against Greg Maddux, but now I hear that Jimmy Anderson may be given the start as the Cubs try to find any alternative to Sergio Mitre as Mark Prior's temporary replacement.