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A Glance At The Future

Brian Dopirak

MESA, Arizona -- With the Cubs in Tucson today, I decided to hie myself over to Mesa, to Fitch Park, the Cubs' minor league complex, to watch some future Cubs.

The last time I went there, in 2003, Cubs minor-leaguers were taking on A's minor-leaguers, and I had hoped for the same today. But no announcements are made on such things, and on arrival I found a couple of intra-squad games going on, in front of 30 or 40 friends and family members of the players, so I decided to sit down and watch along with them. There didn't seem to be any members of the brass watching from the prison-guard-tower-like observation deck, either.

You can tell how far a player has fallen in the organization this way: on a third practice field, Nic Jackson, formerly a top outfield prospect, was helping one of the coaches set up the BP screen, so that he and Buck Coats, a newerish prospect, could take extra hitting while the intrasquad games were on.

I didn't recognize either of the pitchers: one named Estrada, a tall righty, and one named Santana, a not-so-tall righty, and neither of them is listed in the minor league section of the media guide. Estrada looked pretty good, though his repertoire consists of mostly fastballs.

I got to see Ryan Harvey, the #1 draft pick from the 2003 draft, hit once. He didn't. He got called out on strikes. He's 20 years old and looks younger.

Dopirak, whose name is pronounced dah-PAIR-ik, according to the media guide, is 21, and is a big guy -- he's listed as 6-4, 235, and seems even bigger than that. He wasn't playing the field in this game, either; he was the DH. Here he is taking a pitch:

Like Harvey, he struck out, although he did hit a screaming line drive past third base foul, which scattered a bunch of other players sitting down the foul line, to general laughter.

In these sorts of intrasquad games, the emphasis is on learning, even though they are umpired (the plate umpire in particular, seemed quite good, and very emphatic in his strike calls). After one player whose name escapes me popped up, they put him on second base in order to let the next hitter bat in a two-out, runner-on situation.

That hitter struck out as well.

It's nice to do this anyway -- just to sit and hear the crack of the bat and baseballs smacking into catcher's mitts, sitting only 20 or 30 feet away behind a tall chain-link fence, with no admission charge, no one trying to sell you anything, and get an up-close reminder of why we all love this game.

The game ended and after some running drills, the players went back to the clubhouse building, so I drove back home to watch the rest of the Cubs' sloppy 11-9 loss to the White Sox in Tucson on WGN.

The other day I really enjoyed it when Len Kasper and Bob Brenly interviewed Jim Hendry in the booth. Today the Sox announcers did the same, talking to Sox GM Ken Williams. What a fawning mess that was. It was so boring and meaningless that I tuned it out.

The game should have been tuned out as well. I turned it on when it was 4-1 Cubs, Angel Guzman having pitched well enough to probably merit another start five days from now, but then Todd Wellemeyer and Eddie Oropesa (and seeing Oropesa throw you wonder how any major league GM could have signed him to a contract) made a mess of things, although some throwing errors caused most of the trouble in the White Sox' five-run fifth inning.

It was tied in the bottom of the 8th when Joe Borchard slammed a long two-run homer off Jermaine Van Buren. The Cubs scored one in the 9th on an infield groundout, but that was it.

Attendance was 11,563, the largest crowd to see the White Sox in Tucson this spring, and more than twice what they usually draw. This isn't a big surprise -- the Cubs typically do this for teams that don't draw well in the spring. You'll see this, for example, at Surprise on Monday. The Royals usually draw about 4,000 a game; I'd expect around 8,000 for the Cubs there, and it'd be larger if it weren't Monday.

Tomorrow shall be my first visit to Ho Ho Kam Park this spring, that is, of course, if it doesn't rain. There's no place more miserable than a spring training game when it rains.