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A Day Of Renewal

MESA, Arizona -- I walked out this morning with the sun trying to haze through the clouds, and I thought I might be able to make it through the day in shorts and a T-shirt.

Turned right around in the 59-degree weather. No way. Had to put on a jacket and jeans. I figured this must just be nature's way of trying to get me ready for the first two months of baseball at Wrigley Field.

By the time I arrived and set myself up on the LF lawn, I was happy I had done that. The temperature never got out of the low 60's today, it sprinkled for about 10 minutes -- fortunately, no longer than that -- but none of that bothered the Cubs, who efficiently dispatched the Brewers 4-2 today in a game that lasted two hours and twenty-two minutes, in front of another announced sellout of 12,759 (though there appeared to be a thousand or so no-shows, likely due to the threatening weather forecast).

Before the game I had a nice long conversation with Bruce Miles, Cubs beat writer for the Daily Herald. We talked about the prospects for the upcoming season, and despite the current pitching troubles, we both agreed that the Cubs appear to be the favorite in the NL Central.

At least that's how Bruce says he's picking them, and I think I'm leaning toward the same, especially after seeing Carlos Zambrano's dominant performance today. Z threw six innings, the first Cub starter to do so. He breezed through the first four perfectly, with eight strikeouts, and wound up allowing only four harmless singles. He seems ready to go for the season, and also seems to have channeled his boundless energy into his pitching rather than into pointless arguments with umpires and opposing players.

Those opposing players ought to fear this new determination.

I also ran into my friend Bill, who lives in Rockford but winters in Scottsdale. Well, most of the time he does, anyway -- this winter he has been shuttling back and forth between Arizona and Rockford, as he is working hard for one of the candidates in Rockford's mayoral election, coming up next month. Scrupulously not taking sides on this baseball blog, I won't even mention any names.

Also ran into George, who just as last year was still wearing his neon-green Cub ticket wristband. The color has faded a bit, and he said, just as last year, that they hadn't called the number yet. And his number was lower than mine!

One improvement that was made over last year at Ho Ho Kam Park was that the PA speakers in the lawn area are now functioning, so I could actually hear the lineup announcements. That worked fine until Dusty Baker cleared out the few starting players who were in the game (the other half having gone to the split-squad game at Phoenix), and I think that short-circuited not the speaker, but the mind of the PA guy. I made educated guesses on the changes, all of which included guys who shuttled over from Fitch Park, and wound up being right.

Russ Rohlicek, who has already been sent back to minor league camp, showed why, as he was roughed up for the only two Brewer runs in the 7th. Mike Wuertz put out the fire, and Chad Fox finished up for his first spring save -- and I'd think that ought to pretty much wrap up a spot in the bullpen for Fox.

Offensively, the Cubs took care of things off Ben Hendrickson in the first, with four hits and a walk, the crowning blow being a two-run homer by Nomar. This was eerily similar to Hendrickson's first career game against the Cubs last July 29 at Miller Park, only the Cubs didn't wait till the sixth inning this time.

J. J. Hardy, rookie Brewer SS, impressed me with a couple of flashy plays in the field. In a couple of years, he and today's starting 2B, Rickie Weeks, will be one of the top DP combinations in the NL. Right now neither of them is ready for the majors, though.

The usual collection of idiots were sitting on the LF lawn not far in front of me -- harassing Brewers LF Corey Hart the entire game. They had decided that Hart, whose hair is a bit longer than usual and blond, was to be the designated California-surfer-dude of the day (he's not; he's from Bowling Green, Kentucky) and as they got drunker, the heckling got more stupid. Finally Hart actually turned around and laughed at some of the jokes, which only served to encourage them.

The Phoenix split-squad game was an ugly 11-4 loss. Good news: Jason Dubois homered again, his fourth of the spring, and at some point someone (Jim Hendry, one hopes) is simply going to have to shake Dusty Baker and say "THIS GUY IS YOUR STARTING LEFT FIELDER, DEAL WITH IT!"

The A's scored nine runs in the first three innings, all of them earned off Glendon Rusch. However, there is time left to right this ship. I found it odd that four starting players (Burnitz, Patterson, Ramirez and Barrett) were sent to Phoenix to play while the Mesa game was being televised. This was also the first time I saw the new nameless home uniforms in person. They have the odd effect of making the players look heavier -- the names on the back take a lot of the white space up and without them there, even Nomar doesn't look quite so thin.

Also today, Kerry Wood threw a simulated game and is potentially on target to return to real game action within a week or so, and Mark Prior did long-toss.

And the sun will come out tomorrow.

No, really, it will!

On to Peoria tomorrow.