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Late Night With The Cubs

Sunset over Ho Ho Kam Park, March 28, 2005

(click on photo to view full-size in new browser window; if you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image. All photos in this post by Al)

MESA, Arizona -- During the afternoon Fan Fest at Ho Ho Kam Park, both Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry hinted that Chad Fox had made the ballclub.

Maybe they better reconsider, after Fox stunk the joint out again tonight in an interminable 11-7 loss to the Mariners, their fourth loss in a row.

As I sometimes do, I'm starting at the end of the day.

This afternoon, the Cubs hosted a "Fan Fest" at the park -- the literature handed out gave a lot of people the impression that players would be available for autographs, but it turned out to be a Cub Convention-like Q&A session in the sunshine. This wasn't enough for one man, who, after learning there were to be no autographs, demanded his $5 parking fee refunded. They did so -- and also, for the rest of us who had to pay $5 to park for the free-admission Fest, we got tickets allowing us to leave and re-park for the game at no additional cost.

Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry answered questions for quite some time, moderated by the very casually dressed Bob Brenly. Brenly, in fact, got off a good line himself when asked if he wanted to manage again. In reply he said, "I work in a great ballpark with a great view of the game, and I go home and it's not my fault!"

No big news was made, although as noted it was intimated that Fox has made the team -- that was before tonight's disastrous 9th inning, more anon. Hendry said the club hopes to have Aramis Ramirez signed to an extension by Opening Day, and that the team will probably NOT negotiate with Nomar during the year, just hope he has a big year and re-sign him afterwards.

I asked both Hendry and Baker about Jason Dubois (to which the moderator asked me in an aside, "Are you his agent?") -- and it appears that Dubois has made the team as well, since Baker said he'd likely spell Todd Hollandsworth against lefties. This is good news -- if he's on the team, at least he'll be there instead of having to have another nothing-left-to-prove year at Iowa.

Ryan Dempster and Michael Barrett came out and apparently were auditioning for a second career as a comedy team. They were hilarious, saying they were each other's favorite player, and telling a young woman in the stands asking "for her sister" if either were single (both are married), that they could go find a few single guys in the dugout.

Dempster also did a dead-on impression of Harry Caray.

Then Todd Walker and Nomar came out, and Walker might as well have sat down, because 99% of the questions were for Nomar. Both players said the toughest pitcher they ever faced was Randy Johnson -- they may have to do so again this June. Nomar kept getting asked to compare Boston and Chicago -- fans, ballpark, etc. and he diplomatically sidestepped most of those by saying he was happy to be here. Actually, he did seem genuinely happy to be there today, gracious and funny.

Funniest moment: Nomar was asked about a "rumor" that he had bought Michael Barrett a car in exchange for his #5 last summer. He said, "Yes, it was a Matchbox car." Then he went on to say that they had made a deal but he couldn't reveal details. At that precise moment Barrett, now dressed for BP, stepped out of the dugout and yelled, "Liar!" -- to laughter from all, including the approximately 1000 people scattered through the seats.

And that was just the first half of the day. Returning for the game, I met Brian and his two friends, who arrived late last night. While we were over visiting Jeff in RF -- he sat there today because his friends Mark & Gail and their two little boys also arrived today, and there's more room for kids to run around there -- we got invited by Brian's friend Cindy who works at the ballpark, to have dinner in the media/VIP room.

Which is how I wound up with a nice dinner of ribs, which were quite good!

About the game, the story is depressingly the same. Glendon Rusch gave up hits to the first three batters he faced -- the third of which was a triple by Adrian Beltre which almost went through the hitters' backdrop in dead CF, it was hit so hard, probably going about 480 feet.

He only allowed one hit the rest of his three innings. So which is the real Rusch? We'll know next week, I suppose.

Reliever Roberto Novoa (who was never announced) came up to bat in the 4th. After swinging at the first two pitches, I said to Brian, "It looks like he's never even touched a bat before!"

Boom! Next pitch, RBI single to RF, making him the third Cub relief pitcher I have seen get a hit this month.

The rest of the Cub offense -- and tonight's lineup is likely the Opening Day lineup -- was fine, drawing two walks in the first, one of them with the bases loaded, and then after Novoa gave the Mariners the lead back with a putrid inning including two BB's and a HBP, Jeromy Burnitz hit his third HR of the spring to make it 7-6.

An inning later, after all the starters had been pulled (likely due to tomorrow's day game), Neifi Perez tied the game on a groundout.

The game slogged along till the 9th, and I told a couple of guys who were debating staying who were worried about extra innings that I figured there was no way they'd play past nine.

I was right, but not because it was tied. This is where Chad Fox might have pitched his way back off the team. He gave up hits to the first two hitters, wild-pitched a run in, allowed another baserunner on a dropped third strike, then gave up a two-run double to Raul Ibanez.

Yes, it was ugly. Yes, the Cubs still need bullpen help -- though Jon Leicester (2.1 IP) and Todd Wellemeyer (1 IP) had nice outings tonight.

It was a nice long day at the ballpark, though it got coolish toward the end, and by then more than half the sellout of 12,755 had left. Incidentally, I learned tonight that enough tickets have already been sold for the last two home dates Wednesday and Thursday, that the Cubs will break last year's major league spring training attendance record by 2,000 or so.