MESA, Arizona -- Actually, they joined the 1990's, as most of the other spring training parks here in the Valley of the Sun have had the things that are new to Mesa this year, for about the last fifteen years or so.
A new concessionaire was signed by the City of Mesa to provide food and souvenirs to Ho Ho Kam Park -- and what a difference! There are now dozens of food choices, rather than just hot dogs (I decided on a dog today -- a chili cheese dog, which was quite good, quite large, and only $1 more than the $5 dog from last year which was less than ordinary), the concourse has had lighting added which makes it seem less dark and forbidding, and the souvenir shop has been enlarged (and a second one behind the plate added), and the selection and prices are far better than previous years. They won't run out of the year-dated caps as they have almost every year in the past. I bought a cap and a T-shirt for Mark.
Well done; it makes the ballpark experience that much more enjoyable. It reminded me a bit of the concessions at the Diamondbacks' park, Chase Field; it could be that it's the same concessionaire.
A sellout crowd of 12,771 (and I heard scalpers were asking $40 for lawn tickets -- don't know if they were actually getting it, but they were asking it) saw the Cubs defeat a squad of mostly minor league Mariners 9-3 on a sunny and hot day on which the temperature at game time was 82, but got well into the 90's by game's end. I also heard today, speaking of sellouts, that all but one of the remaining games in Mesa are already sellouts.
It used to be that teams on split-squad days (the Mariners have a game tonight) were required to bring at least four regulars. The Mariners brought only catcher Kenji Johjima and left fielder Jeremy Reed among those who started who could be considered regulars (I guess you could count Willie Bloomquist, although the Mariner fans probably don't). Ben Broussard, also... since the Cubs agreed to the Mariners' request to use the DH today.
That was obviously done to get Cliff Floyd some at-bats, and he took immediate advantage, slamming a monster home run over the bullpens in right field with two on in the first inning. He later doubled. Alfonso Soriano had three hits and a stolen base, including a triple (although, had Reed made a good throw to 3B, Soriano would have been out by ten feet), and looked less tentative in CF. There was one play on which he didn't get a good jump -- that was a leadoff triple by Rey Ordonez in the fifth inning. If you were wondering how Ordonez could triple -- that's not an easy task, given that his last regular season major league triple was in 2002 -- that's the reason; the ball was probably catchable had Soriano gotten a better read on it off the bat.
Ted Lilly was taken out one out short of four innings -- he must have been on a strict pitch count. I found that strange; he had retired the first two hitters easily in the fourth. How many more pitches would it have taken to retire Wladimir Balentien (and how's THAT for a great baseball name)? Four? Five? Lilly had a good sinker working and gave up two runs, one unearned when Cesar Izturis threw a ball over Derrek Lee's head.
Izturis also hit into two double plays. Let's just say I'm less than impressed after one game.
Other good things today: Aramis Ramirez hit a home run, his second of the spring; Jacque Jones had two hits, and Daryle Ward also got a hit, after replacing Lee at 1B. Yes, Ward actually played the field for three innings, getting one assist on a 3-1 groundout. Ward played only four games in the field last year; it would be useful to the club if he could do it this year, if only for emergencies.
After Bob Howry gave up a run (another cheap run, resulting after Ordonez' triple, a walk and a double play), the Cubs bullpen shut the Mariners down the rest of the way; Scott Eyre, Carlos Marmol, Les Walrond and Will Ohman allowed only one hit in four total innings. Marmol, as he did so often last year, didn't have command of his fastball -- it was all over the zone and he walked two, but when he went to his breaking pitches he got hitters out.
For those of you who lament what I noted the other day (the tradition of players running in the outfield after being removed from spring training games), I did see players from both clubs do this today. I ran into my friends Brian and Kristy; they had an extra seat behind the plate, so I watched half the game from the LF lawn and the other half from seven rows behind the plate, a very different angle for me. One thing I noticed sitting behind the Mariners' on-deck circle -- some of these guys are far bigger than they seem. Ben Broussard -- who's listed as 6-2, 220 -- seemed much bigger than that.
It was just good to be back at a ballpark. Period.
Finally, Mark Prior's minor league start -- which, apparently, is going to be an intrasquad game -- will be tomorrow morning -- yes, morning -- at 8:30 at Fitch Park. The reason for the early start is that Larry Rothschild, who will be watching Prior pitch, also has to accompany the team to Tucson for their game against the White Sox.
Your intrepid reporter will rise with the sun and head over to Mesa to watch him throw; I'll bring my camera to take some photos and hope to get everything posted by midday tomorrow.