MESA, Arizona -- ... or, rather, day, since this was a day of meetings and reunions.
In addition to sitting near BCB reader mrcubsfan, I also met up with two other BCB readers -- "bleacher", and the San Diego Smooth Jazz Man, who spent half the game with me on the berm and half watching Jason Marquis giving up long balls behind the plate.
And it was the first appearance of Sammy Sosa, once the most popular of Cubs, in front of a Cubs "home" crowd, since he left the team under bad circumstances on the final day of the 2004 season.
The reaction was a lot more negative than I expected. The SDSJM said he felt it was about 50-50 behind the plate, but from what I could hear out on the LF berm, probably 80% of people were booing Sammy when his name was announced during lineups, batting fifth (guess you're not complaining about your batting order slot any more, are you, Sammy?), and then again when he came up to bat in the first inning with two runners on and two out. He hit into a 5-4 fielder's choice in that at-bat, and then stayed in the field while Rangers CF Matt Kata brought him his cap and glove (no, this isn't lazy -- players do this for teammates all the time). The Ho Ho Kams had put on extra security in right field, but it wasn't needed -- there were no incidents, even when Sosa threw the warmup ball to some fans out there.
Meanwhile, there was an actual game going on involving other players -- the Cubs defeated the Rangers 11-7 when Daryle Ward hit a walk-off grand slam (and was greeted at the plate as if he had just won the club the World Series) after Michael Wuertz had coughed up a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth.
The rotten weather that's supposed to hit the Valley held off today -- a few clouds scudded by to the south, appearing to threaten the southern mountains with rain; the SDSJM said it had been raining in San Diego and also in the mountains on his drive over, but it was a pleasant-enough day, mostly sunny and 75 degrees, with the wind at times blowing out (it had just picked up again when Ward hit his slam).
The lineup I posted today was the same as the lineup the Cubs put on the whiteboard they have at the park behind the plate. But by the time it was announced, it had changed -- no reason was given. I'd have liked to see the original lineup, though I did like seeing Mark DeRosa at 3B today. Again, with Ward and Cliff Floyd (who was again a statue in LF today, letting a ball that most left fielders would catch easily fall right in front of him for a hit) on the roster, it's even more critical to have players who can play multiple positions, and DeRosa is one of those; so is Ryan Theriot, and that's why I think Buck Coats may have the upper hand on the last bench slot, since he can play infield positions and Angel Pagan can't.
Jason Marquis today reminded many why they worry about him in the rotation. He gave up three home runs -- two to Rangers catcher Gerald Laird -- and walked three, including Hank Blalock to lead off the second inning ahead of Laird's first home run. He was one out away from getting out of the fifth inning with a reasonable three-run performance, when Blalock doubled and Laird hit his second home run. That was the first of two times that a Cub pitcher got the first two outs of an inning easily, then fell apart -- the other was the ninth, when Michael Wuertz got Ramon Vazquez (who had hit the other Ranger homer off Marquis) on strikes, then retired Freddy Guzman on an easy ground ball, before falling apart, allowing a hit, a walk, and then another single scoring the tying run, before Marlon Byrd, a pinch-runner, was caught in a rundown for the third out. Marquis did, at least, have a hit today, which drove in a run.
This has been something that has driven all of us nuts the last couple of years, and I know Lou Piniella hates this -- pitchers not being aggressive in going after hitters with two out and no one on base.
Fortunately, Ward's slam made for a happy ending; it happened after a Tomas Perez single, a sacrifice attempt by Ronny Cedeno on which Cedeno reached on a throwing error, and an intentional walk to Koyie Hill. After Felix Pie popped to short left, Ward hit a ball just to the left of the Cubs' bullpen.
Cedeno had the play of the day in the field -- a ball he snagged barehanded to throw out Sosa. We spotted Piniella applauding from his seat next to the dugout after that one.
Other notes: Derrek Lee kept up his hot hitting, with a single and a double and three RBI. Also: Roberto Novoa sucks. He came in to start the 7th and promptly walked the bases loaded. Props to Scott Eyre, who came into a very tough spot and retired Guzman on a force at the plate, and then struck out Kata and pitcher Rick Bauer (I suppose he was batting because Buck Showalter wanted him to throw another inning -- normally, a pinch hitter would have been up in that spot) to end the inning. That's a situation you can't invent to practice on in spring training, so for a middle-relief guy like Eyre, it was great for him to have a situation like that to work on in a game that doesn't count.
I met for the first time and had a nice conversation today with Tim Sheridan, the PA announcer at Ho Ho Kam Park. He's been there since 1989 -- he started doing it on a lucky break when he was in college, and is still around, his voice a familiar sound every year in Mesa. If you get a chance check out his website, The Boys of Spring.
I found it cute to see Felix Pie pinch-hit for Rocky Cherry (who threw a decent but not great inning) -- yes, of course I know how "Pie" is pronounced, but in the boxscore and on my scorecard, "Cherry" is followed by "Pie". Makes me hungry.
There was a cute little girl, about three years old, sitting with her parents on the blanket next to mine. They kept her entertained -- and she entertained the multitudes -- by giving her her mom's cellphone to play with for most of the afternoon, which wound up being far longer than I had hoped. I love baseball, but a 3:29 exhibition game -- well, that stretches it a little bit.
Love the sunshine and the result, though. Tomorrow promises to be even more interesting, as Mark Prior will take the mound in Peoria against the Padres. He'll be followed by Rich Hill, and at some point Kerry Wood will throw an inning.