MESA, Arizona -- Sunshine, high skies, temperatures in the 70s and baseball. What more could you ask for in early March?
The game went along just fine while the major leaguers were playing. Travis Wood looked sharp and threw strikes for two perfect innings which included a pair of strikeouts. Neil Ramirez struck out a pair in his scoreless inning of work. While that was going on, the Cubs scored a pair of runs in the second after two were out with no one on base. Chris Coghlan was hit by a Barry Zito pitch and then Mike Olt sent a ball over the new 410-foot sign in center field (finally! Distance markers!). Olt's ball didn't look like anything more than a routine fly ball at first, but it kept carrying until it went over the wall. The wind wasn't a factor -- that ball was crushed.
Drake Britton gave up the first Athletics hit in the fourth, a two-out double, but Cubs pitchers managed to keep the A's scoreless through six. Gonzalez Germen, who BCB's Tim Huwe is happy cleared waivers, threw a pair of shutout innings, though he issued two walks.
The Cubs, meanwhile, sent all the starters home by the sixth inning and it showed. They managed just one single, by Bijan Rademacher, after the fourth inning. Rademacher promptly got himself picked off. Meanwhile, the A's eked out runs off Donn Roach and Francisley Bueno in the seventh and eighth, and by now we were seeing many players with numbers in the 90s and no names on the back in the game. PA announcer Tim Sheridan let everyone know when the ninth inning began that it would the the game's last, and a dinky little infield popup by Daniel Lockhart ended the game... in a snappy two hours, 40 minutes, which made me quite happy.
In addition to the distance markers on the outfield walls (one on each foul pole, 360, and 410 to center field), there were some other changes around Sloan Park, some of which you can see in iths photo gallery:
- Sloan Park just after opening Thursday - Al Yellon
- The new inning-break clock on the outfield wall - Al Yellon
- A spring-training tradition: the lineup whiteboard - Al Yellon
- Or, you can have the electronic version - Al Yellon
- I did this! - Al Yellon
- New ball/strike/out counters on the scoreboard - Al Yellon
- ... which look like this - Al Yellon
- Flags fly in honor of Ernie Banks - Al Yellon
- Distance marker on the left-field foul pole - Al Yellon
- Travis Wood warms up before the game - Al Yellon
- The Cubs' new catcher, Miguel Montero, before the game - Al Yellon
It's always fun to be at a baseball game and to catch up with friends old and new. Many of my friends who live in the Phoenix area and are regulars at Sloan Park (and HoHoKam Park before that, and we are going to go en masse to the Cubs/A's game there March 24) were there. BCB's Danny Rockett and his girlfriend Nicole sat with us; he'll be here all month. I also got to meet BCB reader puckov, who lives in the Phoenix area, for the first time. Nice to meet you, puckov, and I also got the story of how he chose that user name. I'll let him tell you in the comments where it came from.
Before the game the Cubs played a nice tribute to Ernie Banks on the video board and everyone observed a moment of silence, the first of many tributes to Ernie this year. The Cubs wore No. 14 caps at both games in honor of Ernie.
The bigger story of the Cubs' day was at Scottsdale, where Kyle Schwarber hit a grand slam in his first Cubs big-league spring at-bat. For a while it looked like that would be enough to lead the Cubs to a win, but Giants minor leaguers pounded Hunter Cervenka around in the eighth inning for five runs (four earned, one unearned partly as a result of Cervenka's own bad fielding) and the Giants came from behind to beat the Cubs 8-6.
So a loss and a tie begin the spring season, but there's good news from the pitching front, with Wood throwing well and Jacob Turner, who started the Scottsdale game, also throwing two scoreless innings. Kris Bryant walked and scored a run; Albert Almora went 2-for-2 and Billy McKinney chipped in with a solo homer against the Giants.
In bad news for the Giants, Hunter Pence was hit by a Corey Black pitch and apparently has a broken left arm. Interesting coincidence?
So baseball! We are one month away from the Cubs' opener at Wrigley against the Cardinals, and I understand it's supposed to be warmer in Chicago soon, so spring can't be too far away in the Midwest, and it's here in earnest in the Valley of the Sun.
Attendance in Mesa was 11,132, about 4,000 short of a sellout.
Friday, a much-anticipated debut as Jon Lester throws his first pitches in a Cubs uniform in a start against the Reds at Sloan Park. I don't have the rest of the Cubs' pitcher list yet, but I'm guessing Hector Rondon and/or Pedro Strop might be on it. Chicago-area native Tony Cingrani will go for the Reds, and former Cub Paul Maholm is also expected to get some time in Friday's game.