MESA, Arizona -- Before I tell you the few good things about yet another Cubs loss, 6-4 to the Rangers before another sellout crowd (15,243) at Sloan Park, I want to tell you about one of the most fan-unfriendly things the Cubs have ever done.
And no, I'm not going to be nice about it.
For at least the last two Cub years at HoHoKam Park, last year at Cubs Park, and for the first two games at Sloan Park this year, outside food was allowed. There are times I buy food at the ballpark, but today I decided I wanted to bring a sandwich from home.
Arriving at the park, I was told "no outside food."
Wait, WHAT? A policy change in the middle of the season? This hasn't been Cubs policy in the past, as you can see by these signs outside Sloan Park. I took these photos after today's game:
Nor is "outside food" on the list of "Prohibited Items" on the Sloan Park website and just in case they try to pull a fast one and change that, here's a screenshot I took of that website at 4:50 p.m. Arizona time Sunday afternoon, after I got home from the game.
I heard from a large number of people angry that they couldn't bring peanuts or sunflower seeds into the ballpark. Really, Cubs? Really? REALLY? This sort of thing has been a time-honored tradition for decades -- you buy a bag of peanuts outside the park from one of the street vendors and bring it inside. Or bring a sandwich from home, as I was going to today.
Beyond the change-the-rules-in-midstream vibe about this, the security employees were nasty about it. In fact, I have to say that of the 10 Cactus League stadiums -- and I've been to all 10, many times -- the Cubs security employees are the least friendly of any of them. I overheard one woman saying she needed special food for medical reasons, and they rebuffed her, and were decidedly not nice about it. It was clear to me that this woman did have some medical issues that were quite apparent.
Is this something Cubs management really wants? I reached out to Cubs Mesa management about this issue and they didn't seem to know how it had happened. The only conclusion I can reach is that the change was made by Ovations, the vending company at Sloan Park.
I did a little research. Every one of the Cactus League stadiums allows outside food, except Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. I'm not sure why SRF does that -- I'm guessing it might have something to do with the fact that they are on Indian tribal land and have different regulations they have to follow.
Beyond that, every one of the 30 major-league stadiums -- including Wrigley Field -- allow outside food. When a food ban was attempted at Turner Field in Atlanta in its first year, 1997, fans yelled loud and clear about it, and the ban was rescinded at midseason:
"Starting with tonight's game, we will allow food to be brought in from the outside," said Stan Kasten, Braves president. "This will work just fine for the club and it should work fine for a lot of our customers." Fans can pack their own food and snacks, but canned and bottled drinks are still not allowed. And don't even think of bringing any alcohol. The team's no-food policy went into effect when Turner Field opened in March. The team stopped the free-for-all as a way to raise concession revenue. Not since Prohibition has a ban been so brutally rebuffed. Hungry - and broke - fans dared to sneak in their own snacks from smuggling Snickers in their pockets to hiding turkey legs in their pants. Atlanta talk radio host Ian Punnett last month urged fans to make sneak-a-snack an Atlanta pastime, and with his trench-coat pockets stuffed with Milky Ways, he handed out candy bars in front of the stadium. Even boss man Turner scoffed at the price of a soft drink and said he might dine before he stepped foot in his namesake stadium. Fueling the food fight were reports of over-zealous food police snatching sugar-free snacks from diabetics and baby formula from new moms. Kasten said he felt the prices at Turner Field were fair. "It was a deep one among the people who did have a problem with it," Kasten said about the policy. "People who were concerned about it really had a real concern. The easiest thing to do was to go back and change the policy."
Now. I don't know the reason for the Sloan Park ban -- and it literally came overnight, as outside food was allowed as recently as Friday -- and if it's about money, shame on you, Cubs. A number of people I spoke to told me they were considering buying food or drink today, but decided not to after they way they were treated.
I have spent literally tens of thousands of dollars in my lifetime on Cubs tickets, souvenirs and concessions. Apart from the occasional complaint about high ticket prices, I have mostly spent this money gladly. But this is an unconscionable power grab, and something the Cubs need to rescind. Now. Immediately. Before Monday's game.
About the game itself, it's almost better not mentioned, but here are a few key notes. A few pitchers on the fringes of making the Rangers' 25-man roster limited the Cubs to three hits and one run with 12 strikeouts over the first six innings. The only run came on a double by Ryan Sweeney and a Chris Valaika single, and Valaika was promptly thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Can't blame him for trying, I guess.
Jake Arrieta had a shaky two innings, walking three and allowing a home run to Mitch Moreland that was a rising shot that didn't look like it would go out at first, much like Mike Olt's last Thursday. Maybe Arrieta was working on something. Hoping for better in his next outing.
We were also treated to a colossal home run from Joey Gallo, the top Rangers prospect who Kris Bryant competed against in high school back in Las Vegas. Gallo looked good in going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks. For now, he's blocked at third base by Adrian Beltre, but as with Bryant, the Rangers will find a place for that bat.
Today was also my first look at Addison Russell, and though he didn't do much with the bat until Rangers minor leaguers were pitching (a one-out double in the eighth), he looked very smooth and fluid at shortstop. Those who have said he's the best-looking defensively of any of the Cubs' young shortstops appear to be right. I'd like to see more of Russell.
The scrub Cubs rallied in the ninth when Kyle Schwarber hit a routine fly ball to center field that was dropped. Schwarber hustled into third and then a pop-fly single scored him. Two walks loaded the bases and Rangers manager Jeff Banister changed pitchers. Carlos Penalver hit into a double play to end it.
Tomorrow -- by which time I trust Cubs management will make the right decision and rescind the outside food ban -- Edwin Jackson makes his spring debut. He will face the Padres' Jason Lane, who's a real interesting story, having converted from the outfield (where he hit 26 home runs for the 2005 Astros N.L. championship team) to pitching. At 38, he's trying to hang on for one more year on the mound.