PHOENIX, Arizona — I’ll have some comments on “American Family Fields of Phoenix” (which Brewers beat writers have dubbed “AFFOP”) later, but first, a few comments on the baseball side of the Cubs’ 7-5 loss to the Brewers Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Hendricks was throwing typical Kyle. He topped out at 86-87, and got three called strikeouts in the first two innings. Meanwhile, the Cubs fashioned a 5-0 lead. The first run scored on this RBI double by Willson Contreras [VIDEO].
Then, in the third inning, Corbin Burnes loaded the bases full of Cubs on a couple of hits, an error and a hit batsman, scoring one run, and then Cristhian Adames cleared the bases with this triple [VIDEO].
The Brewers scored one off Hendricks with two out in the third, and then after a bloop single and a walk in the fourth, Joe Maddon pulled Kyle, likely due to a pitch count.
Dakota Mekkes was summoned, the first time he’s thrown in the early innings when major leaguers are still in the game. Work to be done, Dakota, because the second pitch thrown by Mekkes was slammed for a three-run homer by Orlando Arcia, making it 5-4.
The Cubs could manage just four baserunners after that, a pair of walks, Albert Almora Jr. reaching on an error, and a ninth-inning, two-out single by Wynton Bernard. Meanwhile, the Brewers took the lead off Brian Duensing in the sixth on back-to-back homers by Ben Gamel and Tyler Saladino. Duensing didn’t look good at all, and neither did Brad Brach. Brach hit the first batter he faced with his first pitch, gave up a booming triple to Ryan Braun, walked Jesus Aguilar and you’re thinking this is going to be a huge inning. Thanks to Contreras, who caught Yasmani Grandal stealing, and a line-drive double play that ended the inning, Brach wasn’t charged with any runs. Brach’s velocity tops out at 90 and he just doesn’t seem quite ready to go. It would not surprise me if he started the year on the injured list.
After that it was all minor leaguers, and that gives me a story to tell. I was seated behind the plate at AFFOP for this game, and standing behind me the entire game was Jason Grey, whose credential identified him as a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Here’s his LinkedIn profile.) He was making notes throughout, but when Nico Hoerner came to bat, his interest was piqued. Unfortunately for Grey, someone walked right in front of him while Hoerner was batting, so he missed seeing Nico hit a line drive to right-center that was caught. It was nicely hit to the opposite field, but it ended Nico’s on-base streak of eight consecutive appearances. Then when Dillon Maples entered to finish up the eighth after Junichi Tazawa got two quick groundouts, Grey was interested again, enough to take some photos of Maples, who was all over the place, issuing a pair of walks before getting a called third strike to end the inning.
Maples has talent and a good slider, but he’s got to learn to throw it for strikes to stay in the big leagues.
The ninth inning was thrown by Jay Jackson, a former Cubs farmhand who’s spent the last three years in Japan, and done well there. He allowed that two-out single but threw a scoreless ninth for his second save of the spring. I had kind of hoped the Cubs would sign Jackson; he might actually be able to help the Brewers.
Now, about AFFOP. The Brewers, expecting a big crowd, sent out this tweet on Saturday:
Headed to @AmFamFieldsPHX tomorrow?— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) March 9, 2019
We're expecting a near-record crowd, so plan ahead as traffic, parking and security screening lines will be busy.
Gates will be opening 30 minutes earlier than normal (11am), so please arrive early.https://t.co/v2TXdIZLS5 pic.twitter.com/JycPDfjrih
Okay, so that’s useful info and I did arrive early — only to find one of the parking attendants being quite rude, pushing me to “get out of the way” of incoming cars, even though there were only a couple behind me, while I was trying to park. If you have been to Maryvale Baseball Park (its former name) previously, you likely remember an entrance to the ballpark behind first base near the parking lot off 51st Avenue. That entrance is no longer there — it’s been replaced by some Brewers practice fields and a building.
This was an enormous mistake. Here’s why:
That line went well beyond where you see in this photo. It didn’t clear until the third inning! Attendance was 9,989, which was announced as a sellout, but the Brewers folks didn’t seem to have any idea how to handle that many people with one less entrance. On a typical sellout day at Sloan Park, there are 5,500 more people and the Cubs can generally get everyone in by first pitch.
Lastly, there weren’t really any major changes inside AFFOP itself, other than some larger concession stands, a bigger team store, a new video board and a paint job. Otherwise it looked exactly the same as it did a year ago when I went there.
Simply put: If you’ve been to Maryvale Baseball Park previous to 2019, and were thinking about going there to see what’s been changed, don’t bother — the changes are mainly behind the scenes for Brewers players.
The Cubs will have Monday off, one of two off days this spring, and will resume the Cactus League schedule with the first Sloan Park night game of the year, against the Reds Tuesday, March 12 at 9:05 p.m. CT. Yes, like a West Coast game, since Arizona is now on the same time as California. No TV Tuesday night, there will be an audio webcast on cubs.com. Tyler Chatwood will get the start Tuesday against Cincinnati’s Tyler Mahle.