November 2010

11/20 East vs. west

The fans in the right field bleachers at Wrigley Field got some action in the first quarter after all. The Big Ten decided at the last minute to have both Illinois and Northwestern direct their offenses towards the west end zone for Saturday’s football game and avoid the east side because it was too close to the brick outfield wall. But that didn’t stop safety Brian Peters, who intercepted Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in the first quarter and ran 59 yards for the touchdown. A teammate pulled Peters down in the end zone steps from the well-padded brick walls, which were determined too close for comfort.

— Carrie Muskat

11/20 Perfect day for football

There’s plenty of purple — and some orange and blue at Wrigley Field Saturday. The Northwestern football team skipped taking the “L” train and instead took buses which dropped them off at Addison and Sheffield to walk through fans and enter from the right field corner. Both schools’ marching bands are entertaining fans outside Wrigley. Temperature wise, the Cubs would take a sunny day in the upper 40s in April.

* Fans are reminded there is a food drive at Addison and Sheffield near the Billy Williams statue to benefit Lakeview Pantry.

— Carrie Muskat

11/20 Pitching coach candidates

The Cubs are expected to promote someone from within the organization as their next pitching coach to replace Larry Rothschild, who announced on Friday he is joining the Yankees. Here are some of the top candidates:

* Mark Riggins: The 2010 season was Riggins’ third as the Cubs’ Minor League pitching coordinator. He handled the same duties with the Cardinals for 12 seasons and spent 29 seasons in the St. Louis organization.

* Lester Strode: This past season was Strode’s 22nd with the Cubs and fourth at the Major League level. He has been the Cubs’ bullpen coach for the last four seasons. Prior to that, he was the Cubs’ Minor League pitching coordinator from 1996-2006. He pitched in the Minors from 1980-88 with the Royals, Orioles, Cardinals and Cubs.

* Dennis Lewallyn: The 2010 season was “Lew’s” fourth as Double-A Tennessee’s pitching coach. He spent 11 seasons in the Diamondbacks’ system before joining the Cubs, and was Arizona’s Minor League pitching coordinator from 2002-06. As a player, he made his Major League debut in 1975 with the Dodgers and played eight seasons, including stints with the Rangers and Indians.

* Mike Mason: Mason pitched for the Cubs in 1987. The 2010 season was his third as Triple-A Iowa’s pitching coach, and his 18th year in coaching. He was the Royals’ Minor League pitching coordinator in 2007 after handing the roving pitching coordinator duties from 2004-06. He’s also worked in the Phillies’ Minor League system.

— Carrie Muskat

11/19 Hoffpauir eager to play in Japan

Micah Hoffpauir was shopping in a Dallas mall on Friday and added one more item to his holiday shopping list: some Japanese language tapes to help him adjust to his new team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Hoffpauir, who has played his entire professional career with the Cubs, cleared unconditional release waivers on Friday and the rights to his contract were sold to the Japanese team. Those language tapes will help.

The Cubs are without a first baseman after trading Derrek Lee in August and letting free agent Xavier Nady go but Hoffpauir didn’t get a sense that he was their guy.

“I didn’t know what the Cubs were going to do,” Hoffpauir said. “Obviously, I thought they’d sign somebody and I’d be stuck in the same situation I was in the past. That’s not what we wanted. We wanted some sort of stability and that’s one of the main reasons we decided to do it.”

By “we,” Hoffpauir is including his wife Tiffany and soon to be 2-year-old daughter Addyson, who both had a vote. Hoffpauir plans on getting to Tokyo by Jan. 26 to get over jet lag before Spring Training begins Feb. 1.

“We’re definitely looking forward to the opportunity, no doubt,” Hoffpauir said. “It’ll be a neat experience.”

— Carrie Muskat

11/19 Rothschild to Yankees – UPDATED

Larry Rothschild couldn’t pass up a chance to be close to his Tampa, Fla., home and work for the Yankees. He signed a three-year contract on Friday to be the team’s pitching coach, leaving the Cubs after nine years. He had exercised his option for 2011 with the Cubs, but had a clause that allowed him to leave if he so desired. The change is not a reflection on Cubs manager Mike Quade, Rothschild said.

“The opportunity presented itself here [with the Yankees],” Rothschild said Friday. “I
didn’t feel it was time to leave the Cubs. It’s hard because I’m very
close with Mike Quade and have a lot of respect for him as a baseball
person and think he’ll do a great job.

“It was time, family-wise, that the decision became relatively easy,” he
said. “The opportunity with the Yankees doesn’t come along every day.”

Cubs GM Jim Hendry was expected to name a replacement shortly after Thanksgiving. Among the internal candidates are Minor League pitching coordinator Mark Riggins and Triple-A manager Mike Mason. One person who is not in the mix is four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, who is an assistant to Hendry. Maddux has told the Cubs he prefers the more flexible schedule he has in which he works at Spring Training and with the Minor Leaguers and does some scouting.

Rothschild lives less than two miles from the Yankees’ facility in Tampa, and said he’ll be able to get started with the pitchers right away. He knows Yankees manager Joe Girardi well. Girardi was a catcher on the Cubs in Rothschild’s first year with the team in 2002.

— Carrie Muskat

11/19 Roster moves

The Cubs selected the contracts of four players and added them to the 40-man roster: right-handed pitchers Chris Archer and Kyle Smit from Double-A Tennessee, outfielder Brandon Guyer from Tennessee; and right-handed pitcher Alberto Cabrera from Class A Daytona.  Archer was Chicago’s 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and Guyer was Chicago’s 2010 Minor League Player of the Year.
Additionally, infielder Micah Hoffpauir has cleared unconditional release waivers and the rights to his contract were sold to the Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League. More on Hoffpauir in a few minutes.

— Carrie Muskat

11/19 Cubs surprised by Big Ten decision

Cubs president Crane Kenney said Friday he was “surprised” by the last-minute change by the Big Ten, which will eliminate use of the east end zone in the Illinois-Northwestern football game. Kenney said the safety of the student-athletes was the No. 1 priority when the game was first discussed more than one year ago.

“The essential item in our negotiations to host the football game at Wrigley Field was obtaining approval of both universities and the Big Ten for the field dimensions as related to player safety issues,” Kenney said in a statement. “The field dimension layout was delivered to the Big Ten approximately eight months ago and was approved by the conference.”

Kenney said the field was built exactly to the dimensions previously approved and a conference official performed an on-site visit at Wrigley Field last week. He said there were no issues raised at that time regarding the field dimensions, painted lines and boundaries, which had all been green-lighted by the Big Ten.

“This game would not have been scheduled if it did not pass the strict and meticulous standards of everyone involved, a process that began more than a year ago,” Kenney said. “All are in agreement Wrigley Field is a safe venue to host a football game. Other baseball parks, including tomorrow night’s game in Yankee Stadium, feature similar football field-to-venue grid dimensions and rule changes are not considered for football games played in other baseball parks.

“We have reached out to the Big Ten to further discuss the playing field,” Kenney said. “While we are surprised by this morning’s last-minute statement, all agree that tomorrow will be an historic event and a wonderful experience for the fans, the schools and the student-athletes.”

— Carrie Muskat 

11/19 Football game to use one end zone

The ivy was good enough for Sammy Sosa and Andre Dawson and Kosuke Fukudome but not for the Illinois-Northwestern football teams. The Big Ten announced Friday that Illinois and Northwestern will only use one end zone at Wrigley Field on Saturday because of safety concerns. The east end zone is too close to the right field wall, and officials feel the padding that was installed there is not sufficient to protect the players.

“It was something we’ve all had some concerns about in regard to the closeness of the right field wall at Wrigley Field,” Illinois SID Kent Brown said on WMVP AM-1000. “A decision was made with both coaching staffs and the athletic directors of both schools and the [Big Ten] commissioner to start every offensive possession and go west.

“I think it’s a student athlete safety concern that is first and foremost,” Brown said, “and we want to make sure there’s no chance for somebody to run into that wall and get seriously injured.

“It’s a unique twist to the game, but I think it’s something all parties felt was the most fair,” he said.

The last time a team played football at Wrigley was 1970 when the NFL Chicago Bears called it their home field. At that time, the field ran north-south. The Bears’ Bronko Nagurski once ran full-speed into the brick outfield wall. Upon returning to the huddle, he reportedly said, “That last guy hit me awfully hard.”

Since the Bears played, additional seats have been added at Wrigley along the left field line, which made the north-south configuration unworkable for the Illinois-Northwestern game.

The Big Ten did study the Wrigley Field layout weeks before to make sure the field fit. The Northwestern team tested Wrigley’s close quarters on Thursday, and Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald suggested he may have different game plans for each end zone to avoid injury.

For Saturday’s game, the Big Ten said all offensive plays will head toward the west end zone, including all extra points and all overtime possessions. All kickoffs will be kicked toward the east end zone. After every change of possession, the ball will be repositioned for the offense to head toward the west end zone. A coin toss Friday determined that Illinois will occupy the west team bench in the first half and Northwestern will switch in the second half and for all overtime periods.

— Carrie Muskat

11/18 AFL finale

Josh Vitters was 1-for-3 and Ryan Flaherty hitless in the Mesa Solar Sox’s 3-1 loss to the Peoria Saguaros in their Arizona Fall League season finale on Thursday. Vitters finished at .253 while Flaherty hit .268. Kyle Smit pitched one inning in relief, striking out one of the three batters he faced.

— Carrie Muskat

11/18 Spring Training invites

The Cubs added infielder Scott Moore to the list of players who have signed Minor League contracts and who will be in Spring Training as non-roster invitees. The list also includes pitcher Angel Guzman, outfielder Jim Adduci, infielder Bobby Scales and left-handed pitcher Scott Rice.

— Carrie Muskat