February 2012

2/24 Live BP

Friday was the Cubs’ first full squad workout and the position players found themselves at a disadvantage. They had to face pitchers, who have been in camp since Feb. 19. Brett Jackson’s assignment? Carlos Marmol. What’s even worse for Jackson is that this is the third straight spring he’s had to face Marmol in the live BP session.

“At least I fouled one off,” Jackson said.

Ryan Dempster, Lendy Castillo, Travis Wood, Jay Jackson, Jeff Beliveau and Trey McNutt also threw live BP.

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 Ricketts address squad

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the full squad on Friday prior to the first workout at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz.

“There’s a new energy, a new vibe, I think they’ll be working a little harder than years past, focusing on fundamentals,” Ricketts said.

And his message to the team?

“We talked about, ‘Let’s make sure we use all 40 days as best we can,'” he said. “Communicate, too. One of the things I talk about is making sure if there’s something we can be doing better, let us know. We want to be the best organization in baseball. If there’s feedback, make sure it gets up to us so we can do what we can.”

He also told the players that they’re working on improving the facilities. One theme in camp has been the creation of the Cubs way, which Ricketts was happy to hear about.

“You do like to hear that ‘Cubs way,'” he said. “What they’re doing is putting everything down on paper and signing off on it.”

The baseball operations department is creating a scouting manual and player development manual, which Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer coordinated. Ricketts likes the idea.

“Not only does it help you be more consistent in the way you treat players and train players,” Ricketts said, “but everyone buys in and you’re accountable and I think that’s a big part of the Cubs way.”

As for recent rumors that the Cubs might have to play their home games in 2013 at U.S. Cellular Field to accomodate renovations at Wrigley Field, Ricketts tried to squelch the talk.

“There’s no plans for us to play anywhere else but Wrigley Field,” Ricketts said.

He also said there is no date set for groundbreaking for the Cubs’ new Spring Training facility in Mesa. The design is being finalized and the plan is still to be ready for 2014.

Season ticket renewals for 2012 were “off the charts,” Ricketts said.

“We know the one thing that sells tickets is winning and that’s what we focus on,” he said.

The lineup may not be the most intimidating but Ricketts said fans are enthused about the 2012 Cubs.

“People are very excited,” he said. “Everyone sees this as a great positive for the organization and everyone is looking forward to letting Theo do his job and letting Dale [Sveum] do his job and moving us forward.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 Soriano on Z: “We won’t miss him”

Alfonso Soriano will need to spend lots of time getting to know his new teammates on the Cubs, and didn’t appear to miss players like Aramis Ramirez or Carlos Zambrano.

“It feels a little different because those guys have been forever in a Cubs uniform,” Soriano said of the two. “Now I don’t see them and it feels we’re missing something. We have a nice group of people and we have to work with these guys because they have very good talent.”

Ramirez left via free agency and signed a three-year contract with the Brewers, while Zambrano was traded to the Marlins in January.

“I think they made very good moves, trading Z, because I don’t know if he wasn’t happy or what here but the things he did here, nobody was happy,” Soriano said. “I think the team is happy they were able to trade him and I think he’s happy, too, that he’s in Miami now. It worked great for both positions. We won’t miss him.”

It’s time for the Cubs to move on, Soriano said.

“Now, I have to focus on my new team that I have here,” he said. “I can’t think about my old teammates, I want to think about my new teammates and be friendly with my new teammates.”

 — Carrie Muskat

2/24 Castro: “I’m ready to play baseball”

Starlin Castro is ready to put the offseason distractions behind him.

“I’m ready to play baseball,” Castro said.

The Cubs shortstop made his first public comments since he was questioned by  Chicago police in mid January after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman on Sept. 29, the night after the regular season ended. No criminal charges were filed against Castro, 21, and there have been no new developments since the shortstop spoke to the police.

“In the beginning it was tough but I put it out of my mind to prepare to play baseball,” Castro said.

The shortstop met with Cubs manager Dale Sveum and talked about how the season, not the offseason.

“I cooperated with the police,” Castro said. “I don’t have anything else to say about that. I’m ready to play baseball and practice hard and help this team win games.”

And what did he learn from the experience?

“That you have to be careful because there are a lot of bad people in the world,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat


2/24 Sveum: “It’s LaHair’s job, and it’s not his to lose”

Cubs manager Dale Sveum is asked almost daily about the first base situation. Anthony Rizzo is highly touted but the plan is for Bryan LaHair to be the Cubs starter on Opening Day.

“[LaHair] is going to play well and as long as he plays well, it’s his job,” Sveum said. “It’s not like anybody is going to panic after a month if he’s not playing well, or even two months if he’s not swinging the bat well. I think right now it’s a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A and let him be comfortable instead of moving him up and down and all that stuff. It’s Bryan LaHair’s job, and it’s not his to lose. It’s his job and the guy has earned the right to have it and he’s earned the right for me to have a lot of patience too if he’s not getting off to a good start.”

That means LaHair can tuck his outfielder’s glove into the back of his locker and leave it there. Sveum has no plans for LaHair to play left field.

“He’s our first baseman and he’s going to play first base,” Sveum said. “I’m not going ot put anything in his head that way [about the outfield]. He’s our first baseman and that’s the bottom line.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 A toast to Harry

You can toast Harry Caray on March 1 as part of the 14th annual worldwide toast to the legendary broadcaster. Harry would’ve been 98 this year. His birthday will be celebrated around the world, with the headquarters at Harry Caray’s Tavern at Navy Pier. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and Harry’s wife Dutchie will lead the toast at 5:45 p.m. CT March 1. This year should mark the 5 millionth toaster. The winner will be randomly selected after the toast at Harry Caray’s at Navy Pier and get the chance to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field plus a 30-minute pitching lesson from Kerry Wood.

Fans can join in the toast to the late broadcaster by visiting the official Toast Facebook page  (facebook.com/ToastToHarry) for a list of bars in all 50 states and countries around the world.

— Carrie Muskat 

2/23 First day of school

Dale Sveum will address the full squad Friday prior to the first workout, and he was finalizing his thoughts the day before.

“You try not to sit there and read off a card or anything, you just start rolling with whatever comes to your mind,” the new Cubs manager said Thursday. “You try to keep it as brief as you can, no doubt about it — not that I’ve made one before.”

Maybe not, but he’s heard his share of first-day speeches from managers.

“You’ve definitely heard them enough and you try to stay away from ones you didn’t care for and get quick and to the point,” he said. “You don’t want people in that room all day long.”

Others expected to address the team are Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Sveum also will meet one-on-one with the players for about five minutes each, beginning with Jim Adduci and ending with Alfonso Soriano. Soriano, Starlin Castro, and Junior Lake were the only position players yet to be seen at Fitch Park.

* One other thing Sveum is still sorting out is the lineup. Right now, he’s leaning toward David DeJesus leading off and Bryan LaHair batting fourth. The other spots are to be determined.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 First round action

The Cubs bunting tournament got underway Thursday among the pitchers. Winners who advance to the next round include Jeff Beliveau, Lendy Castillo, Trey McNutt, Rafael Dolis, Dae-Eun Rhee, Chris Rusin, Scott Maine, and Casey Coleman. Maine won his round against  Blake Parker on his last bunt, hitting the 40-point block on the third base side. The competition is being held on a half field at Fitch Park with spaces designated with different points, ranging from 10 to 40. Rusin can relax. He was matched up with strength coach Tim Buss, and had no problems beating him. The winner of the pitchers division will face the winner of the position players division.

Think this is all fun and games? Matt Garza was practicing on Thursday after the first round ended.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 DeWitt’s strange journey back

Blake DeWitt had a strange few weeks. He signed a new contract with the Cubs, then was designated for assignment, placed on waivers, which he cleared, then had to make a decision about whether to stay. He arrived Thursday as a non-roster invitee after a long drive from his Missouri home.

“I had a decision to make and I’m extremely happy being here today,” DeWitt said. “Driving out here, it was one of those things, I’m ready to get back on the field, ready to get back to playing. That’s one of the things that I think was weird about the whole situation. This time of year as a player, you’re ready to get back on the field, and to not know where you’re going to be was kind of strange.”

DeWitt, who batted .265 last season with the Cubs, finds himself in the same situation as before — fighting for a spot on the roster.

“It’s no different,” he said. “Regardless, you’re coming in to win a job. It’s the same approach I’m going to take. I’m not going to put any stress on myself to try to make this team. I’m just going to go out and play and have fun and let things happen.”

He did not get a call from the Cubs when he was designated for assignment.

“My agent called me,” DeWitt said. “It was all unknown to me. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know the rules. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t too worried about it, I guess.”

The good part of his journey is that he enjoyed the drive to Arizona.

“It was fun, seeing parts of the country I’ve never seen,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 February madness

The Cubs bunting tournament gets underway this morning on the back field. Among the most interesting matchups are strength coach Tim Buss vs. pitcher Chris Rusin, and Jay Jackson against Rafael Dolis. John Gaub, who has been limited because of back spasms, also was scheduled to participate and face Dae-Eun Rhee.

* On Thursday, position players have to report, which means they just have to be in Arizona, not necessarily at Fitch Park. Blake DeWitt arrived on Thursday. The first full squad workout is Friday and manager Dale Sveum will meet with each player for five minutes, starting with Jim Adduci and ending with Alfonso Soriano.

— Carrie Muskat