12/31 One more look back at 2012
* Feb. 21 in Mesa, Ariz. It was one of the strangest transactions in Cubs history as pitcher Chris Carpenter said goodbye to his teammates after he found out he was going to the Red Sox as the player to be named as compensation for Theo Epstein. Said Carpenter: “I guess my name will go down in history.”
* Feb. 24 in Mesa, Ariz. On the first day Starlin Castro worked out at Fitch Park, manager Dale Sveum was standing near the shortstop, offering some tips on defense. Sveum didn’t let up all season. Castro did commit 27 errors, but also showed improvement in the field.
* March 18 in Las Vegas prior to game vs. Rangers. Infielder Adrian Cardenas is as passionate about playing baseball as he is about working on his degree at New York University. Cardenas wants to write a novel about his parents and how they came to the U.S. from Cuba. He was most likely the only player in Spring Training who read three Albert Camus books in a two-week period. Said Cardenas: “I’m a better baseball player because of it.”
* April 27 in Des Moines. I talked to Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters and Anthony Rizzo, who were on Triple-A Iowa roster, and could hear their enthusiasm in their voices, see their work ethic, and feel the energy.
* May 18 at Wrigley Field. Rumors were flying pre-game that this would be Kerry Wood’s last game. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. The right-hander threw three pitches, all strikes, for his final strikeout, then walked off the field and was greeted by his son, Justin. Wood didn’t disappear. His Wood Family Foundation was active, and treated students at Nash Elementary School on Chicago’s west side to coats, gloves, hats and gifts as well as a visit from Santa in December. It was a pleasure to cover Wood’s career from start to finish.
* June 26 at Wrigley Field. Anthony Rizzo is promoted from Iowa, and gets two hits in his Cubs debut, including a tie-breaking RBI double, in a victory over the Mets. Four days later, Rizzo hits his first home run for the Cubs, a go-ahead two-run shot, in a 3-2 victory over the Astros. On July 29, Rizzo notched a personal milestone, hitting his first walk-off home run in a 10-inning win over the Cardinals. Said Alfonso Soriano on Rizzo’s impact: “He’s changed everything.”
* July 4 in Atlanta. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio reveals he has a deal with closer Carlos Marmol. The pitcher is not allowed to shake off his catcher on any pitch, and if he does, Marmol owes Bosio a case of wine. Marmol compiles a 1.52 ERA in the second half.
* July 22 at St. Louis. Dale Sveum asked his starting lineup to click their heels as they took the field in a tribute to Ron Santo, who was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame that day in Cooperstown. It was a terrific moment — and repeated at Wrigley Field on July 27 when the Cubs returned home.
* July 23 in St. Louis. It was Super Hero day, and players, coaches and Sveum dressed up as their favorites. Best costume? Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson as Epstein and Jed Hoyer, complete with cell phones to their ears.
* Aug. 5 in Los Angeles. Jackson and Vitters are promoted from Triple-A Iowa. Both struggled at the plate, but Jackson showed his value in the field Sept. 7 with an amazing catch then crash into the center field wall at PNC Park.
* Aug. 18 in Appleton, Wis. I watched Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler go 4-for-5 for Class A Peoria. He hit two singles, a double, and a very impressive home run to straight away center, drove in two runs, and stole a base. Can’t wait until he’s in right field at Wrigley.
* Sept. 8 at PNC Park, Pittsburgh. This was Jeff Samardzija’s last start of the season, and it showed how far he’s come. The right-hander gave up four hits in his first complete game, striking out nine. He could be the Opening Day starter in 2013.
* Oct. 3 at Wrigley Field. Bryan LaHair delivers a walkoff RBI single for a 5-4 win over the Astros in the Cubs’ season finale. It was a roller coaster ride for LaHair, who went from starting first baseman to All-Star to reserve. During batting practice on one road trip, a fan yelled congratulations to LaHair for making the All-Star team. Said LaHair: “No one can take that away from me.”
* Oct. 6 at Mesa, Ariz. I went to Instructional League to watch the young Cubs play, but this time was different. There was more energy, more noise — players and coaches picked their favorite song and it was part of batting practice background music — and lots of work. Watching the enthusiastic kids gives one optimism for the future.
* Sadly, said goodbye to Cubs Minor League pitching coach Tom Pratt and Wrigley Field umpire clubhouse attendant Jimmy Farrell. RIP.
– Carrie Muskat