Sunday, September 2, 2007

Spring Training

On Thursday night, the Cubs beat the Brewers 5 to 4 at Wrigley. The stadium was electric and marked an amazing turnaround from where the team was three months ago. Without question, the credit for the team's perseverance and vast improvement goes to Lou Pinella, who has played whoever is playing well regardless of service time (unlike, say, another manager who might have played certain really horrible veterans -- like, say, Jose Macias -- over younger players who would have undoubtedly contributed more). A 3-3 tie was broken with back-to-back homers by Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano, but the real excitement was watching Carlos Marmol pitch. Check that, the real excitement was watching Marmol K five Brewers, including a transfixed and beguiled Corey Hart on a nasty, nasty slider (who cares if it was six inches off the plate?).

Watching Marmol overmatch the BrewCrew's batsmen, including Ryan Braun, was a pleasant reminder of one of the more enjoyable places to take in a baseball game in the country: Fitch Park. This spring, we made our second trip to spring training in Mesa, Arizona. This time, however, rather than follow around the major league team, when the Cubs went to Scottsdale, we walked over to Fitch Park to watch the minor league teams practice and AA and AAA games with the Brewers. It was the most fun I have had at a ballpark as an adult. It helped to have the chance to watch Sandberg coach and the opportunity, however fleeting, to talk to players. But, as this season has progressed, what really sticks out is the AAA game we watched that featured Sean Marshall starting for the Cubs, Gallardo starting for the Brewers, Carlos Marmol relieving Marshall (after a frustrating start), and Ryan Braun ripping balls for Milwaukee. At the time, few would have imagined how much of an impact these players would have on their respective teams during this season. Marmol, in particular, looked like he was too raw to provide any major contribution this season:

Fast forward to Thursday night and Marmol is perhaps the Cubs' best option out of the pen. The impact that he is having on the team is comparable to what Zumaya did for the Tigers last season. And none of it could have been anticipated. How unanticipated? While Ryne Sandberg and Eric Patterson were mobbed for autographs, after Marmol got done with his session in the spring training game, I was the only person there who approached him and asked for his (asking for autographs at my age is pathetic but, well, there it is). Marmol was kind enough to stop, attempt to communicate, and afterwards leisurely walk back to the clubhouse to whispers of "who is that?" and "he's the converted catcher" echoing around him.

Great day, great time, and best of all, it was free. If you are a Cubs fan and ever find yourself in Mesa during the spring, go to Fitch Park to take in a game (or two).

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