The Chicago Cubs 2014 squad looks quite similar to the 2013 squad that finished last year's season. That is somewhat of a worry to me, especially after a 96-loss season.
But one of baseball's youngest line-ups hopefully should only improve with another year under its belt. That experience should pay dividends, and the Cubs have one of the top farm systems in baseball. In addition, some of their best farm players are getting closer to making it to Wrigley Field.
Jeanne and I took some time to fly to Mesa, Ariz., to watch a few Cub training games in the new Cubs ballpark. We flew on Allegiant Air out of Peoria into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, both beautiful airports. In Peoria, we saw many local people on our plane: Betty and Lisa Johnson, Ken Jenkins and Steve Du Rubeis. When we landed in Mesa, we met Sharon Johnson waiting to pick up Betty and Lisa by the baggage pick-up. Then on Sunday's game when the Cubs played Cleveland, we were walking to our seats and met Buster Zenor and his wife. On our return flight to Peoria, our fellow passengers were Phil Carlson, Wayne Hundley, Ron Spratt, Dave Thompson, Darnell Edens, Mike Gonet, Jamie Vance and Matt Hostetter.
When we went to our first game at the new stadium, I was kind of disappointed how it looked as we walked to it. Andy Romagnoli had warned me that it was not spectacular, and he was right. But when we entered the park, it was beautiful. It felt somewhat like Wrigley Field, especially the outfield fences.
I sat by a guy who had retired 14 months ago and moved to Mesa from Chicago. Before the game started, he said, "You need to know there is no Ernie Banks or Ron Santo on this team." He was right; the Colorado Rockies beat the Cubs 13 to 0.
I am not sure how the major league's new rule that bans home plate collisions this year will work. To me, that's always been part of the game. Major League Baseball and its players have agreed to a new rule designed to reduce home plate collisions. The new rule prohibits a catcher from the plate without the ball, and prohibits a runner from lowering a shoulder or using their hands to intentionally create a collision. A runner violating the rule shall be declared out, even if the catcher drops the ball. A runner who slides appropriately is not in violation of the rule.
Last season, the Cubs laid down the fewest sacrifices in the National League. I'm hoping new manager Renteria will make the bunt a priority this season and have the Cubs play the game the way it's meant to be.
Albert Almora is the youngest player in the Cubs spring training camp at 19 years. Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin are top candidates for the fifth starting pitcher.
On March 15, the Cubs park set the Cactus League record with 15,191 fans in attendance.
Major League Baseball is unveiling a replay system that will perhaps put an end to missed calls by umpires. The system will cover almost every play except balls and strikes. It will watch checked swings, a trapped ball in the infield, and the neighborhood play when a defensive player turning a double play comes close to second base but does not actually touch it. Managers are allowed one challenge per game. I think I will miss the manager running out of the dugout, yelling at the umpire's missed call, sticking up for his player and then getting tossed out of the game.
The Cubs' "Core Four" of Kris Bryant, Javier Balz, Almora and Jorge Soler probably will be sent down to Triple A before the regular season starts. Myself, I would play them in the big leagues now.
Wrigley Field was built 100 years ago in 1914. Wouldn't it be great if the Cubs won the World Series this year? Well, a guy can dream, can't he?
Darrell Alleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.