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Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best clubhouse prank I’ve ever seen

One of the best things about hanging around the Cubs is you get to know the players off the field. While the team is serious and focused about 2015, there are also some great personalities, and they like to cut loose. During Spring Training, we asked the guys to recall the best prank they have ever pulled—or seen—during their careers.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV
Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason
Cubscast Mesa: Goals for the 2015 season

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/27/15

Rizzo_Anthony

Anthony Rizzo will square off against his old teammate Jeff Samardzija as the Cubs host the White Sox Friday. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. White Sox – Sloan Park
First Pitch: 3:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Jason Hammel, RHP
White Sox Starter: Jeff Samardzija, RHP
Broadcast: CSN, Listen live at MLB.com

Lineup
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Chris Coghlan, LF
3. Jorge Soler, RF
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Starlin Castro, SS
6. Arismendy Alcantara, 3B
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Jason Hammel, P
9. Tommy La Stella, 2B

Cubs reduce spring roster to 40

The Cubs assigned 12 players to minor league camp Thursday, reducing their spring roster from 52 players to 40.

Right-handed pitcher Blake Parker and left-handed pitcher Joseph Ortiz have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

Ten nonroster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: Right-handed pitchers Daniel Bard, Anthony Carter, Jorge De Leon and Gonzalez Germen; left-handed pitcher Francisley Bueno; infielder Chris Valaika; outfielders Albert Almora, Mike Baxter and Adron Chambers; and catcher Kyle Schwarber.

Chicago’s spring roster of 40 players consists of 20 pitchers (one nonroster invitee), four catchers (one nonroster invitee), nine infielders (three nonroster invitees) and seven outfielders.

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/26/15

Jokisch_Eric

Eric Jokisch will start Thursday for the Cubs. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. Angels – Sloan Park
First Pitch: 6:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Eric Jokisch, LHP
Angels Starter: Jered Weaver, RHP
Broadcast: ESPN, Listen live at MLB.com

Lineup
1. Javier Baez, 2B
2. Addison Russell, SS
3. Kris Bryant, LF
4. Jorge Soler, RF
5. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
6. Mike Olt, 3B
7. Welington Castillo, C
8. Eric Jokisch, P
9. Matt Szczur, CF

The Cubs and Audi announce naming rights partnership for Audi Club at Wrigley Field

In an expanded deal between Audi, its Chicagoland & NW Indiana Audi Dealers and the Chicago Cubs, Audi has become the new naming rights partner for the Audi Club at Wrigley Field. The multiyear agreement furthers the Audi brand’s presence as the Official Luxury Vehicle of the Chicago Cubs.

The Audi Club, formerly known as the United Club, is a pre- and postgame gathering place located on the south side of Wrigley Field, just west of Gate D, at the corner of Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue. The club is open for Cubs Season Ticket Holders who have purchased a membership during each home game and will continue to offer a VIP experience while adding special German fare this season. The club offers an array of gourmet a la carte menu items, along with a delicious pregame Chef’s Table featuring specialties from Levy Restaurants. A club membership and ticket to the game are required to enter the Audi Club.

“Audi and our dealers take pride in providing a luxury experience to our customers, so we’re pleased to extend our presence at Wrigley Field in a premier space where members and their guests can feel like VIPs,” said Andrea Santilli, marketing manager for Audi in the Midwest.

The Audi Club naming rights deal expands an existing relationship with the Cubs that had included the former Audi Legends Suite and ongoing presenting partnership of the Season Ticket Holder Lounge at the team’s annual Cubs Convention.

“Our fans and Season Ticket Holders have enjoyed the premier access and experiences provided by Audi throughout our partnership,” said Cubs Senior Director of Corporate Partnerships Allen Hermeling. “We are very pleased to expand that relationship to now include the Audi Club at Wrigley Field.”

Fall Out Boy to perform a pregame show at Wrigley Field on Opening Night

Major League Baseball today announced Chicago-born, award-winning rock band Fall Out Boy will headline MLB Opening Night’s first-ever live musical performance as part of the pregame festivities at Wrigley Field on April 5.

Fall Out Boy will perform three songs live on-field for fans before the Cubs host the Cardinals in the first official game of the 2015 MLB season. The band’s platinum hit, “Centuries” will be televised live to a national audience on Baseball Tonight, airing on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. CST, immediately followed by the live broadcast of the Opening Night at 7 p.m. CST.

With Fall Out Boy’s performance taking place pregame, batting practice for both the Cubs and Cardinals will be moved up by approximately 30 minutes. Gates at Wrigley Field will open at 4:35 p.m. CST as a result.

“Wrigley Field has always been a magical place to me. In some ways, I can chart milestones of my life and growing up there—from going to see Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg play, to going with my dad to one of the first night games they ever had there, to the first time I took the ‘EL’ there on my own for a game with my friends,” said Pete Wentz, Fall Out Boy’s bassist. “When our band all lived in an apartment together in Roscoe Village, we used to pass out fliers for shows at the Metro after games. It has been a lifetime dream to get the chance to play at Wrigley Field. We are grateful to MLB for the opportunity and so excited to perform for our hometown crowd.”

In addition to “Centuries,” Fall Out Boy will perform its newest single, “Uma Thurman” as well as the multiplatinum hit “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘em up).”

Fall Out Boy, who won Best Alternative Band at the 2014 People’s Choice Awards, have cemented their position as one of rock music’s biggest-selling bands. Their sixth studio album American Beauty/American Psycho debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and peaked at No. 1 on iTunes in more than 22 countries upon its Jan. 20, 2015, release. The band, which will be heading out on tour this summer (Boys of Zummer with Wiz Khalifa), also has written the song “Immortals,” featured in the Oscar-nominated Disney hit movie Big Hero 6.

Hailing from Chicago, Fall Out Boy—Patrick Stump (vocals/guitar), Wentz, Joe Trohman (guitar) and Andy Hurley (drums)—has appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and has performed on Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan, The Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live and many more. More information can be found at falloutboy.com.

Cubscast Mesa: Goals for the 2015 season

Success can be defined in many ways by Major League Baseball players. Some set personal goals, while others just want to stay healthy for the duration of the season. But when we sat down with Cubs personnel to find out their goals for the 2015 season, one thing became abundantly clear: This club expects to win.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV
Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/25/15

Wood_Cubs_035Wednesday’s starter Travis Wood has a 1-0 record with a 3.77 ERA in three spring starts.

Cubs vs. Mariners @ Peoria Stadium
First Pitch: 9:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Travis Wood, LHP
Mariners Starter: Taijuan Walker, RHP
Broadcast: CSN, Listen live at MLB.com

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Chris Coghlan, LF
3. Miguel Montero, C
4. Starlin Castro, SS
5. Ryan Sweeney, RF
6. Tommy La Stella, 3B
7. Mike Olt, 1B
8. Travis Wood, P
9. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/24/15

Addison_Russell

Addison Russell will start at shortstop for the Cubs Tuesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. Athletics @ HoHoKam Park
First Pitch: 3:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Edwin Jackson, RHP
Athletics Starter: Drew Pomeranz, LHP
Broadcast: Listen live at MLB.com

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Junior Lake, LF
3. Jorge Soler, RF
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Kris Bryant, 3B
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Javier Baez, 2B
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Edwin Jackson, P

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Cubs used to call Catalina Island their spring home

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The following article appears in the March issue of Vine Line. (Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Fly balls, sure. But the flying fish were a new one for Lennie Merullo, a born and bred Bostonian.

“It was unbelievable!” said the 97-year-old, the oldest living Chicago Cub and the last link to the team’s most recent World Series appearance in 1945.

The year was 1942, and the then-25-year-old shortstop watched the airborne sea creatures take flight and glide over the surface of the San Pedro Channel from the deck of a ferry. The boat was shuttling him and his Cubs teammates from Los Angeles to their rugged, idyllic post on Santa Catalina Island, where the team held Spring Training from 1922-42, and for a handful of years after that.

“That 26 miles felt like 2,600 miles,” Merullo said in a phone conversation from his Massachusetts home. “It took quite a while.”

The ferry could pitch and yaw over the chop, sending some landlubbing Cubs to the rails, while others shot pool, bowled or played cards below deck. For many, such as Merullo, it was the final leg of a journey that was thousands of miles long, and the payoff was six weeks of baseball in paradise.

“When you spotted the island from the boat, tears would come to your eyes,” Merullo recalled. “You’d think, ‘I finally made it!’ You wouldn’t believe what a beautiful island it was.”

The Cubs got to Catalina courtesy of their exceedingly wealthy and prescient owner, William Wrigley Jr., who purchased the island in 1919 as an investment and soon after, with cross-promotion in mind, decided to give his beloved team some sea legs out on the West Coast.

“He had lots of property,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “Early on, he understood the importance of real estate as an investment.”

Wrigley, a chewing gum magnate and the principal owner of the Cubs from 1918 until his death in 1932, purchased the wild isle somewhat on a whim. The previous owners fell into debt following a fire in Catalina’s main village of Avalon. Wrigley and his wife, Ada, visited and were immediately smitten with the place. They snagged it for $3 million, according to Hartig. That would be about $41 million today.

“He was like Walt Disney before Disney,” said Jim Vitti, author of two books about the Cubs’ 20-plus years on Catalina. “Wrigley was a genius.”

A genius, and perhaps a clairvoyant.

“When Wrigley bought the island, it was a tourist destination, but on a much smaller scale,” said Gail Fornasiere, director of marketing for the Catalina Island Museum. “There’s a quote of his where he said he wanted it to be a playground for the rich and poor. He wanted it to be for everybody.”

Wrigley poured millions of dollars into making the 75-square-mile island into a world-class tourist attraction and a hub for local jobs. He spearheaded efforts to build new roads, dig wells and erect a power plant. The classy St. Catherine Hotel sprung up in Avalon, and it was soon surrounded by hundreds of new bungalows, an Art Deco casino, a golf course and a dance club that lured the biggest names from nearby Hollywood, including Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Betty Grable and Olivia de Havilland. Wrigley even had an aviary that would grow to include 8,000 exotic birds.

“It’s a magic, amazing place,” Vitti said. “There’s nothing like it on earth.”

The inhabited, coastal parts of the island had a tropical, European quality, while the rugged interior—craggy and mountainous from ancient volcanic eruptions—was untamed. Wild boar and goats roamed the steep sagebrush-lined trails, and they were later flanked by bison, relics of an old movie production.

But Wrigley had more in mind.

In the 1920s, the concept of Spring Training was picking up steam, with teams generally hopping from city to city or barnstorming from a faraway destination toward home. The Cubs followed this model too, making stops in places as diverse as Hot Springs, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Galveston, Texas; Selma, Alabama; New Orleans; Tampa, Florida; and Pasadena, California, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

In March 1920, while the Cubs were training in Pasadena, Wrigley and manager Fred Mitchell took the team to the island on a glass-bottomed boat, Hartig said. All parties were impressed, and Catalina officially became the Cubs’ spring home starting in 1922 under manager Johnny Evers.

During the frigid last days of winter in the east, Cubs rookies and veterans would say goodbye to their families and their offseason jobs and board a train for Chicago. There, Vitti said, they would usually receive a send-off from fans and the press before climbing onto another train bound for Los Angeles. From LA, they’d set brief, if bumpy, sail for the island, where they would receive a heroes’ welcome.

“The island loved that they came here and embraced them completely,” Fornasiere said.

Prior to the Catalina years, the team would most often retreat to Hot Springs, where the players would soak in steaming tubs to “boil the winter out,” Vitti said. But the Cubs’ decades-long relationship with Catalina set some precedents for other teams and has been unofficially credited with creating Spring Training as we know it today.

“It was a huge tourist draw,” Vitti said. “Wrigley leveraged it so much.”

While most games were played on the mainland, the island proved perfect for spring’s relatively light, four-hour training days. Players worked on the basics—batting practice, long tossing, pepper—as well as goofier drills, such as throwing around medicine balls and playing leapfrog, Hartig said. The team also ran the island hills, usually as punishment.

“We did everything we could to get our arms in shape, to get our legs in shape, for the regular season,” said Merullo, a Cubs infielder from 1941-47. “We always thought we were in good shape—until we got there and started working. You could feel every muscle in your body.”

Marcelino Saucedo, 79, a retired teacher and coach who grew up on Catalina, was a high school ballplayer when the Cubs were wrapping up their island years in the early 1950s. His teams shared the major league-caliber training field with the professional players.

“The [Cubs] were there from 9 o’clock to 1 o’clock, so we got on the field at 2 o’clock,” he said from his home in Surfside, California. “Several ballplayers stayed and helped us. They taught us how to slide and field balls, all the fundamentals.”

Saucedo remembered the jovial air about the place when the team arrived and how players would blend seamlessly into island life, even attending high school games to cheer on their mentees. One such Cub was Chuck Connors, a first baseman who also played in the NBA and eventually starred in TV’s The Rifleman.

“[He] told me he’d give me a quarter for every base hit,” Saucedo said. “I told him, ‘Chuck, you owe me 50 cents!’ He said, ‘I meant line drives, not bloopers.’ He still owes me money!”

Beyond its vacation-like feel, Catalina was a positive setting for the Cubs and hosted some of the franchise’s most successful teams. While training on the island, the club clinched the 1929, ’32, ’35 and ’38 pennants, a stretch of success not since repeated. The organization also won the National League title in 1945, but this coincided with a wartime break from the island.

Cubs personnel lived at the St. Catherine Hotel, or later at the Atwater Hotel in Avalon, while players with families stayed at the bungalows near the field. Merullo, who was joined by family members for a few years, remembered the stunning views from his hotel balcony and the morning commute to practice.

“It was a beautiful walk,” he said. “You’d look forward to it.”

Players fished, hunted, rode horses and hazed rookies.

“And there was a little bit of drinking going on,” Vitti said, chuckling.

Wrigley was known to invite the team to his harborside compound for barbecues. Later, his son and heir, Philip K. Wrigley, hosted rodeos.

Spring Training fell during the tourist offseason, so the team’s presence was appreciated by all. Players had a rapport with the locals, often visiting schools and dining in the homes of some of the island’s 5,000 or so residents.

To promote his little paradise in the Pacific Ocean, Wrigley courted reporters and photographers, whose beats markedly improved for a few weeks while documenting the Cubs’ goings-on for weather-weary Chicagoans. Players and writers rubbed shoulders—usually at the bar or over batting practice—in a way that rarely happens in the modern game.

“He gave a junket to every reporter,” Vitti said. “It exploded tourism on the island.”

World War II interrupted the Cubs’ West Coast training, as travel restrictions grounded the team’s preseason activities to French Lick, Indiana. Catalina became home to military stations and was closed to tourists. The island’s white steamships were painted battleship gray and used to transport troops. Though the Cubs returned after the war, enthusiasm for Catalina had begun to wane.

“Isolation had its plusses and minuses,” Hartig said. “After [they] had been there for a while, you started to hear some complaining.”

The press corps grew weary of the locale, the journey and the lack of decent opponents on the island. Their postwar articles often reflected the ennui.

“The current National League champions are returning to their Catalina Island base for the first time since 1942,” wrote the Chicago Daily Tribune’s Irving Vaughan in 1946. “But they won’t find it quite as comfortable as in the past.”

There had been rumblings for a decade about packing it up, but William’s heir, Philip K. Wrigley, wanted to stay. By the dawn of the 1950s, the team had decided to move on to dry, dependable, accessible Mesa, Arizona, eventually leading to the formation of the Cactus League.

Rumors swirled in the mid-1960s about a return to Catalina, but it never materialized. In 1975, Philip K. Wrigley deeded more than 42,000 acres—about 90 percent of the island—to his newly established Catalina Island Conservancy, which still operates today. Hartig said the again-robust tourist trade and other private entities now control the remaining portion of the island.

Catalina, which today welcomes up to 1 million visitors per year, still proudly promotes its Cubs connection, with William Wrigley’s stamp on architecture, infrastructure and history proving indelible. While the island’s Wrigley Field has largely been built over, a plaque demarcating the spot remains for baseball
pilgrims who make the trek.

And many still do. Others, however, are just waiting for the right moment.

“I haven’t been back,” Merullo mused. “But I’m looking forward to it.

—Kerry Trotter

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