Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

From the Pages of Vine Line: Cubs system is hitting its stride

epstein

The following is from the Inside Pitch section of March’s Vine Line.

From 1929-38, as the world suffered through the Great Depression, the Cubs ironically experienced their last sustained run of on-field prosperity. Over that 10-year stretch, they had the best record and most World Series appearances (four) of any NL team.

Since then, whether the organization has attempted a quick fix or a measured reconstruction, efforts to rekindle that flame have produced only flickers.

Two and a half years ago, Ricketts family ownership hired Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager to end the organization’s 75-year drought of inconsistency. Now entering their third season, Epstein and Hoyer realize the progress they see internally isn’t always obvious to fans.

“We take grief from friends, family and critics,” Epstein said. “But we know what’s coming. We have to continue to build with our group, because it’s going to be a lot of fun when we get there.”

The Cubs’ aim all along has been to become baseball’s next model organization, and, unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for that.

“We feel great about the people we have in place now,” Epstein said. “We’re talking about our scouting department, player development, professional scouts and major league staff. You’re constantly looking for new ways to improve. We look to do this by putting people in the right place, promoting the right guys and making sure everyone gets better at their job every year.”

Epstein’s goal is not to generate a single World Series title, but to create a consistent contender as he did in Boston. In his nine seasons there, the Red Sox made six postseason appearances and won both World Series in which they played. Moreover, almost half of Boston’s 2013 World Series championship roster was traceable to Epstein and his BoSox staff.

“We’re looking to be in position to win 90 games every year, which puts you in postseason [range],” Epstein said. “Winning 95 games gives you a chance to win your division. That’s our plan—not only to win a World Series, but to get into the postseason every year.

“Our group concentrates on a 10-year period, and we hope to be in contention at least eight out of 10 years, rather than going for one super team that might be fleeting—disappearing the next year and getting old the next.”

That’s why the Cubs have concentrated so heavily on amateur draft picks, international free agents and minor league prospects.

“We want to build a core that can be our nucleus for a long time,” Epstein said. “We’re not going to define our organization by scouting major league free agents. By the time they’re free agents, the good players are mostly 30 or older and huge investments. Our goal is to be an organization that doesn’t need to go into free agency that often because it has homegrown players.”

Since 2011, Jim Hendry’s final season as GM, the Cubs have enjoyed the bittersweet gift of drafting high after finishing low. But this process is already starting to bear fruit. Their last three No. 1 picks—Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant—rank among baseball’s top 20 prospects, and the club has seven players in the top 100, according to MLBPipeline.com.

Despite falling short in a valiant winter effort to land Japanese pitching prize Masahiro Tanaka, Epstein’s energetic group remains undeterred.

“You first and foremost cannot put together a successful organization without drafting well,” Epstein said. “Most of our trades in this phase will be about acquiring prospects.”

Just as the little things that win games don’t always show up in the box score, small details that produce a winning organization seldom make hot-stove headlines.

“Our group looks to find something every day to make this organization healthier,” Epstein said. “Hiring a good scout or making the right choice on a 10th-round draft pick, adding a quality coach or player development person—all are good short-term goals to become a great system. Finding a better bunt play to run or picking up a guy on waivers is all part of what we do to put us in a position to have more homegrown talent coming through our system—and to provide preprime and prime-age players to our roster and core.”

Still, Epstein realizes fans judge the front office by what occurs on the field.

“You can’t put in all your systems the first year,” he said. “It takes time. The market is different in each major league city. That’s part of the adjustment tour people must make when coming here. Take player development. You start a development program, bring in people and create a manual. Still, it takes years for the plan to be completely institutionalized and ingrained.

“Our analytics department took us a while. We wanted to make sure we had the right people. … We now have a full-fledged department working to get an advantage on our competition, and that only this year has come into play. We’re just hitting our stride in prioritizing player development and scouting first. We were objectively behind in those areas.”

So how do you gauge progress?

“Two and a half years into this,” Epstein said, “we’re spending a lot less time in our meetings talking about the process we have to go through.”

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

Cubs prospects cover Baseball America’s Top 100

Alcantara

Arismendy Alcantara has established himself as a top 100 prospect. (Photo by Rodger Wood)

At this point, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Cubs farmhands taking up some prime real estate on baseball’s top prospect lists. Throughout the offseason, various publications and websites have released their top 100, and the Cubs routinely land seven players among the best in the game.

Baseball America unveiled its Top 100 list Thursday, and the Cubs’ elite seven were again present—and that included two in the top eight. BA also provided fans with an estimation of when to expect these minor leaguers to arrive at Wrigley Field. According to the publication, six of the seven could be at the Friendly Confines sometime in the next two years.

Here’s what BA had to say about the Cubs seven:

5. Javier Baez
Major League ETA: 2014
Slow down—not his bat, the minors’ fastest, but the rest of the game, especially at shortstop. Otherwise, Baez’s task will be learning to play another position.

8. Kris Bryant
Major League ETA: 2014
Bryant could have a successful season even if he doesn’t match his 31-homer season in college; a move to the outfield could be in the offing.

28. C.J. Edwards
Major League ETA: 2015
Edwards can’t post better results than he did last year, when he moved from the Rangers to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. He’ll aim to reach 150 innings while maintaining his high-quality stuff and control.

36. Albert Almora
Major League ETA: 2016
Almora is another prospect who just needs to show he can stay healthy. Evaluators love his bat and defense in center—when he’s on the field.

41. Jorge Soler
Major League ETA: 2015
It’s easy to be satisfied when you’ve already signed a $30 million contract. If Soler plays with an edge, he’ll be a big league right fielder sooner than later.

87. Pierce Johnson
Major League ETA: 2015
Durability is at the top of the list for the slender Johnson, who could beat the similarly built C.J. Edwards to Chicago if he can repeat his 2013 production at higher levels.

100. Arismendy Alcantara
Major League ETA: 2015
With a crowd ahead of him at shortstop, Alcantara’s best path to the majors is as an everyday second baseman. Honing his skills on the right side of the infield is job one.

Cubs announce regular season TV broadcast schedule

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs today announced their 2014 regular season television broadcast schedule, and for the sixth season in a row, all 162 games will be available in high-definition in the Chicago area.

WGN will televise the Cubs’ March 31 season opener at the Pittsburgh Pirates at 12:05 p.m. CST, and Comcast SportsNet will have its first broadcast the next game on April 2 in Pittsburgh at 6:05 p.m. CST (on Comcast SportsNet Plus). WCIU will televise its first game on April 20 when the Cubs host the Cincinnati Reds at 1:20 p.m. CST. WGN will have Wrigley Field’s landmark 100th Anniversary game on April 23 vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Cubs games have been televised by WGN since 1948 and by WCIU since 2000. This will be Comcast SportsNet’s 10th season televising the team.

Len Kasper returns for his 10th season in the Cubs’ television booth and will be joined by Jim Deshaies, who is in his second season with the club.

Cubs 2014 Regular Season Broadcast Schedule
3/31 @ Pittsburgh 12:05 PM WGN
4/2 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM CSN+
4/3 @ Pittsburgh 11:35 AM CSN
4/4 vs. Philadelphia 1:20 PM WGN
4/5 vs. Philadelphia 1:20 PM CSN
4/6 vs. Philadelphia 1:20 PM WGN
4/8 vs. Pittsburgh 7:05 PM CSN
4/9 vs. Pittsburgh 7:05 PM WGN
4/10 vs. Pittsburgh 1:20 PM WGN
4/11 @ St. Louis 7:15 PM CSN+
4/12 @ St. Louis 1:15 PM CSN
4/13 @ St. Louis 1:15 PM WGN
4/15 @ NY Yankees 6:05 PM CSN
4/16 @ NY Yankees 6:05 PM WGN
4/18 vs. Cincinnati 1:20 PM WGN
4/19 vs. Cincinnati 1:20 PM CSN
4/20 vs. Cincinnati 1:20 PM WCIU
4/21 vs. Arizona 7:05 PM CSN
4/22 vs. Arizona 7:05 PM CSN
4/23 vs. Arizona 1:20 PM WGN
4/24 vs. Arizona 1:20 PM WGN
4/25 @ Milwaukee 7:10 PM CSN
4/26 @ Milwaukee 6:10 PM WGN
4/27 @ Milwaukee 1:10 PM WGN
4/28 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM WCIU
4/29 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM CSN
4/30 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM CSN
5/2 vs. St. Louis 1:20 PM CSN
5/3 vs. St. Louis 12:05 PM CSN
5/4 vs. St. Louis 7:05 PM ESPN
5/5 vs. White Sox 7:05 PM CSN
5/6 vs. White Sox 7:05 PM WGN
5/7 @ White Sox 7:10 PM CSN
5/8 @ White Sox 7:10 PM WGN
5/9 @ Atlanta 6:35 PM CSN
5/10 @ Atlanta 6:10 PM WGN
5/11 @ Atlanta 12:35 PM WGN
5/12 @ St. Louis 7:10 PM CSN
5/13 @ St. Louis 7:15 PM WCIU
5/14 @ St. Louis 7:15 PM CSN
5/15 @ St. Louis 12:45 PM CSN
5/16 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM WGN
5/17 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM CSN
5/18 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM WGN
5/20 vs. NY Yankees 7:05 PM WGN
5/21 vs. NY Yankees 1:20 PM CSN
5/22 @ San Diego 9:10 PM CSN
5/23 @ San Diego 9:10 PM WGN
5/24 @ San Diego 9:10 PM WGN
5/25 @ San Diego 3:10 PM WGN
5/26 @ SF Giants 3:05 PM WGN
5/27 @ SF Giants 9:15 PM CSN
5/28 @ SF Giants 2:45 PM CSN
5/30 @ Milwaukee 7:10 PM WGN
5/31 @ Milwaukee 3:10 PM CSN
6/1 @ Milwaukee 1:10 PM WGN
6/3 vs. NY Mets 7:05 PM CSN
6/4 vs. NY Mets 7:05 PM WGN
6/5 vs. NY Mets 6:05 PM CSN
6/6 vs. Miami 3:05 PM CSN
6/7 vs. Miami 3:05 PM WGN
6/8 vs. Miami 1:20 PM CSN
6/9 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM WCIU
6/10 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM CSN
6/11 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM CSN
6/12 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM WGN
6/13 @ Philadelphia 6:05 PM WGN
6/14 @ Philadelphia 2:05 PM CSN
6/15 @ Philadelphia 12:35 PM WGN
6/16 @ Miami 6:10 PM CSN
6/17 @ Miami 6:10 PM WGN
6/18 @ Miami 11:40 AM CSN
6/20 vs. Pittsburgh 3:05 PM WGN
6/21 vs. Pittsburgh 6:15 PM FOX
6/22 vs. Pittsburgh 1:20 PM WGN
6/23 vs. Cincinnati 7:05 PM WCIU
6/24 vs. Cincinnati 7:05 PM CSN
6/25 vs. Cincinnati 6:05 PM WGN
6/26 vs. Washington 7:05 PM CSN
6/27 vs. Washington 3:05 PM WGN
6/28 vs. Washington 12:05 PM WGN
6/28 vs. Washington 6:15 PM FOX
6/30 @ Boston 6:10 PM CSN
7/1 @ Boston 6:10 PM CSN
7/2 @ Boston 6:10 PM WCIU
7/4 @ Washington 10:05 AM WGN
7/5 @ Washington 3:05 PM CSN
7/6 @ Washington 12:35 PM WGN
7/7 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM CSN
7/8 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM CSN
7/9 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM WGN
7/10 @ Cincinnati 11:35 AM WGN
7/11 vs. Atlanta 3:05 PM CSN
7/12 vs. Atlanta 3:05 PM WGN
7/13 vs. Atlanta 1:20 PM CSN
7/14-17 ALL-STAR BREAK (Minnesota – Target Field)
7/18 @ Arizona 8:40 PM CSN
7/19 @ Arizona 7:10 PM WGN
7/20 @ Arizona 3:10 PM WGN
7/22 vs. San Diego 7:05 PM CSN+
7/23 vs. San Diego 7:05 PM CSN
7/24 vs. San Diego 7:05 PM WGN
7/25 vs. St. Louis 3:05 PM WGN
7/26 vs. St. Louis 3:05 PM CSN
7/27 vs. St. Louis TBD WGN or ESPN
7/28 vs. Colorado 7:05 PM CSN
7/29 vs. Colorado 7:05 PM WGN
7/30 vs. Colorado 7:05 PM CSN+
7/31 vs. Colorado 1:20 PM CSN
8/1 @ LA Dodgers 9:10 PM WGN
8/2 @ LA Dodgers 8:10 PM CSN
8/3 @ LA Dodgers TBD WGN
8/5 @ Colorado 7:40 PM CSN+
8/6 @ Colorado 7:40 PM CSN
8/7 @ Colorado 2:10 PM WGN
8/8 vs. Tampa Bay 3:05 PM WGN
8/9 vs. Tampa Bay 3:05 PM WGN
8/10 vs. Tampa Bay 1:20 PM CSN
8/11 vs. Milwaukee 7:05 PM CSN
8/12 vs. Milwaukee 7:05 PM CSN
8/13 vs. Milwaukee 7:05 PM CSN
8/14 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM WGN
8/15 @ NY Mets 6:10 PM WGN
8/16 @ NY Mets 6:10 PM WGN
8/17 @ NY Mets 12:10 PM CSN
8/18 @ NY Mets 11:10 AM CSN
8/19 vs. SF Giants 7:05 PM CSN
8/20 vs. SF Giants 7:05 PM WCIU
8/21 vs. SF Giants 7:05 PM CSN
8/22 vs. Baltimore 1:20 PM WGN
8/23 vs. Baltimore 1:20 PM CSN
8/24 vs. Baltimore 1:20 PM WGN
8/26 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM CSN
8/27 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM CSN
8/28 @ Cincinnati 11:35 AM WGN
8/29 @ St. Louis 7:15 PM WGN
8/30 @ St. Louis 6:15 PM CSN
8/31 @ St. Louis 1:15 PM WGN
9/1 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM WGN
9/2 vs. Milwaukee 7:05 PM CSN+
9/3 vs. Milwaukee 7:05 PM CSN
9/5 vs. Pittsburgh 1:20 PM WGN
9/6 vs. Pittsburgh 3:05 PM CSN
9/7 vs. Pittsburgh 1:20 PM WGN
9/8 @ Toronto 6:07 PM WGN
9/9 @ Toronto 6:07 PM CSN
9/10 @ Toronto 6:07 PM CSN
9/12 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM CSN
9/13 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM CSN
9/14 @ Pittsburgh 12:35 PM WGN
9/15 vs. Cincinnati 7:05 PM CSN+
9/16 vs. Cincinnati 7:05 PM WGN
9/17 vs. Cincinnati 7:05 PM CSN
9/18 vs. LA Dodgers 7:05 PM CSN
9/19 vs. LA Dodgers 1:20 PM WGN
9/20 vs. LA Dodgers 3:05 PM WGN
9/21 vs. LA Dodgers 1:20 PM CSN
9/22 vs. St. Louis 7:05 PM WGN
9/23 vs. St. Louis 7:05 PM WCIU
9/24 vs. St. Louis 7:05 PM CSN
9/26 @ Milwaukee 7:10 PM CSN
9/27 @ Milwaukee 6:10 PM WGN
9/28 @ Milwaukee 1:10 PM WGN

On this Date in 1998: Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray dies

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Harry Caray conducts the stretch with then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Even 16 years after his death, iconic broadcaster Harry Caray is very much a part of the Cubs organization. Celebrities still make their way to the broadcast booth to conduct their renditions of the seventh-inning stretch, players and fans continue to do imitations of the club’s biggest fan, and people arrive at Wrigley Field wearing enlarged versions of his trademark glasses.

Tuesday marks the 16th anniversary of Caray’s death at the age of 83.

Prior to joining the Cubs in 1981, Caray worked in the booth for the White Sox, the Athletics, and the Cardinals and Browns in St. Louis. He was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 for his contributions to the game. He was also inducted into both the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Charles Weeghman and the construction of Wrigley Field

WrigleyField

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)

The following can be found in the February issue of Vine Line.

It’s a typical chilly April afternoon on the North Side.

A strong breeze blows off the lake, and the people clustered in the bleachers are bundled in winter clothes. But they don’t seem to mind the cold. Some arrived as early as 9 a.m. to see the marching bands and politicians parade in the street.

They wear red and blue caps, ring bells and sing songs. The park looks, someone would later remark, like “a huge floral horseshoe.” Music plays and curious onlookers gather at windows and on the rooftops of adjacent buildings.

A few dozen members of the Daughters of the Grand Army of the Republic parade in with a 30-foot silk American flag. They present the team’s manager with gifts—three dozen neckties, a six-foot-high floral display—and someone fires off a series of explosions to mark the occasion.

Finally, one of the leaders of the GAR, filling in for Chicago’s mayor, steps out onto the mound and throws the first pitch.

It’s April 23, 1914, and baseball has come to West Addison Street on Chicago’s North Side. But the Cubs—and Wrigley Field as we know it—would take a little longer to arrive.

* * * *

Depending on how you look at it, the story of Wrigley Field began either with a property deal struck in the waning hours of 1913 or with an unlucky investment made a few years earlier.

In 1909, three men with ties to American Association baseball found what they thought was the perfect spot for a ballpark. The parcel of land at North Clark and West Addison streets in Chicago was the former site of a Lutheran seminary. It was surrounded by homes and businesses and offered convenient access to public transportation.

The plan was to bring an American Association team to Chicago. But there was a problem: The city was spoken for, according to Organized Baseball. The Cubs and White Sox had already claimed the town—the Cubs were playing in a park on the city’s West Side at the time—and both teams refused to approve a new organization in their territory.
For the next few years, the three men held onto the property, but they didn’t make any progress on a new team.

Enter Charles Weeghman.

The self-made millionaire began his working life as a waiter. He eventually opened a diner, followed by another and another. Once he was running 15 restaurants, he began investing in pool halls and movie houses. By the time the men from the American Association were sitting on their North Side plot of land, baseball was surging in popularity, and Weeghman was getting some big ideas.

In 1913, the increasingly crowded baseball universe got a new competitor, an independent minor league operation called the Federal League. To secure its financial standing, the league went looking for deep pockets and found Weeghman, who had already tried, and failed, to buy the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

With Weeghman’s clout in the mix, organizers figured they could give the American and National leagues a run for their money and declared the Fed League an official major league. Because the operation was independent, they didn’t have to get Organized Baseball’s permission to set up a new franchise in town.

Prior to the 1914 season, Weeghman acquired the Chicago Federals for $25,000—but he insisted if they were going to be a major league team, they needed a major league-quality stadium to rival those of the other professional teams in town.

He had just the spot in mind—that former North Side seminary that was close to streetcars and the city’s rail system. Plus, it came with a near-perfect geographic orientation. It was as far north from the city’s center as Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, was south. For the first time, Chicago would have proper North Side and South Side teams.

On Dec. 31, 1913, Weeghman agreed to a 99-year lease on the property. The spot at Clark and Addison was about to get a second chance. That is, unless Organized Baseball had anything to say about it.

* * * *

Technically, the Chicago Federals didn’t need anyone’s permission to play in the Windy City, but the fledgling organization was still going to have to fight its way in.

The AL and NL threatened to blacklist players who joined the Federals. Even though Weeghman was already gathering up a roster of big-name players—including infielder and manager Joe Tinker—the opposing leagues didn’t stop their fight. Instead, they tried to pull the rug out from under him, right in the North Side neighborhood where he was trying to build his new baseball empire.

Weeghman’s lease became official in January 1914, and all the details were published in the Chicago Tribune. He would pay $16,000 annually for the first 10 years of the 99-year lease, eventually upping the rate to $20,000. That averages out to the equivalent of about $452,000 per year in today’s dollars.

By late February, some of the neighbors around Clark and Addison were pushing back. Several of them signed a petition against the ballpark, which they delivered to the city’s building commissioner.

But the little secret just about everyone knew at the time was that the neighbors weren’t particularly opposed to the park.

Cubs historian Ed Hartig said major league officials were holding frequent meetings, trying to figure out how to get rid of Weeghman, his team and his ballpark.

“You think about this nowadays—oh, my gosh, some of the stuff they tried to do,” Hartig said. “Professional men who had made their money in real estate, in communications, in newspapers, and here they are in back rooms trying to finagle these deals.”

One of the schemes cooked up in those backroom meetings was to use the ballpark’s neighbors to fight the team’s plans. But Hartig said just about everybody saw through that tactic.

“Organized Baseball saw Chicago as being the key to the success of the Federal League. As Weeghman went, so did the Federal League—or at least that’s what Organized Baseball thought,” Hartig said. “The belief, or hope, was that if they could make life miserable for Weeghman, Charlie would withdraw his interest in the Chicago Federal League team. And with no Chicago team, the league would fold.”

The plan didn’t work.

The building commissioner told the neighbors he’d take their concerns under advisement, but warned them the Federal League already had enough support in the neighborhood to go ahead with its plans.

Two days later, wrecking crews were tearing down the seminary and a few nearby houses to make way for Weeghman Park.

* * * *

The stadium went up with a speed that seems unfathomable today, when major public projects typically require years of study, design and debate. Weeghman gave his construction team less than two months to complete the job, because he wanted the park ready for the start of the 1914 season.

About 5,000 people turned up for a groundbreaking ceremony on March 4, 1914. The building commissioner stuck a shovel in the dirt, and someone smashed a bottle of champagne. As soon as the ceremony was over, the chief contractor began issuing orders to 100 workmen hired to build the grandstand.

By late March, the structure was nearly complete. Weeghman pushed for speedy work, paying off union workers who went on strike and nearly doubling his 450-man crew.
The city provided some help too. The park’s eight-foot-high brick fence in the outfield didn’t follow city ordinances. An inspector reported the violation, but didn’t insist the wall be taken out. Ultimately, it stayed.

On April 23, visitors streamed in for Weeghman Park’s first game. Tickets were $1 for box seats (about $24 today) or 75 cents for the grandstand. One of the reasons the construction was able to move so fast was that the park was far less polished than today’s big league facilities.

“The ballparks were pretty simple then,” Hartig said. “It was 14,000 seats with no upper decks. The bleachers were pretty basic.”

Weeghman made a point of selling the facility as a cleaner alternative to other ballparks of the day, which were known for being a bit grungy. Hartig said it was common for teams to go through 15-game stretches and hose down the bleachers only a few times—and this in an era when the primarily male crowd generally went to games dressed in suits and ties.

Though the park was a scaled-down version of the modern Wrigley, it had a few special touches. Among them was a stable Weeghman had built for his horse, Queen Bess, under the third-base grandstand. Queen Bess pulled the lawnmower that cut the grass on the field and was allowed to run free around the park when the team was on the road.

About 21,000 people turned out for the first game to watch the Federals top the Kansas City Packers, 9-1.

The team finished the season second in the league, but Weeghman was worried about its continued success. In 1915, after a naming contest, the club was rechristened the Chicago Whales. They had another excellent season, winning the Federal League title, but by year’s end, the league was mired in legal challenges with Organized Baseball.
The Federal League had sued the American and National leagues for antitrust violations, but the battle was a stalemate. The federal judge on the case, future baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, thought the upstart league had a legitimate case, but understood that a ruling in its favor might cause Organized Baseball to collapse.

So he did the only other thing he could think of—he stalled, hoping one or both sides would cave. By the end of the 1915 season, the Feds were in a financially untenable position and reached an agreement to shut down.

In January 1916, less than two years after his namesake park opened, Weeghman and nine other investors, including majority stockholder Albert Lasker and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., struck a new deal. The Cubs would add most of the Whales personnel to their roster and swap their well-worn West Side home for something bigger, better and newer: Weeghman Park.

* * * *

As the Cubs were moving in, Weeghman was moving out of the baseball business. Facing monetary problems, he began selling off his Cubs stock and was off the team’s board of directors by the start of the 1920s.

Wrigley, who wasn’t much of a baseball fan, began regularly attending games. By the 1917 season, he’d convinced the team’s board to move their Spring Training operations to his property in California. He continued to boost his holdings and owned a majority of the shares by 1919. From then on, his name would forever be linked with the Cubs and their venerable ballpark.

But Hartig said the forgotten bit of Wrigley Field’s early history is part of what makes the park so unique. During tours of the stadium, visitors are often surprised to learn that it hasn’t always been all about the Cubs on West Addison Street.

“To me, that’s the biggie, that it wasn’t built for the Cubs,” he said. “There was an independent league team that existed for three years—and almost took down Major League Baseball.”

—Erin Golden

Cubs add Emilio Bonifacio to the mix

Bonifacio

(Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

The Cubs signed IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training over the weekend.

The 28-year-old has spent all or parts of the last seven seasons in the majors, splitting time between Toronto and Kansas City in 2013. Known for his versatility, Bonifacio has played regularly at six positions throughout his career. He made the majority of his appearances at second base last year but has also played third base, shortstop and all three outfield spots.

Career Appearances/Starts:
2B: 165/143
3B: 134/121
CF: 110/92
SS: 97/81
LF: 66/46
RF: 28/20

Offensively, Bonifacio is a career .262/.322/.340 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter who could prove to be a threat on the basepaths. Last season, he stole 28 bases while hitting .243 with three home runs and 22 doubles. The switch-hitter’s finest season came in 2011, when he batted .296 with five home runs, 26 doubles, 78 runs scored and 40 stolen bases (second in the NL) in 152 games.

Stolen Bases:
2007: 0
2008: 7
2009: 21
2010: 12
2011: 40
2012: 30
2013: 28

Bonifacio could push for an Opening Day bench spot, with his defensive versatility and speed proving valuable in the later innings.

From the Pages of Vine Line: An inside look at the new Cubs Park

Cubs-Park-6

(Photo by Charlie Vascellaro)

The paint is still drying on the new Cubs Park Spring Training and player development facility in Mesa, Ariz. No one has grilled a hot dog or spilled a beer. The bathroom fixtures are clean enough to eat off of—not that you’d want to. The sights, scents and sounds that will craft cherished memories have yet to occur. The place is a blank canvas waiting to be colored in the blue and green hues of spring baseball.

It takes a while for a ballpark to develop a personality of its own. Something has to happen—a mammoth home run hit by a rookie prospect, an anonymous young pitcher emerging from a corn field to strike out the side, or a brushback pitch revisiting a previous season’s rivalry and inciting a bench-clearing brawl. There must be something fans can look back on later and say, “I was there.”

But the crack of the bat and the thwapping of balls into gloves can finally be heard at the facility, as pitchers and catchers officially reported to camp Thursday.

The Cubs had a spectacular run at two different Hohokam Parks from 1979-2012—setting Cactus League and MLB Spring Training attendance records and enjoying a wonderfully symbiotic relationship with the ballpark, the city and the fans—but the team’s new multipurpose Spring Training and player development facility is a vast improvement for both the organization and its loyal fans. Coming on the heels of the new training academy in the Dominican Republic and in conjunction with the restoration of Wrigley Field, the Cubs have made great strides under owner Tom Ricketts in terms of facilities and comprehensive player development accommodations—an essential step for a team looking to build from the lower levels up.

The new complex also simplifies things from a logistical standpoint. Previously, the organization’s minor leaguers conducted workouts at Fitch Park, about three-quarters of a mile down the road from Hohokam, where the big leaguers practiced and played games. The new facility puts all of the Cubs’ operations under one roof. This is an improvement for both the front office—which can keep better tabs on the team’s young players—and fans—who no longer have to make a trip down the road to watch top prospects like Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson make their way to the big leagues.

BIGGER AND BETTER
Designed by Populous, formerly the renowned HOK ballpark architectural firm of Kansas City, Mo., and built in conjunction with the Hunt Construction Group of Scottsdale, Ariz., the $99 million facility was approved by city of Mesa voters in a 2012 ballot measure. Keeping the Cubs in town was a front-burner issue for the city and its mayor.

“The Chicago Cubs have been coming to Mesa each spring for more than half a century,” said Mayor Scott Smith. “The team is a part of who we are as a community, and I am excited to see that legacy continue for my children and grandchildren.”

The massive 125-acre complex contains six practice fields, one infield practice diamond, 12 indoor batting cages and a huge, 70,000-square-foot player development facility. Aside from the vast physical resources, the team is also taking advantage of new technological advances. The Cubs’ new home comes equipped with a 120-seat theater for meetings and video review, and each practice field offers a camera feed to the video rooms to enhance evaluations.

For a team that has dealt with substandard strength-training areas at both Wrigley Field and Hohokam Park, the new player development complex is quite a luxury. It includes a two-story weight room and gym filled with stationary bikes, four whirlpools and a hydrotherapy pool, and floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the scenic McDowell Mountain range. The big league clubhouse, which dwarfs the space at Wrigley Field, has 63 lockers, and there’s another clubhouse for minor league players with 200 spaces.

In addition to being the Cubs’ Spring Training home, the new site will also be the team’s year-round player development and rehabilitation headquarters, and home to the club’s Rookie League and Arizona Fall League teams.

“This is our space to develop players to move onto the big league club,” said Cubs Park Facilities Manager Justin Piper. “So there’s also been a lot of focus and attention from the Cubs on our player development facilities and practice facilities on the site.”

JUST LIKE HOME
As Major League Baseball’s scope continues to evolve and grow, Spring Training has become a big business, with host cities aggressively competing for entertainment and tourism dollars. It seems like almost every year another big league club is moving into an updated, state-of-the-art facility.

The Cubs’ brand new Spring Training site, the fourth new ballpark to arrive on the Cactus League’s desert horizon in the last six years, is located in Mesa’s booming Riverview Park entertainment district. It’s adjacent to the sprawling new Riverview Park and Mesa Riverview shopping center on Rio Salado Parkway by the busy crossroads of the 101 and 202 loop freeways near the Mesa/Tempe border.

North Side fans have always had a way of making themselves feel at home in Mesa, and while Cubs Park is not intended to be a scale model of Wrigley Field, reminders of the Friendly Confines abound in features like the light towers, scoreboard clock and replica Wrigley Field marquee.

“People will be able to walk up right next to it,” Piper said. “We can put their name on the marquee, and they can take their photo next to it.”

Already being heralded as the crown jewel of Spring Training facilities, the ballpark boasts a seating capacity of nearly 15,000, the largest in the Cactus League. The stadium has 9,200 fixed seats, and the expansive outfield berm, a signature component of Arizona’s Spring Training ballparks, has room for 4,200 more sun-worshipping fans.

Because Arizona’s atmospheric conditions cause the ball to carry farther than it does in Chicago, the dimensions of the outfield wall are about 15-20 feet deeper than those at Wrigley Field, but the two outfields share the same shape. Just like at Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ home dugout is situated on the third-base side (it was located on the first-base side at Hohokam Park), and the wall behind home plate is made of red brick. This will make Spring Training games broadcast on television appear strikingly similar to Cubs regular season home games when the center-field camera is in use.

Of course, the ballpark’s southwestern setting is also evident in many design touches, including the massive louvered awnings that provide shade over most of the seating bowl and the red-clay exterior that reflects the facility’s desert surroundings. There’s also a beautiful mountain vista beyond the outfield walls, including such iconic local imagery as the Superstition Mountains to the right, Four Peaks and Red Mountain to dead center, and the vast McDowell Mountain range to the left. Phoenix’s signature Camelback Mountain is farther to the left, but still visible, off in foul territory.

While Cubs Park will be a huge upgrade for players, it will also provide a better overall experience for fans. Throughout the past several decades, Spring Training baseball has evolved from a destination for die-hards to a prime vacation spot for spring revelers. For many, the game on the field is secondary to other amenities and a chance to spend time with friends in the Arizona sun. The new Cubs Park has adequately addressed this phenomenon as well.

One of the most unique features of the facility will be the left-field party deck, which is designed to be reminiscent of the rooftops outside of Wrigley Field. The second-story deck comes equipped with bleachers and patios with loose patio furniture, and can be accessed with a general admission ticket.

“You’ll have 1,000 people mixing and mingling, sitting in the bleachers and having a great time,” Piper said. “It’s going to be pretty unique.”

But the best aspect of Spring Training has always been the opportunity to rub shoulders with professional ballplayers in a relaxed environment. The walkway from the ballpark to the clubhouse is designed with this in mind. It’s a long, narrow dirt path where players will pass in close proximity to fans, who will undoubtedly line the sides seeking autographs and pictures. There are no walls or barriers of any kind on either side of the trail, but a string of dwarf oleander bushes have been planted and will eventually create a natural barrier.

ARIZONA LEGACY
Cubs fans have been making the religious pilgrimage to Arizona for more than six decades since the team first set up a spring camp at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park in the spring of 1952. Prior to that, the club spent time on Catalina Island in California, where they conducted Spring Training for 30 years on former owner William Wrigley Jr.’s island paradise, 25 miles off the Los Angeles coast.

After the team’s first spring season at Rendezvous Park, which was originally constructed in 1920, owner Phillip K. Wrigley (William’s son) paid $20,000 to build a grandstand in exchange for the city of Mesa footing the bill for a new clubhouse on the third-base side. The grandstand’s exterior Rendezvous Park sign and the water towers looming beyond the outfield walls would become the signature images associated with the facility.

The Cubs remained at Rendezvous Park until 1966, when they moved to Long Beach, Calif., for the spring. But they returned to Arizona in 1967, taking up residence at Scottsdale Stadium, where they remained until 1979. The Cubs then moved to the original Hohokam Park in Mesa, swapping sites with the Oakland Athletics, who had occupied the stadium for two years following its opening in 1977. The Cubs remained at the original Hohokam Park until a new one was built at the opposite corner of Brown and Center streets in 1997. With the team now moving into Cubs Park, the A’s will again take over Hohokam Park in the spring of 2015.

The idea of moving into a new ballpark after just 17 years at the renovated Hohokam is more a testament to the advances being made in ballpark design than a reflection of the old ballpark’s obsolescence. And with the recent addition of three spectacular new training facilities in the Cactus League cities of Glendale, Goodyear and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, it’s also a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

“We’re real excited about the new Cubs facility,” said Cactus League President Mark Coronado. “It’s these opportunities that continue to be the magnet for us to draw fans from across the country, and the Cubs facility is going to be a Wrigleyville mecca—the Disneyland of Baseball. It will be the jewel of Spring Training facilities, there’s no question about it. It will be a standard that [others] will be hard-pressed to duplicate because they’ve spared no expense. I think once again you’ll start to see the Cubs become the No. 1 attraction in the Valley.”

1000 Words: Baseball is back

ART-SHOTS-021713-SG-04

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Spring Training is officially underway as pitchers and catchers reported to the new Cubs Spring Training facilities in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday. Position players will get underway on Tuesday. The pitching staff hopes to improve across the board as it finished with a 4.00 ERA in 2013, tied for 12th in the NL.

Ricketts, Epstein kick off new era at Cubs Park

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The Cubs officially opened their new, state of the art Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday morning—just in time for pitchers and catchers to report on Thursday.

The facility includes Cubs Park—which seats 15,000 people—a two-story player development facility and a rebuilt Riverview Park. It all sits on a 146-acre site, making it the largest facility in the Cactus League.

Cubs board members Tom and Laura Ricketts, executives Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein, as well as Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins joined Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, City Manager Chris Brady, City Councilmen Dave Richins and Dennis Kavanaugh, and other members of Mesa City Council for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This new ballpark and player development facility will allow our players to better train and compete,” Tom Ricketts said. “To achieve our goal of winning a World Championship, we must be able to provide our players with the world-class facilities they deserve.”

When Cubs fans enter the ballpark for the first time, they will notice a few features reminiscent of Wrigley Field, including the brick wall behind home plate, green scoreboard with the Wrigley Field-style clock, arched steel work on the light standards and cantilevered roofs. A replica of the Wrigley Field marquee is also located in the main concourse, and fans can pose for a photo with their own name digitally displayed on the sign.

In left field, the Cubs created the Eighteen | 76 viewing area, which features bleachers and high-top tables. Party decks are also available on the first- and third-base sides.

To further enhance the fan experience, the Cubs have partnered with Ovations Food Service to create a variety of food offerings. There will be six different concession areas, each with a separate theme that ties back to either Chicago or the Southwest.

Behind the lawn seating, a citrus grove with picnic tables and a small field serve as a family and children’s play area.  The Cubs also will have food trucks here to complement ballpark fare with unique or specialty offerings on game days only.

The players will enjoy a brand new player development center with a two-story weight room, cardiovascular facility, hydrotherapy room, 120-seat theater and cafeteria. The major league clubhouse features a football-shaped locker room with 68 lockers and a lounge area, while the minor league clubhouse has 206 lockers to accommodate players training year-round. In addition to the player development center, the training facility includes 12 covered batting tunnels, two groups of 12-mound bullpens, six full-size practice fields and a half-size field for infield work.

The facility was built in 15 months by Hunt Construction Group and Populous.

The first game at Cubs Park is Thursday, Feb. 27, at 1:05 p.m. when the Cubs open their inaugural season at Cubs Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Experiencing Spring Training in Arizona is simply unparalleled, thanks to our pristine weather, countless tourist attractions and some of the best baseball fans in the nation,” said Governor Brewer. “The Cactus League and the Chicago Cubs have been a tremendous part of our longstanding and cherished tradition, drawing visitors from across the nation each year to enjoy America’s favorite pastime in Arizona. I’m proud to welcome the Cubs and their fans to their second home every spring.”

Lawn tickets on the outfield berm are still available for the home opener. Tickets may be purchased over the phone at 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827) or online at http://www.cubs.com.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with LHP Zac Rosscup

Rosscup

(Photo by Stephen Green)

After five minor league seasons, left-handed pitcher Zac Rosscup made his major league debut out of the Cubs bullpen in September 2013. The Oregon native was drafted in the 28th round of the 2009 amateur draft by the Tamps bay Rays and came to the Cubs in the 2011 trade for Matt Garza. We sat down with the 25-year-old as last season was coming to a close. The following can be found in the Profile section of February’s Vine Line.

MAJOR DEBUT  That was intense. Knees shaking a little bit. I was nervous. After you warm up and you take a deep breath, you realize it’s the same game you’ve been playing your whole life—just a little bit better talent on the field. It’s great. There’s not a whole lot you can say about it. It’s one of those feelings that you just have to do it to know the feel.

THE CALL-UP  When you picture it in your mind and growing up and stuff, [you think] when you get here, “I’m going to be perfect.” But that’s not realistic. It’s been really nice. It’s definitely given me a taste of what it’s like, and I’m going to work hard in the offseason to get back here next year for sure.

GETTING TRADED  Obviously, you don’t expect it, just being in Low-A rookie ball with the Rays. When it happens, it just kind of hits you. You’re like, “Oh, I guess I’m on a new team now.” You don’t really know what to expect coming into that next spring, because it was in the offseason. Both organizations are really good—good to their players and great for developing players—and it’s been a fun experience and a fun ride so far. I look forward to spending many years here.

THE NEW GUYS  Justin Grimm [came] over and those guys from the Rangers, Kyle Hendricks. [There are] a few guys I’ve met that came over from a few different organizations. It’s really not that different. You come into a locker room, and there are a bunch of guys getting ready to play a game. It’s not like you’re going to go haze them or not talk to them. They’re a part of the team now, they’re part of the organization, and they’re here to help the team win. So you’ve got to treat it as, “We’re all working together to be a part of something that will grow into wins.”

REALIZING POTENTIAL  You work hard at any level, and you just hope to be seen. [My opportunity] happened by chance. I started pitching and gaining some velocity by working out at [Chemeketa Community College in Oregon], and that really helped me along the way. I wasn’t ever really serious about it until that first scout card from the Astros’ regional scout out there. I called my mom and told her, “This thing could turn out to be a real goal for me.” After that, it was just putting my head toward the right things and working hard to make it to pro ball.

SAFETY FIRST  I played football until eighth grade. At the time, I hadn’t quite hit the growth spurt. I hadn’t hit puberty. I was just kind of in an awkward stage in my life, and I didn’t know how I was going to be in high school. So I called it quits and stuck to baseball, where size doesn’t matter too much and I wasn’t going to get thrown around.

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