Archive for the ‘ Spring Training ’ Category

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/24/15


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

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


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

Cubscast Mesa: Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason

Making it through an entire baseball season can take a toll on both mind and body. By the time the grind is over, the players and coaches need a break. This spring, we sat down with Cubs personnel to find out the best thing they did with their offseason time.

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

Cubs announce Futures Game vs. Rangers at Sloan Park in Mesa

Sloan-ParkThe Chicago Cubs today announced details for a 2015 Futures Game featuring the Cubs vs. Texas Rangers on Monday, March 30, at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The best prospects and young players from each organization will showcase their talents when they take the field at 7 p.m. MST, after the Cubs host the San Francisco Giants at 1:05 p.m. MST.

Fans looking to catch the action can purchase general admission tickets in the reserved seating bowl for $6 at the Sloan Park Ticket Office or online at

A portion of the net proceeds from the game will benefit the Cubs Charities Diamond Project, which expands opportunities for children to play baseball in the Mesa community. Over the last four years, working with the Mesa Hohokam Foundation, Cubs Charities has raised funds to support youth sports, including the Mesa Little League.

The Diamond Project, one of Cubs Charities’ signature programs, was launched in 2014 and aims to provide funds to nonprofit, neighborhood-based organizations to support capital improvement projects and improve the quality, safety and accessibility of local baseball fields. In addition, the program is intended to build an infrastructure through partnerships and resident involvement that will sustain these open spaces for the community.

The Rangers will donate their portion of the game’s proceeds to the Dane McDonald Safe at Home Foundation, an Arizona nonprofit started by AZL Rangers’ Hitting Coach Donzell McDonald in honor of his son, also the nephew of Cubs Mental Skills Program Coordinator Darnell McDonald.

Gates will open an hour before the start of the game. Parking in the general lots, located east of the ballpark, is complimentary. Fans with questions can contact For more information about Cubs Spring Training, please visit

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/20/15

Almora_Cubs_139Cubs outfielder and third-ranked prospect ( Albert Almora is hitting .353 on the spring. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. White Sox – Camelback Ranch
First Pitch: 3:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Travis Wood, LHP
White Sox Starter: Hector Noesi, RHP
Broadcast: Listen live at, MLB Network

1. Tommy La Stella, 3B
2. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B
3. Ryan Sweeney, RF
4. Junior Lake, LF
5. Mike Baxter, 1B
6. Albert Almora, CF
7. David Ross, C
8. Jonathan Herrera, SS
9. Travis Wood, P

Cubs reduce Spring Training roster

The Cubs optioned right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, reducing their spring roster to 52 players. He pitched three scoreless innings this spring with the major league side, giving up two hits, striking out two and walking none.

Chicago’s spring roster of 52 players consists of 27 pitchers (six nonroster invitees), five catchers (two nonroster invitees), 10 infielders (four nonroster invitees) and 10 outfielders (three nonroster invitees).

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/18/15

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta will make his third start of the spring and get his first at-bats. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. Dodgers – Camelback Ranch
First Pitch: 3:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Jake Arrieta, RHP
Dodgers Starter: Brandon McCarthy, RHP
Broadcast: Listen live at, MLB Network (delay)

1. Chris Coghlan, LF
2. Arismendy Alcantara, 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Jorge Soler, RF
5. Matt Szczur, CF
6. Tommy La Stella, 2B
7. David Ross, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Jake Arrieta, P

Cubs duo headlines Baseball America’s top 2015 rookies


Expectations are high for prospect Kris Bryant. (Photo by Stephen Green)

If the Cubs have been synonymous with anything in previous years, it’s the organization’s willingness to stockpile droves of young talent, something baseball president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer made a priority wen they accepted their roles in the Cubs’ front office in late 2011. Though the last few seasons have been a waiting game, the arrivals of Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez in 2014 demonstrated that the young, high-upside talent is quickly nearing the major league level.

On Tuesday, Baseball America unveiled its top 20 rookies for the 2015 season, and Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Most are assuming big things from the pair, who could be key pieces in the middle of the Cubs’ order as early as mid-April. Bryant took home virtually every minor league award available last season after slugging 43 home runs between Double- and Triple-A, while Soler flexed his muscles with five homers in 89 major league at-bats to wrap up 2014. Shortstop prospect Addison Russell was also in the top 20.

Here’s what Baseball America had to say about the Cubs trio:

1. Kris Bryant, 3b, Cubs (23)

2015 Outlook: A future fixture in the heart of the Cubs’ order, Bryant won’t require much minor league time in 2015. He could reach Chicago as early as mid-April—a la the Astros’ George Springer last year—once the Cubs can postpone his free agency until after his seventh (projected) big league season in 2021. Taking up left field, as the Cubs have tasked Bryant with in spring training, could help alleviate a logjam on the Chicago infield, where talented young players Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and the system’s No. 2 prospect Addison Russell all could warrant starting roles. Even if one of that trio falters, then infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Tommy La Stella and Mile Olt have demonstrated varying degrees of promise.

2. Jorge Soler, rf, Cubs (23)

2015 Outlook: Soler blasted 11 extra-base hits and hit .373 in the first 14 games of his big league career last summer, but pitchers adjusted and kept him in check at 7-for-38 (.184) the rest of the way. Look for Soler to make the necessary counter-adjustments this season and deliver on his promise as a slugger with enough feel for the strike zone to sustain a healthy average and on-base percentage.

18. Addison Russell, ss, Cubs (21)

2015 Outlook: Russell forms the third leg of the Cubs’ indomitable prospect trio, each of whom may be featured players in Chicago this summer. Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are more assured of playing time—and thus they rank Nos. 1 and 2 on this list—but Russell is the youngest of the three and could represent the organization’s golden parachute in the event that sophomore Javier Baez continues to flail in the majors or that Bryant’s services are required on an outfield corner.


Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent

The Cubs enviable stockpile of young talent is no secret around the game. People started rumbling about the organization’s burgeoning system a few years ago. Now groups like ESPN, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all agree the Cubs have the top farm in baseball.

During Spring Training, Vine Line sat down with the Cubs next wave of talent—including Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell—to ask what they’ve gotten out of being in big league camp and what their goals are for the coming season.

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

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/17/15


Outfielder Matt Szczur has three home runs this spring. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. Royals – Sloan Park
First Pitch: 3:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Jason Hammel, RHP
Royals Starter: Danny Duffy, LHP
Broadcast: Listen live at

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Chris Denorfia, DH
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Starlin Castro, SS
5. Miguel Montero, C
6. Junior Lake, RF
7. Javier Baez, 2B
8. Mike Olt, 3B
9. Matt Szczur, LF