Results tagged ‘ Lou Piniella ’

Viva Las Vegas

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Though we’re working busily on the April issue of Vine Line and the first edition of CUBS2009, the game-day program, that doesn’t mean we won’t tune into WGN and watch our team in Las Vegas.

In what has become an annual ritual, the Cubs made the trip to Sin City last night to take on our South Side rivals, the White Sox. It looked windy and cold last night; even during Lou Piniella’s interview with Len and Bob, Lou had to shield his eyes from the blowing dust.

Well, it is a desert, after all.

In any case, Las Vegas happens to hold a special place in my heart, being that my wife and I got married at the Monte Carlo.This is also the first time in nearly five seasons I haven’t followed the team up to Las Vegas from Mesa. Obviously, the trip is much earlier in spring training, so it wasn’t possible.

Cashman Field is an older ballpark by minor-league standards, and it is, like Len said, a bandbox. Home runs fly out easily with the wind and dry air doing nothing to keep fly balls in the park (more on that later). But it is quite roomy for spectators.

And every year Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (below with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Cubs skipper Lou Piniella) prances out to the mound with his two showgirls to throw out the first pitch. No wonder he’s the “Happiest Mayor in America.”

Ozzie Lou and Goodman2.jpgLast year I had a chance to talk to Goodman while I was there to cover the Cubs as they took on the Seattle Mariners. A very close friend of mine who was heavily involved with the Nevada Easter Seals introduced me to Goodman, whose effervescent personality was infectious. I asked him if he thought Las Vegas would see a Major League Baseball team.

“Absolutely. Someday we’ll see it here,” Goodman said. “But right now our job is to convince the powers that be that Las Vegas can be a viable city from a fan standpoint.”

My friend Scott reminded me that there are a lot of transplants in Las Vegas, from all over the country. Provincial team alliances will travel with these people–would they back a team in a city in which they did not grow up or value?

My feeling was yes. However, former Cubs president John McDonough once told me when it came to a city’s viability for a major-league team, it wasn’t so much the fan base, it was the corporate sponsorship base. If a city doesn’t have the corporate base to purchase all of those sky boxes, all of those sponsorships, all of that concourse and outfield signage, the team will have problems. But I think Las Vegas could do it.

D-Lee and D-Ganz

Danny Gans5.jpgOne of the most popular acts on the Las Vegas Strip is the 1000 voices of Danny Gans, at the Mirage. A talented singer and impersonator, Ganz also is a former minor-league and 
 college baseball player. In 1997, when Derrek Lee was a top prospect of the San Diego Padres and Las Vegas was the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, as a stadium promotion, both Gans and Lee agreed to participate in a home run contest, mano a mano.

That year, Lee was the Padres’ Minor-League Player of the Year. The derby consisted of two rounds, 10 swings each. Lee hit four homers in his first 10 swings. Gans, who most did not know had previous baseball experience, surprises everyone with three bombs of his own. After the first round, Lee walked over to Gans and joked: “Don’t make me look bad.”

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Lee goes on to hit two more in the second round for a total of six. Gans, down by one, hits two more homers. On his last swing, Gans sends it deep to left center where it just bounces off the top of the wall and drops back into the outfield.

Final score: Lee 6, Gans 5.

“It was really the talk of the town for a while,” Gans said. “The [then-] Stars actually signed me to a contract. The way it was structured, I could come in and DH. You know, if they were ahead, they’d put me in. I was thrilled. However, the Mirage didn’t want me to do that because if I got out there, they were afraid some cocky pitcher would throw at my head.”

Ah, show business. Only in Las Vegas.

–Mike Huang

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Whatever comes his way

Thumbnail image for FIVE MINUTES LOGOBUFFALO GROVE, IL–While the entire roster of my family has been exposed to some accursed flu, I find myself OK with it. Not in the sense that I’m glad my wife and daughter are coughing and sneezing, but I’m just glad to be home after being in Arizona for all of last week.

Nice weather is nice, but home is home.

That said, with an inch of snow on the ground, I listened to the interviews I was able to do while in Mesa and they brought a warmth to my chest. One with Mike Fontenot was insightful. I like the guy Ron Santo calls “Little Babe Ruth” because for a guy of smaller stature, he’s got some pop. I remember asking Randy Bush a couple of years ago about Fontenot and Ryan Theriot when they were at LSU and Bush was the head coach of the University of New Orleans.

“Those two were a pain,” he recalled. “It was like they were on base all the time.”

A couple of months ago at the Cubs Convention, Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita responsed to a Cubs fan’s question pertaining to the trade of Mark DeRosa, “who’s to say we don’t have Dustin Pedroia sitting there in Mike Fontenot?”

9E8T1907.jpgWell, Fontenot will get his chance. During our In the Dugout Q&A, Lou Piniella said Miles would be the primary backup for Theriot at shortstop and both he and Fontenot could see as many as 350-400 at bats between second and any other positions they play. It doesn’t matter to Fontenot, however, because his favorite position is…on the field.

Vine Line
: What does the team need to do to get over the hump after two early postseason exits?

Mike Fontenot: I don’t know. We played so well in the regular seasons in the last two years. First things first is to win the division and get to the playoffs. But like everyone says, we just gotta get hot at the right time. The hottest team going into the playoffs usually wins.

VL: Were you guys tired at all by the end of the season? Did the media wear on you at all?

MF: Maybe there was a little bit, but I think going into the playoffs we felt pretty good. But that’s part of being in the big leagues, handling the media and our clubhouse is small. But I like playing at Wrigley and in Chicago, so for guys who’ve been there, it’s not some big burden. I feel relaxed wherever.
VL: A lot of people are picking you as possibly being the starter at second base. But Aaron Miles will also need at-bats, too. How do you see that playing out?

: Obviously every one wants to start. But when it comes down to it, as long as I am contributing every day in some way and the team’s winning, I’m happy. It’s a lot of fun to play on a team that’s winning games whether your starting or coming off the bench.

So bat [No.] 2, leadoff, whatever–it doesn’t matter to you?

MF: Bat 2, leadoff, pinch hit and get a knock, it doesn’t matter. As long as the team wins, I’m cool.

–Mike Huang

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Vine Line EXTRA: March issue preview

Mar09-VL-cover-WEB.jpgThe newest issue of Vine Line hit the office today, and there are a lot of great stories for Cubs fans getting ready for the season.

Our cover this month was the subject of a lot of discussion — After all the off-season work done by general manager Jim Hendry and his staff, what is left on Lou Piniella’s plate now that games are starting? What best represents some of the open opportunities on this year’s team?

These are the decisions that Lou will be batting around through the spring and into the season, and we tried to convey some of the lineup’s open questions on our March cover. Writing out the lineup is something I specifically got to talk to Lou about last season, in our “In the Dugout” one-on-one sessions. Last September, he spoke about his thought process as he was filling out his card … the combinations (think 2-3-4 instead of 1 through 9), anticipating late-inning switches and how to counter the opponents.

The last one reflects Lou’s willingness to play with his lineup — he said he considers how quick the pitcher is to the plate and how the catcher is throwing, how the wind might affect the game and the typical platoon advantages. The best lineup on a given day isn’t always the fastest, most powerful, most balanced lineup the team could possibly trot out. After this winter, it sounds like Lou is excited to have even more flexibility and balance this season. Check out Vine Line for more on the specific battles going on this spring.

— Sean Ahmed

Visit the Vine Line page for more information on the current issue and the exclusive new subscriber gifts for 2009!

Ho, Ho, Kam! Merry Cubs fans!

Thumbnail image for ON LOCATION LOGO.jpgMESA, Ariz.–It’s the first workout for the Cubs at HoHoKam Park, and everyone’s here today. While it’s just business as usual for the team, stretching, batting practice, bullpen sessions, it’s a big deal for everyone else. First off, the media. National writers Bob Nightengale, Jerry Crasnick, Alan Schwarz and Phil Rogers (he was at Fitch yesterday) are all here to check out our team. But more importantly, more than a handful of Cubs fans have showed up to hang out and watch the Cubs workout.

And everywhere you go–Starbucks, souvenir shops, stores or restaurants, people are talking about the start of Spring Training.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Z_Fontenot_shoot_1.jpgBy the way, there was an AP photo in some of the local papers today showing Carlos Zambrano and Mike Fontenot doing their pregame ritual. LIke I mentioned in my blog yesterday, that was a photo shoot set up specifically for our 2009 gameday program CUBS2009. Here (right) is one of the authentic photos from the shoot. 

Also, frequent photo contributor to Vine Line Chris Bernacchi added this perspective to photo day (below). Pretty interesting. I feel like I’m watching an old 70s episode of “Batman” with Adam West and Burt Ward. OK, I just dated myself really badly there.

photo set up.jpgOur “In the Dugout” session went extremely well, with Lou offering me 30 minutes of his time, which is a lot considering he had to fit lunch and me in between practice and a photo shoot with Aquafina. While the shoot was going on, we could hear the agency people and Lou yelling. But he wasn’t being cantankerous, they were simulating an argument with an umpire. But it cracked up media relations director Peter Chase.

And lastly, I conducted a roundtable discussion with Cubs beat writers Carrie Muskat, Paul Sullivan and Gordon Wittenmyer. It was interesting to get the perspectives from seasoned vets like them. We talked about travel, players, the journalism industry, the competitive nature of journalism, technology.

Tomorrow: The first Cactus League game. Like Lou said: “I got 39 games to figure things out. We got plenty of time.”

–Mike Huang

The annual ritual: Photo Day

ON LOCATION LOGO.jpgMESA, Ariz.—Every year, major-league ballplayers must endure an annual ritual of combing their hair, shaving their faces clean (or at least somewhat) and mugging for the camera. It is Photo Day for them, and they put their best faces forward, despite the fact it’s 7:00 in the morning.

The entire first floor of Fitch Park is turned into a massive photo studio. Among the participants, the Associated Press, Major League Baseball, Topps and Comcast, among others. It’s all put together very efficiently and organized, led by media relations director Peter Chase and his staff. Our staff photographer Steve Green organizes the photographers in location.

For the most part, all the players arrive at their designated times, albeit bleary eyed. There are very compliant to whatever poses we ask them to do. Steve and I are there to do a special photo shoot for our gameday program, CUBS2009. We had scripted the poses beforehand knowing we wouldn’t have more than a minute with each one.

photoshoot.jpgThe shoot went swimmingly. We got some great shots Geovany Soto and Ivan DeJesus modeling the WBC jersey of their home country Puerto Rico. We also got a couple and of Mike Fontenot and Carlos Zambrano doing their pregame routine of “Z” hammering “Font” into the ground. They were very playful and the shots turned out great. But to see them, you’ll have to get the program at Wrigley Field!!!!

We also got Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden playing hockey with hockey sticks and using a baseball as a puck. Tremendous. Chad Gaudin and Reed Johnson seem like they are in a competition to see who can look most like a billy goat. Perhaps when they finally shave off their goatees, we can say we killed the “curse of the billy goat!”

Of course, then there was manager Lou Piniella, who’s seen his fair share of photo days. In fact, say Lou, how many of these photo days have you seen?

“Too many,” he laughed.

However, Cubs legend Billy Williams skipped photo day and went straight out to the field..

“‘Greenie!’ You don’t need me, right? Man, you got enough pictures of me after all these years. Look, after you turn 65, your face don’t change much year to year,” Williams said, cracking up all the photographers.

Hey, when a Hall of Famer says he doesn’t want to take a picture, he doesn’t have to take a picture.

Thumbnail image for azmg102 2-17-09.jpgWe also worked with Morry Gash, the photographer from AP. I asked him for a photo that he shot the other day. It was such a candid shot of Alfonso Soriano that I had to ask him if we could just borrow it for the blog.

But altogether, the photo shoot–and day–worked out very well….I’d encourage everyone to check out the gameday program the next time you’re at Wrigley Field. The pictures and experience was certainly worth more than a 1000 words.

–Mike Huang 

 PS. And one special note of sympathy goes out to our hitting coach Gerald Perry, who also was not at photo day. He lost his father last Friday to colon cancer. We are all thinking about you, G.