sloan park mesa cubs spring

So I have a small confession to make. Before today’s 3-0 win over the Angels, I was “0” for my last 10 Cubs games.

I know, I know.

I didn’t want to keep going to the games – being such bad luck, and all – but I kept thinking my streak would end sooner or later, and I would never have to bring it up.

I mean, hell, they won 97 games in 2015, it couldn’t have been that easy to be present for so many loses, but it happened. But, all’s well that ends well, and the Cubs won their first game of Spring Training, today, and it was fantastic.

It also happened to be my very first visit to Arizona and Spring Training, and that, too, was excellent. Sloan Park is absolutely gorgeous and really reminiscent of Wrigley Field. Walking up to the gates, and waiting in the line to get in was even exciting. There was an odd buzz in the air, like the beginning of a movie, and the place was absolutely packed.



But me, I was excited before my plane even took off:

It was a pretty quick, easy flight, but my cab from the airport to the hotel took forever. But, to be honest, it’s entirely possible that I had the “Night Before Christmas” syndrome, where my anxiousness and excitement made the seconds pass slower than they do on a microwave.

Still, when my cab arrived at Sloan Park and I took one step outside, I immediately heard “Go Cubs Go” blasting from a nearby tailgate, smelled beer and hot dogs in the air and felt the warmth of 80 degree heat and a desert sun for the first time in a long time.

After settling into my hotel, I made my way to the stadium … which, like I said, was packed:

Having never been to Sloan Park before, I wanted to do my external walk around before I went into the stadium. On the outside of the first base wall, there are some excellent posters of some of our favorite Cubs (matched on the 3rd base side, as well):



And from the outside, you can see the familiar Wrigley Field Marquee, with its Sloan Park twist:

Once I got inside, though, I was blown away. Maybe it was a secret only to me, but the stadium is fantastic. There’s just something about a sunny day, a fresh stadium and baseball.

Oh, and the food … did I mention the food yet?

I didn’t partake in Portillo’s, but I love the fact that it exists. The only item on the menu is the Italian Beef…but, like, do you need anything else? After devouring that footlong Chicago Style Dog, crunchy chips and refreshing Modelo, the Cubs finally returned to my life:

Pierce Johnson started the game for the Cubs, and I was pretty excited to see him for the first time:

He gave up a couple of base hits to start the game off, which led to a pretty sticky situation:

After a few pitches, Trout lifted one DEEP to center field – about 409 feet deep – and just missed a three-run home run. (Sidebar: it was very, very cool to finally see Mike Trout, in person, as well). After that, though, Johnson struck out the next batter and eventually got out of the inning unharmed.

Which meant it was time for the Cubs offense! Now featuring Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, for the very first time! Mixed results ensued:

That was one confused swing. After that, we got to get a look at Stephen Fife – who has had an interesting last year and a half:



But, to be perfectly honest, Fife looked pretty good out there and finished 2 innings, giving up just 1 hit, no walks and no runs while striking out 1. Then (I got another beer) Neil Ramirez took the mound:

Ramirez actually looked pretty good in his outing (1 IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R), and eventually hit 92 MPH on consecutive pitches. For his first spring outing, that is actually pretty encouraging. Look for his velocity to continue ramping up his as the spring rolls on.

Overshadowing Ramirez’s outing, though, were two big plays – one not so good:

[Brett: I’ll note that, at least on TV, it looked like a play that Heyward would normally easily make – there’s just a matter of he and Dexter Fowler spending more time together, getting their communication down, their relative ranges, etc. In a month, that ball is caught.]

And the one great play in that inning:

But it was the next inning that things got really interesting, and it all started with one of our favorites, Javier Baez:

Following his base hit, Baez made things happen on the base path. After stealing second base, he advanced to third on a ball in the dirt:

Which led to, of course, the best part of the day:

After that, a series of youngsters got in, including Jeimer Candelario, Jacob Hannemann, John Andreoli (who made an excellent warning track catch in the top of the ninth inning), Carl Edwards, Jr., and Albert Almora.

However, I was most impressed with Willson Contreras:

After playing a couple innings behind the dish, Contreras finished 0-1 with a well-earned walk. He looked very good and calm both at and behind the plate.

There were, of course, many more things that happened, like Munenori Kawasaki flashing some leather at shortstop, and also scoring on a sac fly by John Andreoli. Also, Andury Acevedo was lighting up the radar gun, for early spring.

And, finally, the Cubs won, they broke my loss-streak, and all that was left was empty seats, unfinished nachos, and some promise for tomorrow:




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