Featured photo of 2022 Midwest League Champion South Bend Cubs by Rich Biesterfeld

Spring Training is the best

Before I moved to Arizona in 2016, I made an annual pilgrimage to Spring Training for almost 20 years. I used to love getting out of the cold of Illinois and watching baseball for 7-10 days as it heralded the end of winter. Now that I live in Arizona, I have season tickets for the Cubs Spring Training and once early January hits, I start making regular trips to the ballpark and see players trickle in before full camp opens in February.

I tell any of my baseball friends who haven’t attended Spring training yet that once you do, you’ll be back! On the back fields, you can watch players from every level going through drills by bouncing around the four diamonds of the quad. It may be your first chance to see a particular player in a Cubs uniform – maybe an acquisition via the minor league Rule 5 draft, a first call-up from the DSL or a player acquired in an off-season trade. But one of the best parts is you often have the opportunity to meet and talk with players and get to know the person in the uniform, and sometimes their family too!

Notes from around camp

As we’re closing in on the end of spring training, I wanted to share some observations, insights and random thoughts from Spring Training so far…

  • The South Bend Cubs won the Midwest League Title in 2022 and were recognized on field before one of the big league games. It was great to see a reunion of the players on the field showing off their championship rings along with the announcers and several members of their front office.
  • I hadn’t seen lefty pitcher Scott Kobos on the field yet this spring until I ran into him on the concourse during one of the MLB games. Scott shared with me that he had surgery in January to remove bone spurs from his elbow that had been a recurring issue for him. He’s now begun throwing plyo balls and playing catch as a member of the rehab group. The current target date for Scott to return to an affiliate is early June! (Just an FYI – I don’t share any medical information on players without their permission.)
  • Anyone else remember pitcher Steven Brault? Steven pitched briefly for the Iowa Cubs in 2022 and I watched him throw in an ACL game last year. I ran into him during a game a few weeks ago as he was there to see his old friend Jameson Taillon pitch as they both came up through the Pirates organization. Steven is working out and hoping to sign with a MLB organization and continue his career.
  • Former Cubs pitching prospect Chris Clarke was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Rule 5 draft last December. I saw Chris was in the bullpen in an early March game against the Cubs and got to say hello before the game began. Chris pitched the 8th inning and faced one of his old batterymates in Bryce Windham. During pre-game, Bryce told Chris he was going to take him deep, but Clarke had his number, forcing a groundout instead.
  • I caught up with Cole Roederer one day early in ST while he was preparing to take some live BP. The schedule got pushed back a bit so he had a few minutes and he shared how much he enjoyed playing in Australia. The day before, he had to take his physical and he told me how much he hates getting blood drawn. Then it hit me….Cole hates needles, but he’s got full tattoo sleeves on one of his arms and one of his legs?? He told me those needles are different though, and we both had a good laugh!
  • It’s been reported by several outlets that DJ Herz has had trouble seeing in the past and is now wearing red contacts to improve his vision. I spoke to him about it and he said they are making a difference. But speaking as a photographer, I’m always trying to avoid my subjects having red eyes!
  • During the 2022 regular season and the Arizona Fall League, Zac Leigh made a very positive impression on a lot of Cubs fans. Since he made a significant jump in innings pitched last year, the team is doing a slower ramp up this spring and I’ve spotted him throwing with the rehab group.
  • ‘Cade Horton is a bad man!’ Dan Kantrovitz (by way of Area Scout Ty Nichols) shared this description of Cade Horton with North Side Bound’s own Greg Zumach shortly after the draft. I’m usually hesitant to get too excited about a player until I get to see them either in person or on MiLB TV, so I was anxious to see Cade throw in a game or live BP. Well….it was impressive! In his first live BP session, the two initial batters couldn’t put a ball in play. I’m anxious to see more, but it was a great first impression.
  • A fun part of spring training is meeting up with friends that I may only get to see once a year. My buddy Beau is a full-time sports card dealer and I met up with him and one of our mutual friends one night to rip some wax. We were sitting on the hotel patio and just chatting when I heard a recognizable voice behind me asking if we had been opening cards and how it had went? It was former Cub Ryan Dempster and we chatted with him for a few minutes about card collecting.

Hope you enjoyed some stories I’ve collected from being around Sloan Park as you await the start of the regular season for the minor league Cubs!