Winter parkas and spring training typically don’t go hand-in-hand, but the most comfortable fans at Friday’s Cactus League opener between the Cubs and Brewers were the ones who packed wisely.
The big chill descended on the Valley of the Sun last week, and temperatures are not expected to return to normal for another week or so.
While spring training baseball without warm weather seems as useless as a porcupine without quills, the schedule said it was time to start, so the Cubs and Brewers played on a cool, 59-degree afternoon at Maryvale Stadium in Phoenix.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, no fan of any cold front, is hoping for a spring reboot to 80-degrees and sunshine.
“It’s not going away,” Maddon lamented. “It has to warm up at some point. It has to. It’s Arizona, my god. … It has something to do with global cooling, I think.”
Temperature aside, the day was a positive for one big reason.Baseball finally was back, and it’s here to stay until late October or early November, if the Cubs are lucky.
The Brewers eked out a 2-1 victory over the Cubs in an opener in which everyone simply was working the kinks out.
A concession stand selling burgers charged a dollar more than the sign said, with the vendor explaining they forgot to make new signs with the new price. Brewers catcher Jeff Bandy held the first mound meeting in the third inning, leaving the Brewers with five under the new six-visit limit.
It’s never too early to change signs, even in an exhibition game.
Even Maddon still was trying to get his vocabulary in midseason form as he prepares for the long season of news conferences. Answering a question about a spare outfielder, he said: “There’s nothing to not…” before halting in mid-sentence for a grammatical U-turn.
“That’s too many negatives,” he said, quickly changing course.
The initial sausage race of the season was even lackluster by Cheesehead standards. The Italian sausage won handily, while the others clearly were not in fighting shape, sausage-wise.
At this pace it would be a miracle if the Chorizo makes it to Miller Park for the regular season.
While Ian Happ was the first to audition as Cubs’ leadoff man and a group of no-name players filled Maddon’s lineup card, the game itself took a backseat to Major League Baseball’s decision to remember the shooting victims at Stoneman Douglas High School by having every team wear replicas of their caps.
Maddon applauded the activism of the students at Parkland who have been speaking out on the issue of gun violence.
“We’re not just wearing them,” Maddon said of the Stoneman Douglas caps. “I think we’re on board.”
Maddon recalled protesting the Vietnam War when he was in high school, saying he loved the “activism by the kids” from Parkland.
“When I was growing up it was a different method,” he said. “There was a lot of protesting of the war at that time, and the establishment. You would think that the group that did that would understand that by the time you grew up and became the establishment, you would understand how to interact better.
“I’m always disappointed, because I’m of that age group, and I know what the thought process was like back then, and everybody was going to change the world and make it a better place. And then you forget. As you get older, you forget what you thought in the beginning.
“I love the activism. I hope the kids stay after it. From me to them, anything I can do personally, I’m here to help. I know a lot of guys on the team feel the same way.”
Maddon took a shot at the “so-called leaders in charge,” though he didn’t name names and added he wasn’t “necessarily talking about Washington.”
“At some point we’ve got to reestablish sensibility and common sense,” he said. “I think that’s escaped us a bit.”
Anthony Rizzo, the face of the organization and perhaps the most prominent alumni of Stoneman Douglas, did not play in the opener and only wore the cap during the morning workout.
Rizzo appeared to be tiring of having to discuss his role in helping Parkland recover from the tragedy.
“That’s why I wanted to talk (at the vigil),” Rizzo said. “Instead of someone campaigning for themselves by talking, being someone who went to that school and grew up there.
“Like I said, I don’t want to keep talking about this. I’ve reiterated this over and over, so let’s move on to baseball.”
Easier said than done.
Maddon conceded it’s “going to be difficult” for Rizzo to just flip the switch to baseball if he continually has to address the shooting and its aftermath. But once he’s in a game, Rizzo should be OK, Maddon said.
“Regardless of your questions before or after (games), I think he’ll be able to get this respite during the game and just apply himself,” he said. “Impactfully, as a human being, the hours before and the hours after (work), they’re the ones that have to be dealt with, especially when you’re alone.”
Rizzo eventually will be allowed to get back to the game he loves without being asked to serve as a celebrity spokesman for his hometown Parkland community.
But as the Cactus League season opened, the healing process had only just begun.
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