December 2012

12/31 One more look back at 2012

* Feb. 21 in Mesa, Ariz. It was one of the strangest transactions in Cubs history as pitcher Chris Carpenter said goodbye to his teammates after he found out he was going to the Red Sox as the player to be named as compensation for Theo Epstein. Said Carpenter: “I guess my name will go down in history.”

* Feb. 24 in Mesa, Ariz. On the first day Starlin Castro worked out at Fitch Park, manager Dale Sveum was standing near the shortstop, offering some tips on defense. Sveum didn’t let up all season. Castro did commit 27 errors, but also showed improvement in the field.

* March 18 in Las Vegas prior to game vs. Rangers. Infielder Adrian Cardenas is as passionate about playing baseball as he is about working on his degree at New York University. Cardenas wants to write a novel about his parents and how they came to the U.S. from Cuba. He was most likely the only player in Spring Training who read three Albert Camus books in a two-week period. Said Cardenas: “I’m a better baseball player because of it.”

* April 27 in Des Moines. I talked to Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters and Anthony Rizzo, who were on Triple-A Iowa roster, and could hear their enthusiasm in their voices, see their work ethic, and feel the energy.

* May 18 at Wrigley Field. Rumors were flying pre-game that this would be Kerry Wood’s last game. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. The right-hander threw three pitches, all strikes, for his final strikeout, then walked off the field and was greeted by his son, Justin. Wood didn’t disappear. His Wood Family Foundation was active, and treated students at Nash Elementary School on Chicago’s west side to coats, gloves, hats and gifts as well as a visit from Santa in December. It was a pleasure to cover Wood’s career from start to finish.

* June 26 at Wrigley Field. Anthony Rizzo is promoted from Iowa, and gets two hits in his Cubs debut, including a tie-breaking RBI double, in a victory over the Mets. Four days later, Rizzo hits his first home run for the Cubs, a go-ahead two-run shot, in a 3-2 victory over the Astros. On July 29, Rizzo notched a personal milestone, hitting his first walk-off home run in a 10-inning win over the Cardinals. Said Alfonso Soriano on Rizzo’s impact: “He’s changed everything.”

* July 4 in Atlanta. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio reveals he has a deal with closer Carlos Marmol. The pitcher is not allowed to shake off his catcher on any pitch, and if he does, Marmol owes Bosio a case of wine. Marmol compiles a 1.52 ERA in the second half.

* July 22 at St. Louis. Dale Sveum asked his starting lineup to click their heels as they took the field in a tribute to Ron Santo, who was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame that day in Cooperstown. It was a terrific moment — and repeated at Wrigley Field on July 27 when the Cubs returned home.

* July 23 in St. Louis. It was Super Hero day, and players, coaches and Sveum dressed up as their favorites. Best costume? Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson as Epstein and Jed Hoyer, complete with cell phones to their ears.

* Aug. 5 in Los Angeles. Jackson and Vitters are promoted from Triple-A Iowa. Both struggled at the plate, but Jackson showed his value in the field Sept. 7 with an amazing catch then crash into the center field wall at PNC Park.

* Aug. 18 in Appleton, Wis. I watched Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler go 4-for-5 for Class A Peoria. He hit two singles, a double, and a very impressive home run to straight away center, drove in two runs, and stole a base. Can’t wait until he’s in right field at Wrigley.

* Sept. 8 at PNC Park, Pittsburgh. This was Jeff Samardzija’s last start of the season, and it showed how far he’s come. The right-hander gave up four hits in his first complete game, striking out nine. He could be the Opening Day starter in 2013.

* Oct. 3 at Wrigley Field. Bryan LaHair delivers a walkoff RBI single for a 5-4 win over the Astros in the Cubs’ season finale. It was a roller coaster ride for LaHair, who went from starting first baseman to All-Star to reserve. During batting practice on one road trip, a fan yelled congratulations to LaHair for making the All-Star team. Said LaHair: “No one can take that away from me.”

* Oct. 6 at Mesa, Ariz. I went to Instructional League to watch the young Cubs play, but this time was different. There was more energy, more noise — players and coaches picked their favorite song and it was part of batting practice background music — and lots of work. Watching the enthusiastic kids gives one optimism for the future.

* Sadly, said goodbye to Cubs Minor League pitching coach Tom Pratt and Wrigley Field umpire clubhouse attendant Jimmy Farrell. RIP.

— Carrie Muskat

12/31 Thanks, everyone

It’s time to bid goodbye to 2012 — and hopefully, the last 100-loss season I cover — and also a chance to say thank you to loyal readers and commenters. For the second straight year, Joeydafish ranked No. 1 in terms of posting the most comments, followed by Petrey, Mamma Mia and C White. Even though she’s a favorite here, Darwin Barney’s No. 1 fan Isabel did not reach the top five (maybe next year). According to the blogmaster, this site received 860,000 visits in 2012 — more than 16 times the number of tourists who visit the country of Lichtenstein in a single year (I’m not making that up). I appreciate the effort, the thoughtfulness, and your passion. Here’s to a winning season in 2013.

— Carrie Muskat

12/30 Dominican league playoffs

Cubs prospect Junior Lake was 1-for-3 with a double in Estrellas’ 5-2 loss to Aguilas in the Dominican League round robin playoffs on Saturday. The two teams meet again Sunday. Estrellas now is 0-3.

— Carrie Muskat

12/29 Winter league update

Cubs prospect Junior Lake was 2-for-4 and scored two runs Friday but it wasn’t enough as Estrellas lost, 12-5, to Escogido in the round robin playoffs in the Dominican Winter League. Estrellas is now 0-2, and plays Aguilas Saturday and Sunday.

— Carrie Muskat

12/28 RIP, Jimmy Farrell

You probably never noticed Jimmy Farrell. He’d prefer it that way. Farrell was the umpires clubhouse attendant at Wrigley Field, starting in 1982, and held that job until 2007. He loved his work.

Farrell passed away this week. He was 91.

In a 2000 interview for my book, “Banks to Sandberg to Grace,” he talked about his job and some of the fun he had.

“I haven’t met a bad umpire since I’ve been here,” he said. “We have a lot of fun over the years, like Joe West, for instance. At the All-Star Game one time — this is going back. The umpires tip me. They tip me pretty good. When I got home, I told my wife Eleanor what I had. So, Joe West sees her the next day and he says, ‘Oh, Eleanor, did Jimmy buy you a fur coat with the money he made?’ and he told her how much I made.

“See, I cheated a little bit on Eleanor that time,” Farrell said, sheepishly. “A little bit, you know. She says, ‘Jimmy, Joe West told me you made such and such.’ I said, ‘He’s kidding you. You know how Joe is. He’s kidding you.’

“So, Harry Wendlestedt is the crew chief at the time, and the next time they come in, I said, ‘Harry, you once told me that everything that’s said in this clubhouse stays here. One of these umpires told my wife something he shouldn’t have told.’ And, Harry said, ‘What?’

“And so I told him,” Farrell said. “Harry fined him $50 for that.”

Farrell could be spotted during games standing near the middle steps of the Cubs dugout. That spot nearly proved dangerous in 1991 when Andre Dawson, upset at West’s calls in a game, hurled a bunch of bats from the dugout onto the field in anger. The bats nearly hit Farrell in the head. Dawson later apologized to Farrell, not West.

Before every game, Farrell would take the game ball to the mound, and once left a rabbit’s foot for Rick Sutcliffe, who picked it up, put it in his pocket, and won that day. Farrell put a penny on the mound one time for Dickie Noles, which he kept.

Farrell also would join in the gag when the umpires asked an unsuspecting bat boy to find the key to the bullpen.

The umpire’s room used to be near the Cubs clubhouse and was a popular spot before the team created a video room. The Cubs players would sneak in to watch the television and see how the opposing pitcher was throwing. Players also would stop by just to chat with Farrell, a trusting grandfatherly type. Ryne Sandberg and Kerry Wood were among his favorites.

Farrell and his wife, Eleanor, were married for 68 years prior to her death. He is survived by four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Services are pending.

— Carrie Muskat

12/28 Strike a pose

Cubs outfielder David DeJesus and his wife Kim will host “Strike a Pose” fundraiser Jan. 17 at the River East Arts Center at 7 p.m. CT when Cubs players and their wives will walk the runway in a variety of fashions from the 900 North Michigan Ave. shops. Among the participants are Kerry and Sarah Wood, Darwin and Lindsay Barney, Travis and Brittany Wood, Shawn Camp, Tony Campana, Starlin Castro, Steve Clevenger, Scott Feldman, Brett Jackson, Anthony Rizzo, James Russell, and Ian Stewart. Proceeds from the event will benefit the David DeJesus Family Foundation, which is donating money raised to ALS research. Tickets are $250 per person and $2,500 per table (includes four tickets with reserved seating and table service). Besides the fashion show, there will be cocktails and food from Chicago restaurants such as Chicago q, RPM Italian, Bull and Bear, Shaw’s Crabhouse, Glazed & Infused, Pastoral, and Wow Bao. There also will be a live auction and raffle.

— Carrie Muskat

12/28 Winter League playoffs

Cubs prospect Junior Lake went 2-for-4 with a stolen base for Estrellas de Oriente, which lost, 3-1, on Thursday to Toros del Este in the first game in round robin playoffs in the Dominican Winter League. Lake, who batted .312 in 44 games during the season, started in left field in the playoff game. The Cubs are looking for bench players, and Lake’s versatility is a plus.

— Carrie Muskat

12/28 Report: Cubs sign Takahashi

The Cubs have reportedly agreed to sign left-handed pitcher Hisanori Takahashi to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Yahoo Sports Jeff Passan reported the signing late Thursday. Takahashi, 37, has pitched for the Mets, Angels and Pirates. Last season, he totaled 51 games and 50 1/3 innings with the Angels and Pirates. He has a 3.97 ERA over 240 1/3 innings, making 12 starts and 153 relief appearances.

— Carrie Muskat

12/23 Ho, Ho, Ho

Happy holidays to Cubs fans, loyal readers and passers by. Hope everyone is healthy, smiling, and safe. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s another outfielder under the tree on Christmas morning.

— Carrie Muskat

12/22 Cubs & StubHub

Note to all Cubs fans: the team has renewed its agreement with StubHub. A team spokesman said Friday the only change with the deal is that the Cubs have chosen to end StubHub sales six hours before game time. Earlier this month, there were reports that the Cubs had ended their agreement with the ticket agency.

— Carrie Muskat