You wanted it, you got it. Spring training action from the very first game of March.
Wait, Cubs-Giants? I wasn't aware that I was writing for Cub Town.
So how does an A's fan find himself at Hohokam Stadium for a Cubs-Giants tilt, while Oakland is halfway across the Valley of the Sun squandering a 6-0 lead to lose to the Brewers in Maryvale? Simple, he gets sired by a pair of Indiana natives who are just cuckoo for Cubs games. And it's their car and their lodging, so who am I to impose my will on my elders.
So Cubs-Giants it is. If nothing else, it game me the chance to catch up with an old friend.
Hey -- wrong uniform, bub.
The Zito free-agency signing took place during one of my too-frequent fallow periods of blogging, so I never really got the chance to weigh in with my thoughts on seeing Zito move to the Giants for $126 million less a whole mess of bridge tolls. I guess I'll do that now, after the jump.
First off, I'm a big Zito fan. The Michaels household didn't name our cat Zito because we were that taken with John Diehl's performance as Detective Larry Zito on Miami Vice. He's an entertaining pitcher, has a pretty repertoire of pitches and he's a really easy guy to root for.
That said, it was probably time for him to leave Oakland, especially if the asking price is $18 million a year for the next seven years. Zito's ace days, fleeting as they were, are long behind him -- he was the third best starter on the A's last season behind Dan Haren and the occasional glimpses of a healthy Rich Harden. And he was unlikely to get much better with age, especially if he insisted on his strikeout and walk rates heading in the wrong directions.
So if it was in the A's best interest that he cash in with some other team, it was also in the team's best interest that he do it over in the National League, where he can come back to haunt Oakland as few times as possible. So I was ecstatic when he didn't sign with Texas. Also, since I get a small, petty thrill whenever one of the New York teams fails to land one of their stated targets, I also chuckled with childish delight when the Mats didn't land him. No, San Francisco is just about the perfect destination. I view the Giants with benign indifference -- so long as their interests do not collide with my own, we get along just swell. So I find myself able to continue to wish all the best for Barry Zito, except in the occasional interleague game. Even better, since he now plies his trade just three blocks from my office, I'll still be able to enjoy the occasional 12-to-6 curve live and in person. (In fact, since I made the painful decision to let my A's season ticket package lapse this year, I may wind up seeing as many Giants games as A's contests this season.)
Was it a smart contract for the Giants? Hell, it's not my money. But I'm not sure it's ever a good idea to ink a pitcher to a seven-year deal, even one who's never missed a start. But if you consider the fact that Zito will be playing 81 games in a pitcher's park (plus 18 more in the pitcher's havens of Dodger Stadium and Petco Park), it's not as insane a deal as some folks would have you believe. And from the Giants' point of view, it's probably comforting to know that the face of their franchise will soon transition from a snarling left-fielder that few people feel warmly toward to a guy who seems to go out of his way to make people appreciated, as this photo from three springs ago illustrates.
Look Giants fans! A guy named Barry who interacts with people!
As for today's game, Zito looked good -- just one hit in two innings of fairly efficient work. Derek Lee hit a solid two-out single to left, and Aramis Ramirez blasted a fly ball out to right that Todd Linden caught on the warning track. (Get used to those booming fly balls, Giants fans. Sometimes they're caught, sometimes they're not.) More important, he started off the game by fanning that other big free-agent signing of the winter, Alfonso Soriano.
As for the rest of the game... well, it was the first spring training game of the year. What do you expect? The Cubs started their regulars, more or less, with Matt Murton getting the nod over Cliff Floyd in left. The Giants also had a preponderance of regulars, with the exception of Linden in right, Mark Sweeney at First, Fred Lewis in left and Kevin Frandsen at second. The Giants semi-regulars jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Jason Marquis and the Cubs regulars, until the parade of non-roster invitees and minor leaguers took over. Soon, the Giants jumped out to a 5-0 lead, coasting to a 9-2 victory. But for some errors by Scott Moore and Ronny Cedeno, the game might have been closer than it actually was.
Other notes from the game:
• I love the organist at Hohokam, who celebrated the Cubs' first run of the game -- a Geovany Soto triple plating Jake Fox -- by breaking out into a rousing chorus of "We're in the Money." Score at the time: 5-1. Optimistic, sure, but it certainly beat hearing a banal pop tune -- "Whomp! There It Is!" say -- heralding the run. When I am declared baseball's benevolent dictator, one of the first orders of business will be to impose mandatory organ music at every stadium.
• The gaggle of young men sitting behind me were Cardinal fans and generally pleasant individuals. However, that does not stop me from dutifully reporting the following exchange:
Cardinals Fan No. 1: Who do you think the Cards' best player is?
Cardinals Fan No. 2: It has to be Pujols, right?
Cardinals Fan No. 1: Naw, you're wrong. Eckstein.
I'll summarize the tortured logic: Pujols is a first baseman and any dang fool can play first, whereas Eckstein plays a challenging defensive position and hustles so that outweighs any offensive contributions Pujols might make. I mention this largely so the fine folks at Fire Joe Morgan will know why their ears began burning earlier this afternoon.
• From the Oh the People You Run Into Dept.: Ferguson Jenkins had a booth at Hohokam where he was signing assorted items to raise money for his charitable foundation. Among the items was a book called Entangled in Ivy, which my mom was eyeballing as a potential birthday gift for someone I hope doesn't browse the Internets and therefore just had his surprise spoiled. "Is this book any good?" my mom asked me. Before I could answer, a guy standing next to us spoke up: "I think it is, but then again, I'm the author." That'd be George Castle, who also wrote The Million-to-One Team, which I have read and enjoyed. Anyhow, the nameless relative who I really hoped has stopped reading at this point will soon have in his possession a copy of Entangled in Ivy signed by both George Castle and Fergie Jenkins.
Also spotted at the game... I think: Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus fame. I was standing in line at the concession stand when I heard the guy behind me talking rather authoritatively about statistical analysis; I turned around and he sure did look like what I remember Joe looking from the few times our paths had crossed at the BP Pizza Feeds I've attended. I would have thanked Joe for all the entertaining work he and his BP cohorts do, but it was my turn to order and I didn't want to hold up the line. So if that actually was Joe Sheehan: Joe, thank you for all the entertaining work you and your BP cohorts do. But Murray Chass was wondering why you were at the ballpark instead of in some dank dungeon somewhere preparing more stats that ruin people's enjoyment of baseball? And if that wasn't Joe Sheehan: I hope you enjoyed your concessions.
• Speaking of concessions, the options seemed remarkably improved over my last visits to Hohokam, though I was unable to find a polish sausage anywhere. Seriously, shouldn't that be an indictable offense at a sporting event involving Chicago teams, even if it is taking place in Arizona? Also, the beer options appeared to be limited to Bud and Bud Light -- this is an offensive lack of choice, and though I drank the Budweiser, I hope my obvious look of discontent was noticed by whoever handles the concessions at Hohokam.