In the spring an old man's fancy turns to thoughts of Cubs

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Fujikawa


The heck with Alfred Lord Tennyson.

True, the renowned poet died in 1883, so when he wrote "In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," it was a lot closer to when the Cubs last won a World Series (in 1908) than today – 104 years since.

However, it's preferable for many of us to think, "In the spring an old man's fancy turns to thoughts of Cubs."

The Cubs beat the Angels 11-2 Saturday, launching Spring Training with an offense fueled by Brett Jackson (two triples) and Luis Valbuena (home run).

Excitement bubbles like your gut after a couple of White Castle sliders:

Everything's fresh and new (if cold and dormant); everyone has an equal chance (depending on off-season acquisitions and injuries); and the possibilities are endless (at least until the 162-game season starts).

There's been a notable absence of decent Cubs coverage in area dailies compared to Cardinals and White Sox stories, despite thousands of die-hard Cub fans. Newspapers from Canton, Monmouth, Pekin and Peoria arrive and, despite scouring even inside pages, readers can find scarce notice beyond a brief here and there.

So let's look ahead.

Wrigley Field turns 100 next year, giving president Theo Epstein 12 months to make last season's 61-101 record more than an opportunity to draft higher.

Team keys are first-baseman Anthony Rizzo, Gold Glove second-baseman Darwin Barney and shaggy pitcher Jeff Samardzija (only 9-13 last season, but with a 3.81 ERA in 174.2 innings). There's also Starlin Castro, of course, the free-swinging poster child for MLB ADD (logging 27 errors last season and still getting signed to a $60 million, 7-year agreement), but he remains "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma," as the saying goes.

A question mark.

Other question marks:

* Matt Garza (5-7, 3.91 ERA) probably is preparing to announce that he's confident he'll recover from a strained muscle enough to be on the Disabled List by Opening Day.

* A pair of newcomers, Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston, will form a tandem to platoon in right field.

* Re-signed letdown Ian Stewart may have a second chance at third and outfielder Jackson also may get another shot, but where? Jackson's promise of power and speed were tempered by holes in his swing that a Boeing 787 could taxi through – without batteries.

* Backup catcher Dioner Navarro, a decent switch-hitter in limited action with Cincinnati last year, could give tentative starting backstop Wellington Castillo a run for his shin guards.

* Somewhere in the farm system, Gerardo Concepcion will try to prove that although he wasn't the ball of Cuban fire fans hoped for in 52.1 innings for the Peoria Chiefs last year, he can compete. After all, he's a lefty in a staff with just a handful of southpaws. (Plus, he was born on Leap Year and just turned 21, so maybe he'll leap into higher minors this season.)

The biggest question mark may be Chicago's starting rotation, which could stun the NL or be a disaster or a mere disappointment transformed into trade bait. Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva, plus the "fighting Scotts" (Baker and Feldman) join Samardzija and lefthander Travis ("did I give up another dinger?") Wood.

The bullpen could be a bright spot – or a black hole, as Carlos Marmol (who's listed as an antonym for "consistent" in my book) and fairly solid setup loons Shawn Camp and James Russell are joined by the Japanese League's 32-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, who's logged 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA in 12 seasons for the Hanshin Tigers.

Will Marmol have a good enough April to be trade bait? He'll cost $9 million this season and will be a free agent, so he may be more valuable leaving than staying.

Other franchise-building trade bait is led by 37-year-old left-fielder Alfonso Soriano, coming off a stellar season (.262, 108 RBI, 32 HR), but it may include even Castro, despite the long-term contract he got last summer. Why? One reason is top hopeful Javier Baez, a first-round draft pick in 2011 and a shortstop who might make the transition to third but presents a nice "problem for second-year manager Dale Sveum (again, rhymes with "game," not "tame" or "lame"). Baez could generate 25-plus homers as a 3-hole batter. He hit .333 for the Peoria Chiefs last year before fading with a minor-league promotion.

Meanwhile, there seem to be more prospects in the wings than a musical at Corn Stock. A big one is Cuban defector Jorge Soler, a 6-3 200-lb. outfielder who just turned 21, got a $30 million, 9-year contract last season based on his power and sense at the plate and his good throwing arm, also demonstrated at O'Brien Field last year.

Dark horses: RHPs Jensen Lewis and Hector Rondon, OFs Albert Almora and Dave Sappelt, 1b Dan Vogelback and the clubhouse "Scrabble" duo – OF Matt Szczur and RHP Arodys Vizcaíno.

Meanwhile, Jim Deshaies is the new TV color man and the jury is out whether the ex-Astros broadcaster can live up to Bob Brenley's fan-friendly performance in recent years.

It's only five weeks to the home opener April 8, against Milwaukee.

Compared to the 5,408-plus weeks since the Cubs won it all, that's poetry.

CAPTION: New Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa asks, "Hey, where are the Bleacher Bums" after signing with the team at Wrigley Field.

About the Author
Bill Knight recently retired after a couple decades teaching journalism at Western Illinois University. Now, you might find him strolling through the streets of Elmwood with his wife and fellow writer, Terry Bibo, along with their son, Opie, and his beloved collie, Lassie.* *Actually this last bit isn’t true. Not to mention the fact that our writer got “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lassie & Timmy” mixed up.