As I write this, just a few hours from now, spring training workouts officially begin for the Cubs in lovely Mesa, AZ.
Instead of looking ahead – like everyone should – I get to look back. And with good reason.
A couple days ago, I stumbled upon an envelope containing pictures I took back in 1990 – the first year I traveled to Arizona. It was liquid gold!
So please kick back as I set the time machine for 1990 when the Cubs trained at old HoHoKam Park.
I joined the Cubs full time in January 1988, not long after Zim was named manager. We met each other at the Cubs Convention, back in the day when someone with my less-than-chiseled physique could actually serve as a bodyguard. After I introduced myself to him, he responded with a sentence I will never forget: “Kid, you’re never late if you’re early.” That was his way of saying don’t even think of showing up on time. When we were on road trips, if the posted time for the bus to head back to the hotel was 11:45 p.m., then the bus was leaving at 11:45 pm – no matter who was still in the clubhouse. No manager ever gambled on gut instincts more than Popeye. Zim was the definition of baseball lifer, spending 65 years in uniform before his passing two years ago.
Rick Sutcliffe and Doug Dascenzo
Sut was a foot taller than Doug, so it’s no surprise that the big guy picked on the little one. Yes, those houses in the background were that close to HoHoKam. It was cool seeing Paul Assenmacher in the background. It was because of him that Greg Maddux nicknamed me Wassermacher – a name that didn’t stick, thankfully, for anyone other than Mad Dog. How many of you recognize the guy with the catcher’s glove? Does the name Rick Wrona ring a bell?
I don’t know what I enjoyed more in this picture, seeing Wild Thing or the big old HoHo scoreboard. This is one of the few pictures on record where the information on the scoreboard was correct.
Lloyd McClendon, Shawon Dunston and Andre Dawson
Two of the quietest, most intense, game-face guys I ever met. And then there was Shawon. He was loud. He usually had a smile on his face. He was goofy. He was so much fun to be around, typically keeping the clubhouse loose. I hope the old Shawon-o-meter sign is hanging proudly somewhere.
Bleach Blonde Mark Grace. Need I say more?
Phil Roof, Chuck Cottier and Jose Martinez
Three of the greatest, funniest coaches ever. I learned so much during the years from coaches, and these guys were the best. They taught me about communication skills. They taught me about accountability. They taught me that just because I wasn’t an athlete, it didn’t mean I was inferior to the people in the clubhouse. Hard to believe that Mr. Cottier is now 80 years old and Mr. Roof is going to be 75. Sadly, Jose passed away about 18 months ago. I honestly don’t know how old he was; Jose actually somehow convinced me two years running to lower his age in the Media Guide. He said he was from Kooba (that’s Cuba for you and me) and nobody there actually knew when they were born, so he constantly had me change the year of his birth.
Nobody shows up in fewer photographs than the team photographer – since they’re usually recording the action. I’m betting Steve Green is wishing a picture of him with that mustache didn’t make it into print.
So Much To Say
What stands out to you in this one? Ryno laughing? Dwight Smith giving the full Smitty look? Those lovely rightfield bleachers at HoHoKam. For me, the winner is the pair of shorts a certain trainer is wearing. Nice job of painting those on!
On The Beat
There’s no truth to the rumor that a lot of media members just stand around during spring training. In fact, you can clearly tell that the guy in shorts – Andy Bagnato – isn’t standing; it’s more of a lean.
Jim Frey and Don Zimmer
Remember, this was spring training 1990. The Cubs had won the division in 1989 and everything appeared to be on the upswing. The team had talent, the team had a great mix of veterans and youngsters,and the minor league pipeline was still going strong. But the train derailed quick. Zim was fired during the 1991 season; Frey was replaced by Larry Himes prior to the 1992 campaign.
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