Daily Herald
For Cubs, another year of strange spring happenings
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 3/18/2008 12:11 AM

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs partied instead of playing baseball on St. Paddy's Day.

They'll get back to action today, so this would be a good time to take a look back at a strange spring training and look ahead toward what's to come.

Manager Lou Piniella wondered aloud the other day if there was such a thing as a "normal" Cubs spring training.

The answer, of course, is no. This year, there were no players falling out of hot tubs or being whisked back to Chicago under cover of darkness to get injuries examined. But Camp Piniella has had its share of zaniness.

Here's a look at a few of them to date, leaving Felix Pie's injury out of the mix for mercy's sake:

1. Dempster's prediction: Ryan Dempster got things going on the day pitchers and catchers reported:

"I think we are going to win the World Series, I really do," Dempster said.

That prediction garnered national headlines and sparked a friendly war of words between Dempster and his old pal, Kevin Millar, of the Orioles. Millar told the Baltimore media the Cubs would have to go through the Orioles.

The upshot: Dempster will get a heck of a book deal if his prediction comes true, or he'll be putting ketchup on those words and chowing down if the Cubs begin a second century of futility.

2. DeRosa's heart: A chill went through Cubs camp on Feb. 23 when second baseman Mark DeRosa had to be put on to an ambulance and taken to a hospital after complaining of an irregular heartbeat.

DeRosa had the problem taken care of with surgery in Chicago and came back to Mesa just glad the team hadn't given his job to Baltimore's Brian Roberts.

• The upshot: The Cubs haven't given DeRosa's job to Roberts -- yet. Expect DeRosa to soldier on gamely if that does happen.

3. The Marquis de Sad: When Jason Marquis said he could take his services elsewhere if the Cubs didn't agree with him that he's a starting pitcher, it prompted the first explosion of the spring from Lou Piniella, who said Marquis' proclamation "galls me" and that Marquis could go elsewhere.

• The upshot: Piniella apologized the next day. Marquis could get sent to the bullpen if the Cubs don't trade him first.

4. Soriano, Part I: During routine flyball drills, left fielder Alfonso Soriano broke the tip of his right middle finger.

• The upshot: For maybe the first time in his life, Soriano attempted a catch while using two hands that day. He recovered quickly and since has returned to one-handed catches -- and to hopping before the ball meets his glove.

5. Soriano, Part II: Alfonso Soriano looked perplexed last week when Lou Piniella moved him from his beloved leadoff spot to second in the order.

• The upshot: Soriano has looked good at the plate in the second spot, but Piniella is bound to change his mind at any time.

What to watch for

1. Bullpen musical chairs: No, we're not talking about the closer's battle. We're talking about who wins the final spot in the pen.

Scott Eyre may be the only lefty who goes north. Rule 5 draftee Tim Lahey has opened eyes, and he could stick if the Cubs can trade Jason Marquis.

2. The final spots: The starting lineup is set. Now, the battle is on to see who wins the final backup jobs.

Alex Cintron's versatility gives him an edge, and he's feeling lucky because he suffered no major damage after being hit in the face with a foul ball.

Mike Fontenot looked good at shortstop Sunday. Couple that with Ronny Cedeno falling out of favor, and the Cubs could keep Fontenot, who won over Lou Piniella last year with a hot month-and-a-half.

The darkhorse is nonroster man Micah Hoffpauir, who is blocked at first base by Derrek Lee. Hoffpauir has found an outfielder's glove in his equipment bag.

3. The trade: If the Cubs remind the Orioles that the baseball season is starting soon, they may have a shot of landing Brian Roberts for a package of young players.

Let's not forget the Cubs still are looking for a right-handed hitting center fielder to back up Felix Pie.

The final week could be full of strangeness and surprises, but we're used to that.