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Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

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Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010
Updated at 12:10 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs have trained in Arizona almost uninterrupted since the end of the Truman administration, and they hope to remain in the desert for decades to come.

That history looks like it will continue after voters in Mesa approved Proposition 420 on Tuesday by an overwhelming margin. This had become a signature project for the Ricketts family during their first year of ownership, and they can claim an apparent victory as the Cubs moved closer to securing their new facility.

With 97 to 98 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday night, unofficial results on the Maricopa County and city of Mesa websites had roughly 63 percent voting "yes."

The ballot measure enables the city to spend close to 100 million on the next spring-training site as the Naples, Fla., development group that once tried to lure the Cubs out of Arizona recedes into memory.

As outlined, the Cubs would cover any construction costs that exceed 84 million, while the city could also contribute up to 15 million for infrastructure. The deal would be financed in part by the sale of undeveloped land in the area and a proposed 2 percent bed tax increase on Mesa hotels.

The Cubs would lease the complex and be responsible for operating costs. They also intend to develop a retail center around the stadium that's been called "Wrigleyville West." It would presumably attract existing corporate partners and attempt to recreate the atmosphere surrounding Clark and Addison with shops, bars and restaurants.

As the Cactus League's biggest box-office draw, one estimate has the Cubs creating a 138 million economic impact annually in the region, though some of that is spread to nearby Scottsdale and Tempe.

Mesa -- where the Cubs have trained from 1952-1965 and since 1979 -- is hoping for a bigger share of the revenues. While the Cubs have argued that they've outgrown their facilities, the complexes are not ancient.

The Cubs began play in 1997 at the new HoHoKam Park, which has a seating capacity of 13,100. Construction began the year before at Fitch Park, which sits on a 31-acre lot and includes four practice fields and a clubhouse with lockers for 200 players and 36 coaches.

But Cubs management is seeking one base of operations for all staffers -- not two located roughly a mile apart. Taxpayers might wonder why another reinvestment is already needed, but this could open an opportunity for a new team to relocate to Mesa.

Right now 15 teams are based in Arizona and 15 more train in Florida. There is a thought that Major League Baseball would ideally like a 16-14 split for scheduling purposes.

As voters headed to the polls, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and his staff gathered for organizational meetings in Mesa, where the baseball operations department will spend the next few days strategizing for 2011.

The offseason officially began Monday night after the final out of the World Series. Xavier Nady -- who will turn 32 this month and struggled to find a regular rhythm after the second Tommy John surgery of his career -- was the only Cub among the 142 players granted free agency. The first basemanoutfielder is a Scott Boras client and expected to test the market.

The other anticipated procedural move will be Aramis Ramirez exercising his 14.6 million player option for next season, which also guarantees the third baseman at least a 2 million buyout of the club's 2012 option worth 16 million.

The Cubs have also begun surveying fans on their website, asking questions about their Wrigley Field experience, whether they would be interested in a video replay board and weekend night games.

But nothing was quite as pressing to ownership as the "yes" given Tuesday in Mesa. The organization had invested a significant amount of time, money, energy and manpower in lobbying for the plan. Franchise icons Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo each made public appearances trying to sway voters.

Chairman Tom Ricketts had insisted that the Cubs weren't thinking about alternatives if Mesa voted against the proposition. There's no Plan B, he said. Cubs fans -- especially the ones who had retired to Arizona and take family vacations there in February and March -- will be glad to never learn what that might have been.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

2021 MLB schedule: Cubs open at home against Pirates, play AL Central again

2021 MLB schedule: Cubs open at home against Pirates, play AL Central again

The 2020 Major League Baseball season hasn’t started yet and there’s no telling if the league will complete it in full due to COVID-19. In any case, the 2021 Cubs schedule was officially announced on Thursday.

The Cubs will open at home for the second straight season, taking on the Pirates at Wrigley Field on April 3. It’s the first time since 2011-12 the North Siders will open the season at Wrigley Field and third time in four seasons their home opener is against Pittsburgh.

2021 also marks the second consecutive year the Cubs will play the AL Central in interleague play. This includes six games against the White Sox (Aug. 6-8 at Wrigley; Aug. 27-29 at Guaranteed Rate Field). Their first interleague series is May 11-12 at Cleveland.

The Cubs travel to Minnesota (Aug. 31-Sept. 1) and host the Royals (Aug. 20-22) for the first time since 2015.

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Check out the full schedule:

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Why Craig Kimbrel is Cubs' bellwether in short season like no closer before him

Why Craig Kimbrel is Cubs' bellwether in short season like no closer before him

Whether we’ll ever arrive at a time during pandemic baseball to let down our guards long enough to dream on the entirety of a 60-game season and playoffs, the Cubs will be hard pressed to let down their guards when it comes to holding leads late with a new-look bullpen and no margin for error in getting it right.

“Definitely each game’s going to be bigger, each lead change is going to be bigger in 60 games,” said veteran closer Craig Kimbrel — whose performance could be the bellwether for the Cubs fortunes like no other closer in any other season ever has.

“There’s going to be no such thing as a losing streak,” Kimbrel said. “If you’re going to want to be in it at the end, you’re going to have to stay consistent and try not to get in a funk.”

Bullpens already are considered the most inherently volatile position areas in baseball in any season. In a 60-gamer?

“It’s extremely important,” said Cubs manager David Ross, one of Kimbrel’s catchers in Atlanta when the right-hander broke into the majors 10 years ago. “Every aspect of this game is going to be highlighted in a 60-game sprint, and that’s definitely going to be a big part of it.”

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Kimbrel, 32, is a seven-time All-Star, who signed a three-year $43 million deal as a free agent early last season and then struggled down the stretch for the Cubs — allowing a career-high nine home runs in just 23 appearances.

He became a Twitter punchline when he gave up a homer to teammate Willson Contreras in a simulated game Tuesday, but Kimbrel said he was just trying to throw strikes and working on things — like the changeup Contreras hit.

The reality is Tuesday meant next to nothing when imagining Kimbrel’s performance once a season were to start July 24.

But last September — when he gave up four homers in three outings that included a 10th-inning loss and blown save in another loss in the span of three days against the Cardinals — is another matter.

If he starts 2020 like he finished 2019, the Cubs’ short season might be finished before it starts.

Will he recover the tick or two off his once upper-90s fastball to once again get away with location mistakes? Will his breaking ball and developing changeup become bigger weapons to make the fastball look more powerful? Will his location be good enough to make either less of an issue?

“I think he’s got a few things still to iron out, just talking to him, for him to feel comfortable,” Ross said. “And he knows some of his keys, he’s not quite there yet. It’s like any other pitcher. His is heightened by who he is, but every pitcher is looking at the data afterwards, looking at the high-speed cameras, seeing where the hand positioning is, comparing it to the success they’ve had in the past and trying to make small adjustments and get the action that they expect on the baseball.”

The theme often repeated by team officials since last year’s struggles was that Kimbrel suffered from not having a normal spring training last year because of the extended free agency that took his competitive debut into June.

Fast-forward to 2020 and … uh-oh.

But Kimbrel said last year’s experience is “definitely helpful” as he navigates the strangest season anybody in the game has experienced.

Any emotional downside associated with this season’s unusual format might come from the lack of fans in the stands and the natural adrenaline high that brings to the ninth inning with a slim lead.

“It’d be a lot nicer if there was [a crowd],” he said. “I’m just going to have to figure out a way to do it.

“I’ve just got to mentally go to a place and physically be ready to go out there and do what I’ve always done.”

The fact is his success is more likely to simply come down to whatever he gets out of that All-Star fastball — whether through location, sheer velocity or what he can make it look like off his other stuff.

“Obviously, when the fastball’s located and at the velocity you want it, things are great,” he said. “But I think with my offspeed pitches, the better I can control those, the better it makes my fastball.

“So I would honestly say controlling the curveball in the zone and keeping it down is only going to make my fastball play better. That’s really my mindset on that.”

He and the Cubs have two weeks to get it right. Because once the season starts so does the playoff chase — with every ninth- and 10th-inning home run as costly as the last time he took the mound for the Cubs when it counted.

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