Pirates-Cubs Preview

Kerry Wood got his old locker back in the Chicago Cubs

clubhouse, even though he’d been away for two years. And now he’ll

enjoy something else he remembers well – another opening day at

Wrigley Field.

”There’s a buzz,” Wood said Thursday as the Cubs pulled on ski

caps and hoods and headed out for a workout on a sunny day with

temperatures in the low 40s.

The forecast is for rain and maybe some snow flurries when the

Pirates and Cubs start the season Friday. Wood felt the chill when

he got off the plane from Arizona on Wednesday night. He expected

it after six weeks-plus at spring training.

”It definitely hits you in the face,” Wood said. ”That’s what

it’s about. It’s baseball in April in Chicago.”

The Pirates went 57-105 a year ago, their 18th straight losing

season. Of course, 10 of Pittsburgh’s wins came against the

Cubs.

”They always give us a good fight,” said Ryan Dempster, who

will start for the Cubs against Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia.

Carlos Pena, who signed with Chicago as a free agent after

playing for Tampa Bay the last four years, is looking forward to

playing in the second-oldest park in the majors. He played briefly

with Boston in 2006 and spent four seasons in the AL East, so he’s

already spent time in the oldest, Fenway Park.

But once he arrived to Wrigley on Thursday, he had to see for

himself.

”I walked in this morning and I walked up on that concourse and

got the fans’ perspective and all I said was, ‘Thank you.’ I’m

pumped to be here,” he said.

Pena’s performance will be a pivotal one for the Cubs. He batted

just .196 last season for the Rays but he has the left-handed power

and the great glove at first base that Chicago needs.

Like teammate Matt Garza, who also came over from Tampa – his

arrival via a trade – he’ll have to adjust to the weather, a new

league and a home schedule heavy with day games.

”He’s going to be fine. He’s the kind of guy I think he’ll love

it,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said.

Pena and Garza are newcomers and Wood is making his return after

two seasons with Cleveland and the Yankees, but it’s Quade who

really has a new task. He is going to run the team for the first

time as the full-time manager. He was the skipper on an interim

basis for the final 37 games a year ago after Lou Piniella retired

in August. The Cubs responded with a 24-13 record.

Quade entered a press room Thursday and began counting the

number of recording devices in front of him – 11. There were also a

half-dozen TV cameras aimed at him.

Quade, who managed more than 2,000 minor league games and was

Chicago’s third base coach before being promoted last season,

brought along a familiar companion with him – his fungo bat.

”I always feel like a little kid,” he said, looking forward to

Friday. ”I think there will be a million emotions and I’ll deal

with them however I do. My folks will be there, that’s great. Long

journey and all that stuff.”

He has got a lot of work to do to improve on the Cubs’

fifth-place finish of last season. And no one needs to bring up

that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, a record of

futility that always surfaces.

Clint Hurdle’s job? Lead the Pirates out of their nearly

two-decade stretch of losing baseball.

Pittsburgh features young players to build with in Andrew

McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, and they’ve

also added a veteran in Lyle Overbay.

Among Hurdle’s ideas to change things up has been to give the

team more structure on the road – workouts, breakfasts,

meetings.

”We don’t want guys rolling out of bed at noon, coming to the

park and eating three meals before we take the field,” he said.

”We got to be smarter with our time.”

He said he and the coaching staff have also sought input from

the players.

”We want them to take ownership,” he said, something he said

he stressed while managing the Rockies.

And how about the cold that inevitably is part of early season

baseball, especially in cities like Chicago?

”It is what it is,” Hurdle said. ”I had a game here with

(Colorado star) Ubaldo (Jimenez) and Ubaldo couldn’t get a grip on

the ball. For four innings, his command was all over the joint.

What are you going to do? You go play. You just figure it out.

”Everybody would like it to be balmy and 75 or 80. It will. In

June.”