Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 20, 2008

Spring Training Prophecies… Repent, for the Kingdom of Big Z Is at Hand

Call me the Bench Coach Prophet.

Yesterday was the first day of MLB Spring training for the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and not a moment too soon. My frustration since the Cubs flubbed in the playoffs last year was made worse by bad seasons for the Bears and Bulls, and a shocking loss by the Patriots in the Super Bowl. So I am ready to renew my hopes. It’s spring! Hope springs eternal, at least until the starting pitching starts falling apart in May.

As of today, it’s 40 days until Opening Day. As if it is the 40 days of Lent, I shall repent of all my whining and doubt about the Cubs last season (despite it’s being justified), so that when Opening Day arrives, I can celebrate another resurrection, of sorts. Several, in fact.

For one, I prophesy Kerry Wood’s career will be resurrected as a superior relief pitcher, either in a set-up role or as a closer. Yes, the man who tied Roger “Juice” Clemens’ single game strikeout record as a rookie has a chance to finish out his career as the next Dennis Eckersley. Oh, and Kerry’s probably glad not to have the distraction of Mark Prior around, to steal focus away from him. One injured former phenom is enough for any clubhouse.

I also prophesy Carlos Zambrano (the “Big Z” of the above title) will be resurrected as a grownup, get his head together, and have the season he was supposed to have last year (click for my Sept. ’07 blog on Z’s sensitive psyche). Not that he won’t continue to be weird. He’ll just have it under control, as public scrutiny turns toward probable trade acquisition (and steroid-implicated player) Brian Roberts. Or new Japanese phenom Kosuke Fukodome and whether he’s being properly utilized. Or whether Alfonso Soriano should be batting somewhere other than leadoff. Or whether any of the other starters can carry Zambrano’s jockstrap so the Cubs can string four wins together at a time.

Last week, another of my favorite Cubs delivered a prophecy of his own, as former closer Ryan Dempster predicted the Cubs would win the World Series this year. And wouldn’t that be great?! In the 100th year since they won the last one, for the Cubs to finally break through would resurrect MLB from its steroid-tainted ashes in one fell swoop (just like juicers Sosa and McGwire, with their Roger Maris home-run chase, resurrected it from the strike-tainted ashes in 1998). If the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs all broke through within the same five-year period, that would be a great story, too. The Cubs, always eager to disappoint, may go off-script and blow it somewhere along the way to spoil that great story. But I’m gonna go with Dempster on this one. I’ll be the Elisha to his Elijah. Therefore I hereby prophecy that the Cubs will win the 2008 World Series. “And print it!” (Any Lee Elia fans out there?)

My prophetic pick for emerging star of 2008, not just for the Cubs but within the entire National League: Geovany Soto, Catcher. Click the name to see his “electronic baseball card”.

Last but not least, I prophesy (“thus saith the Mark”) that we will finally see another classic Lou Piniella dirt-kicking, expletive-spouting, hair-pulling, base-throwing!!! performance to protest a bad umpire call. He’s been stewing in his own juices for far too long to not explode sometime this season. He’s just one good Sportscenter highlight away from the legendary status of a Casey Stengel or Yogi Berra, those managers that rise above the game itself to become cultural icons. You just watch. All of Lou’s redder-than-red Italian blood is gonna get to boiling, and I want to be there to see it. It’s the kick-in-the-ass the Cubs will need to get through some tough stretch this year. And most importantly, my own Italian blood, my own passion for professional baseball, requires it.

Play ball!


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