MESA, Ariz. – Gloating after victories is not really manager Dale Sveum’s style.
That didn’t change even after scoring an upset win Monday against pitcher Kerry Wood in the Cubs’ popular bunting tournament at Fitch Park, the matchup everyone was looking forward to the past few days.
Wood needed 30 points to tie and 40 points to beat Sveum, a No. 15 seed, with one ball remaining. Unfortunately for the second-seeded Wood, the ball that was headed for the 40-point box in the grass crossed over onto the 20-pointer.
Cue the hooting and hollering from his teammates.
“I got lucky how the grass was growing to the east there and the ball kind of fell off the white line,” Sveum said. “I thought I was done. I was going over to shake his hand and the ball just trickled off the white line at the end.”
The bunting tournament has become the highlight of the Cubs’ spring training workouts. On Monday pitchers Matt Garza and Carlos Marmol began trash talking and exchanging friendly barbs before even stepping onto the half field. Alfonso Soriano talked a big game, calling out “easy money” every time he stepped to plate.
Soriano ultimately lost, however, to David DeJesus, and Marmol knocked out Garza. Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto also advanced.
“It was fun to watch,” said Jeff Baker, who won his showdown against Alfredo Amezaga. “The thing I like the most is you see [Sveum’s] competitiveness. He’s not just going out there to bunt. He was going out there to win. Woody drew a tough assignment.”
Baker and the Cubs appreciate the competitiveness of the tournament but also the emphasis on fundamentals and the focus needed to lay down quality bunts.
Formatted like the NCAA basketball tournament bracket, each player in a given matchup gets eight pitches to bunt – four to each side – with designated areas marked for points ranging from five to 40. There also are two 100-point bull's-eyes, but the player must call the shot before the attempt. So far no player has landed a bunt in the bull's-eye.
“It’s a lot more enjoyable, more fun,” Baker said. “You get some ragging and some team building.”
Sveum, the mastermind behind the tournament, came up with the idea while managing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A Altoona Curve from 2001-03.
“I always thought if I became a manager I’d like to institute a tournament and kind of have some fun with it as well as guys bearing down,” Sveum said. “Some things that have happened, guys going out real early in the morning, practicing and working on their techniques to get better so that’s kind of a fun thing. But also a lot of people that really want to get better and care about it, get out there and practice as well.”
Notes: Starlin Castro was sporting a red welt on his right forearm after pitcher Wood hit Castro during Monday’s live batting practice. Castro said he was fine and did not miss any of the workouts. … Although Soto participated in the bunting competition, he was held out of workouts and remains day-to-day because of a groin injury. … Sveum revealed that pitchers Rodrigo Lopez, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza will start the Cubs’ first three spring training games.