Big League Weekend Returns to Las Vegas
Spring Fever came into full effect this weekend at Cashman Field as Chicago’s best swept Sin City by storm. Cub fans, White Sox fans and baseball fans alike collected to watch old rivals take the field. Big League Weekend has always drawn a large crowd garnering a combined attendance of over 20,000 last year alone. Through the history of MLB exhibition games held at Cashman, Chicago’s cross town rivalry has been by far the most popular over the last four years.
Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas 51’s, Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays organization has always been privy to seeing the likes of some of baseball’s top prospects as well as long time veterans. This weekend was no different as spectators were treated to the presence of some new and long-time familiar faces to the game. Some notable mentions to grace the field, center fielder and designated hitter for the White Sox, Andruw Jones and first baseman and designated hitter for the Cubs, Kevin Millar.
Jones, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, most recently the Texas Rangers and a former Hank Aaron Award winner, brings both offensive and defensive value to the field. A ten-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner, Jones batted a .364 going into the weekend and hit a two run-triple off Oakland’s Ben Sheets aiding the Sox to a 9-5 victory on March 10. Jones reported to Spring Training this year in better physical shape than in 2009 and is trying to earn a regular spot in the Sox rotation. The 32-year old veteran, coming off of injury to his right knee while with the Dodgers in 2008, is trying to get accustomed to the Sox and manager Ozzie Guillen’s aggressive style of play. This was apparent on Saturday when Jones attempted to head home from third on teammate Roman Castro’s fly to left field, but was called out on a double-play by Cub’s outfielder Sam Fuld. Guillen, who is no stranger to Vegas Baseball and played 122 games with Triple-A Vegas in 1984, has said that, “Andruw is in great shape…and looks good at the plate,” “The thing we look for him to do is run a little more than in the past.” Jones, who hasn’t seen much time in the outfield since his prior knee injury is trying to condition himself to be up to par with the Sox expectations of his defensive abilities. Even at the age of 32, Jones continues to produce and having lost 25 pounds over the winter, it will be interesting to see what his offensive power and skills in the outfield will bring to the White Sox line-up if he continues to impress during Spring Training and makes the cut.
Another notable in this weekend’s games, Cubs first baseman and designated hitter, Kevin Millar. Millar, a non-roster invitee for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 was originally signed to a minor league deal with Triple-A Vegas. But, through his impressive style of play and experience, his contact was purchased and he became a role player for Toronto. The jovial scruffy veteran ended up in the 2009 Blue Jay rotation serving as a backup to first baseman Lyle Overbay. Millar signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs on February 1, 2010 and at 38 years old, is also trying to earn a roster spot. This year, the Los Angeles native who has been reunited with former Marlin teammates Ryan Dempster and Derrick Lee, isn’t exactly what the Cubs have been looking for. With a roster fully loaded with right-handed bats, Millar is in serious contention for a spot in their rotation. But true to his nature, the former Red Sox player, who batted .297 in 2004 and notably contributed to uplifting clubhouse spirits as Boston rallied to defeat the New York Yankees in the ALCS, doesn’t let that affect his game.
“I'm 50 years old," he said. "I might only be able to pinch-hit. Shortstop is out, center field is out, but I can catch. I can play the corners and catch," said the aging clubhouse favorite earlier this year. “When you look at your paperwork and it says 'Iowa Cubs,' you just have to close your eyes when you fill that stuff out," he said. "I'm thinking 'Chicago.'"
Millar may have the odds stacked against him but his teammates are looking forward to having him around throughout the season. Millar, known for his positivity and supportive demeanor, comes at a perfect time for the Cubs Clubhouse, especially after the discord set off last season by known bad-boy outfielder Milton Bradley, now of the Seattle Mariners.
The Cubs leave Las Vegas victorious after back-to-back victories over the White Sox and are next scheduled to play the Anaheim Angels in Arizona , where the Cubs regularly hold Spring Training.