Renteria, Cubs Park ready for Cactus League debuts
First-year manager eager to evaluate young ballclub in game action
MESA, Ariz. -- They've had a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Spring Training stadium, Cubs Park, and they've taken batting practice there, but Thursday will mark the official start of the Cubs' Cactus League games under new manager Rick Renteria.
A sellout crowd is expected Thursday when Jeff Samardzija faces the D-backs in the spring opener.
The Cubs' starting lineup will include Emilio Bonifacio at second, Luis Valbuena at third, Starlin Castro at short, Anthony Rizzo at first, Junior Lake in center, Welington Castillo catching, Justin Ruggiano in left, Mike Olt as the designated hitter and Darnell McDonald in right.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who was a key player in keeping the team in the city, will take part in the pregame ceremonies.
The Cubs players are eager to get going.
"I think everybody's about at that point where they're ready to get out there," second baseman Darwin Barney said. "We're excited about the new stadium, and we're excited to get this thing rolling."
The Cubs took batting practice at Cubs Park to test the facility.
"It's the same dimensions as Wrigley [Field], but it's bigger, so that should play to Arizona a little better," Barney said. "The field's in good shape. We're real happy about it."
The new stadium, located on a 140-acre site in west Mesa, which was the former Riverview Golf Course, will seat up to 15,000 people and is the largest in the Cactus League. The $84 million complex is situated at the intersection of Highways 101 and 202.
Fans are encouraged to arrive early to tailgate or take advantage of Riverview Park or watch the players work out at their facility. Ninety pecent of the seats at Cubs Park will be in the shade, but there will be plenty of sunny spots in the bleachers and and on the berm for those snowbirds eager to catch a few rays.
"We're lucky in that we're the last of several new facilities in the Cactus League, so we looked at what we believed others had done well and we looked at where we felt other stadiums had fell short," Smith said. "We feel we created something that's the best of all worlds."
While Renteria gets his first in-game look at Cubs regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz and Starlin Castro, fans are eager to see the top prospects in camp, particularly the so-called core four of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant. Soler, Almora and Bryant all played in the Arizona Fall League together. The four will get plenty of at-bats even though all will open the season in the Minor Leagues.
"I think all of us are really looking forward to seeing those guys out there," Renteria said of the prospects. "As the spring progresses and we're able to get them in there and let them get a feel for facing Major League players, I think it'll be good for everybody. You're just looking to learn as much as you can about all of them, and learn what it is we need to do to improve our game as a team."
Fans shouldn't read too much into Renteria's early lineups.
"We're just trying to get as many at-bats for the guys as we can," Renteria said. "We'll just keep mixing and matching."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.