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Zuleta may be a graceful replacement at first
Posted: Monday March 05, 2001 6:21 PM
Updated: Monday March 05, 2001 6:23 PM
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular
dispatches from Sports Illustrated
staffers assigned to scout camps in
the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Jamal Greene, Sports Illustrated
TEAM: Chicago Cubs
SITE: Mesa, Ariz.
WEATHER: Clear blue skies, mid 60s
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: Julio Zuleta. Zuleta is a strapping 6-foot-5, 235-pound, 25-year-old first baseman who looks like he could intimidate pitchers just by swinging in the on-deck circle. A native of Panama, Zuleta batted .311 with 26 homers and 94 RBIs in 107 games at Class AAA Iowa last year. He also hit .294 in 68 big-league at bats. During batting practice before Friday's game against the San Francisco Giants, the sound of the ball hitting Zuleta's bat was explosive enough to literally turn heads (at least mine), and they turned again when he rocketed a single to left in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat Zuleta hit a rope straight to Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia. The first baseman also saved a short throw from Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutierrez with an impressive stretch. Newcomers Ron Coomer and Matt Stairs figure to platoon at first for the Cubs, but theyíll have to watch their backs, both for Zuleta and 21-year-old Korean prospect Hee Seop Choi (who is also 6-5, 235 pounds and who hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer in Thursday's game). Zuleta has also spent time in left field, which should help his chances of making the roster. He made the team out of camp last season, but could not go on the season-opening trip in Japan because of visa problems and was left behind.
AROUND THE HORN
Right-handed free-agent Jason Bere allowed no runs and one hit with two strikeouts in three innings to help the Cubs to a 7-0 win over the Giants. He could be a reliable No. 5 starter; that is, if Julian Tavarez and Kevin Tapani turn into reliable Nos. 3 and 4.
Sammy Sosa didnít seem to have much rust in batting practice. During his rotation with Matt Stairs and Rondell White, Sosa at one point hit five straight balls over the wall, several of which landed beyond the grassy knoll and onto the streets of Mesa, well over 450 feet away. One shot actually cleared a 30-foot wall in dead center, 410 feet from home plate. After one particularly monstrous clout, Slamminí Sammy turned to the crowd along the first-base line and shouted, "Iím not ready yet!" We donít know if he was being sarcastic.
Former Dodgers pitcher Joe Black sat in the home dugout during batting practice shooting the breeze with players and coaches. Black, part of the wave of African-American ballplayers to enter the majors shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, lives in the Phoenix area and is asked by the Commissionerís office to informally consult players who pass through the Cactus League about future career choices. Black left the game in 1957 and by the mid-'70s he was vice president of Greyhound. "I impress upon them that thereís work after baseball," he says. "Youíve gotta stay active to keep yourself alive."
The true ethos of spring training was revealed in the Cubs clubhouse prior to Saturday's game. Each player received a white T-shirt that said "Spring Training" on the front and had a tanned, voluptuous woman pictured in the middle of a baseball diamond on the back. The slogan? "Touch íem all."
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