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Cubs And Pirates Prepared For Cold Opener

Jeff Baker

Jeff Baker (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Kerry Wood got his old locker back in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, even though he’d been away for two years. And now he’ll enjoy something else he remembers well – another opening day at Wrigley Field.

“There’s a buzz,” Wood said Thursday as the Cubs pulled on ski caps and hoods and headed out for a workout on a sunny day with temperatures in the low 40s.

The forecast is for rain and maybe some snow flurries when the Pirates and Cubs start the season Friday. Wood felt the chill when he got off the plane from Arizona on Wednesday night. He expected it after six weeks-plus at spring training.

“It definitely hits you in the face,” Wood said. “That’s what it’s about. It’s baseball in April in Chicago.”

The Pirates went 57-105 a year ago, their 18th straight losing season. Of course, 10 of Pittsburgh’s wins came against the Cubs.

“They always give us a good fight,” said Ryan Dempster, who will start for the Cubs against Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia.

Carlos Pena, who signed with Chicago as a free agent after playing for Tampa Bay the last four years, is looking forward to playing in the second-oldest park in the majors. He played briefly with Boston in 2006 and spent four seasons in the AL East, so he’s already spent time in the oldest, Fenway Park.

But once he arrived to Wrigley on Thursday, he had to see for himself.

“I walked in this morning and I walked up on that concourse and got the fans’ perspective and all I said was, ‘Thank you.’ I’m pumped to be here,” he said.

Pena’s performance will be a pivotal one for the Cubs. He batted just .196 last season for the Rays but he has the left-handed power and the great glove at first base that Chicago needs.

Like teammate Matt Garza, who also came over from Tampa – his arrival via a trade – he’ll have to adjust to the weather, a new league and a home schedule heavy with day games.

“He’s going to be fine. He’s the kind of guy I think he’ll love it,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said.

Pena and Garza are newcomers and Wood is making his return after two seasons with Cleveland and the Yankees, but it’s Quade who really has a new task. He is going to run the team for the first time as the full-time manager. He was the skipper on an interim basis for the final 37 games a year ago after Lou Piniella retired in August. The Cubs responded with a 24-13 record.

Quade entered a press room Thursday and began counting the number of recording devices in front of him – 11. There were also a half-dozen TV cameras aimed at him.

Quade, who managed more than 2,000 minor league games and was Chicago’s third base coach before being promoted last season, brought along a familiar companion with him – his fungo bat.

“I always feel like a little kid,” he said, looking forward to Friday. “I think there will be a million emotions and I’ll deal with them however I do. My folks will be there, that’s great. Long journey and all that stuff.”

He has got a lot of work to do to improve on the Cubs’ fifth-place finish of last season. And no one needs to bring up that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, a record of futility that always surfaces.

Clint Hurdle’s job? Lead the Pirates out of their nearly two-decade stretch of losing baseball.

Pittsburgh features young players to build with in Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, and they’ve also added a veteran in Lyle Overbay.

Among Hurdle’s ideas to change things up has been to give the team more structure on the road – workouts, breakfasts, meetings.

“We don’t want guys rolling out of bed at noon, coming to the park and eating three meals before we take the field,” he said. “We got to be smarter with our time.”

He said he and the coaching staff have also sought input from the players.

“We want them to take ownership,” he said, something he said he stressed while managing the Rockies.

And how about the cold that inevitably is part of early season baseball, especially in cities like Chicago?

“It is what it is,” Hurdle said. “I had a game here with (Colorado star) Ubaldo (Jimenez) and Ubaldo couldn’t get a grip on the ball. For four innings, his command was all over the joint. What are you going to do? You go play. You just figure it out.

“Everybody would like it to be balmy and 75 or 80. It will. In June.”

Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.