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I love spring training--the relaxed playfulness mixed with the gradual increase in the tension of the competition as the regular season approaches, pitchers running sprints in the outfield as the game goes on. And one doesn't necessarily need to be there in person. Chicago fans watching this this afternoon's spring exhibition rematch between the Cubs and the White Sox at Tucson Electric Park on Channel 9 got an unusual taste of that mixture.
With the game at the Sox' spring base, the Sox broadcast team of Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and Darrin Jackson was doing the call, joined in the booth in the second inning by Sox general manager Kenny Williams. In the bottom half Ozzie Guillen joined them as well, via headset in one of those midgame interviews that are such an intrusion during a real game and such a pleasant diversion in an exhibition. Williams remarked that he never got to talk to Guillen during a game and said he wanted Ozzie to get in "championship mode" and call a hit-and-run on the next pitch if Joe Crede got on. "Get a hit, Joe!" Hawk said. Guillen grudgingly said all right.
Lo and behold, Crede yanked a single into left. Guillen dusted off his intricate hand signals--he had to alert new third-base coach Razor Shines he was actually calling something--and Crede took off on the first pitch. The playful competition almost went awry when Rob Mackowiak fouled a bad pitch into the dirt and back up off the bill of his cap, almost getting hit in the face. "Kenny, you're gonna get guys hurt," DJ said. "That's why you're up here and Ozzie is down there."
Still, the unexpected aggressiveness paid off when Mackowiak singled the next pitch up the middle and Crede went from first to third. Both came in to score when Cubs left fielder Cliff Floyd misplayed a Tadahito Iguchi liner into a triple. The Sox went on to win, 7-6, after Sox closer Bobby Jenks blew the save in the top of the ninth, loading the bases, then giving up a three-run double to Casey McGehee. Mackowiak hit the game winner with his fourth single of the day.
Watching on TV was almost better than being there--almost. After all, it was 91 and sunny in Tuscon.