MESA, AZ. –- And the winner is Nate Halm.
Halm, an assistant for video and advanced scouting, beat 15 other front office and clubhouse personnel in the “play-in” round of the Chicago Cubs annual bunting tournament.
Halm will enter the main tournament, going up against 62 Cubs players and their bullpen coach in a March Madness-style event covering much of the spring. The highlight of the 16-person tournament on Saturday was the first-round matchup pitting team president Theo Epstein against general manager Jed Hoyer. Epstein won the match decisively.
“The most important match of the year was the first one,” Epstein said. “I will say Jed and I have a long history of playing pickup basketball and other sports. That one felt good.”
The loss is particularly embarrassing for Hoyer, who played college baseball at Wesleyan. Epstein was immediately ousted in Round 2 by his 25-year-old new director of baseball operations, Scott Harris.
“I hired him,” Epstein boasted after losing to him.
Halm will compete in the main tournament starting next week after position players report on Sunday. David DeJesus is the defending champion.
Who's on third?
The opening day starter in 2012, Ian Stewart, showed up to camp on Friday followed by teammate Luis Valbuena on Saturday. Valbuena, according to manager Dale Sveum, filled in nicely for Stewart last season after the latter went down with a wrist injury. Stewart signed a one-year deal this past offseason and declared himself healthy for 2013.
Sveum was asked if third base was Stewart’s job to lose.
“It’s his job to win,” Sveum shot back.
The manager hasn’t been shy to outline what Stewart has to do to keep the job: produce.
Valbuena is happy to have a roster spot and played plenty of baseball over the winter but doesn’t feel like he can relax.
“I have to play hard,” Valbuena said on Saturday. “I have to have the start they want. I feel like I’m competing right now.”
Twenty year old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler put on another show in batting practice on Saturday. This time, it was on a diamond on which a home run to left field landed in the street.
“Cars are in jeopardy over there,” Sveum joked. “I’m just anxious to see him in games and see how it all plays out To where you can start putting a picture together.”
New Number for Sveum
“I’m not a big number guy,” Sveum said. “It [No. 4] was the first one available when I asked [equipment manager] Otis.”
Full Squad Reports
Position players are all due to report to spring training on Sunday, and Sveum says no one will be late. All are in town already.
Owner Tom Ricketts will address the team on Sunday, updating the players on renovation plans for Wrigley Field and progress on the new spring facility slated to open next year.
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com