Notes: National pride fills camp

Notes: National pride fills camp

MESA, Ariz. -- If you listen very closely during the Chicago Cubs practices this spring, you'll hear Michael Barrett singing the national anthem.

Barrett is tuning up for the World Baseball Classic, and he started singing the anthem on Monday. Carlos Zambrano joined in but was singing the Venezuelan national anthem. Geovany Soto added a third voice -- but it was Puerto Rico's national anthem.

Barrett, one of three catchers on the Team USA roster, is very pumped at this opportunity.

"The cool thing about the whole thing is that [U.S. manager Buck Martinez] and [coach] John McLaren said they want to make sure it's as close to what we're doing right now in order to get ready for the season," Barrett said. "They don't want to take any chances of us not being ready for the season. This is something that will benefit everybody."

Barrett expects Jason Varitek to be the starting catcher on March 7 when the U.S. team opens at Chase Field against Mexico.

Barrett and teammate Derrek Lee, also on Team USA, will have their first workout on Friday.

"I'm looking at the rosters of Mexico and Canada and South Africa ... all I hear about Mexico is how good their pitching is and how good their defense is -- and that's what usually wins," Barrett said. "We can't look to the Dominican or Venezuela or anybody until we get past that first round. It's just not going to be an easy road. I don't want to be a disappointment at all. I don't want to participate in this thing and be out in the first round."

Barrett can tell how much Zambrano wants to win.

"Henry [Blanco] and Zambrano and I, we joke around a lot, but I can see in Zambrano's eyes how serious he is about this. It's like when he's starting, you can just see it right now. I know how serious he's going to be. I know where I am on it."

In 1994, Barrett played in the Junior Olympics and remembered the South Korean team sang its national anthem on the sidelines before its games.

"We sang the national anthem every day after that as loud as we could with as much tone as we could," Barrett said. "I'll be singing. I want them to hear. I've been practicing every day.

"I'm excited, too, from a historical standpoint," he said. "How many times will you hear the Venezuelan national anthem as a big league ballplayer? Or Japan or Korea? Just to experience the whole international mix will be exciting for me."

Opening day: Staying in Venezuela this offseason helped Zambrano.

Zambrano, projected as the Cubs Opening Day starter, will start Thursday's Cactus League opener against Oakland, pitching two to three innings, and then fly to Orlando, Fla., on Friday. He's expected to pitch March 7 for the Venezuelan team in the World Baseball Classic.

Zambrano won't start for Venezuela. Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said it was his understanding that the right-hander would follow countryman Johan Santana.

"It's a lot of travel for him," Rothschild said of Zambrano. "He's our Opening Day pitcher so there has to be some consideration there. The first time [in the World Baseball Classic] is not a problem. He'll get in a game and pitch on [March 7]. The second time, if he's not starting and getting extended a little bit, then there are some concerns."

The Classic will make it tough to keep Zambrano on schedule for the April 3 opener against Cincinnati. Zambrano, though, has no worries.

"So far, this Spring Training has been outstanding for me," he said. "It's a blessing from God. I'm ready for the season."

Zambrano, who looks slim and very fit, got a headstart by working out in Venezuela this winter.

"Last year, one of the mistakes I made was to stay in Chicago in the cold weather and I didn't have a chance to prepare myself and be ready for the season," he said. "This year was different. I said I can't make that mistake again. I stayed in Venezuela where it's nice and warm and practiced good and did my conditioning right and came to Spring Training, and so far it's been outstanding."

Zambrano made his first Opening Day start last year, although he did not get a decision in the 16-6 win over Arizona. He was ejected in that game for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Dale Scott. That's last year. Time for a new season.

"It's a privilege," Zambrano said about being named the Opening Day starter. "We still have four No. 1 starters. It's an honor to be the No. 1 starter on this team. Like I've said, it doesn't matter who starts the first game, it's about being together, being a team and supporting each other like we've been doing every year."

Pitching matchups: Greg Maddux also will start on Thursday but he'll be on a backfield at HoHoKam Park. In order to get Maddux on schedule, the right-hander will throw what Rothschild described as "exaggerated batting practice" so he can build up pitches before his first spring game.

"I don't want him following somebody in relief at this point in his career," Rothschild said. "He gets a lot out of stuff early."

The Cubs will move to HoHoKam Park after Tuesday's workout and on Wednesday, will play an intrasquad game around 12 p.m. Arizona time. Young pitchers Rich Hill and Angel Guzman will start for their respective teams. Also scheduled to pitch are Dave Aardsma, Todd Wellemeyer, Randy Wells, Sean Marshall and Bobby Brownlie.

Classic chance: While Barrett and Blanco play in the World Baseball Classic, catchers like Jake Fox, a third-round pick in the June 2003 First-Year Player Draft, will get some playing time with the big league team.

"It's going to be an excellent opportunity," Fox said Monday. "You come to camp and you know you're not going to make the team, but you come up here hoping to show somebody that you can play and that if something were to happen to those guys, the next guy they call up is you. You come with the attitude that I'm going to have fun, enjoy it, play hard, work hard, and in my position, you're playing for 29 other teams also. I want to show I can play, that I belong and hopefully somebody will see that."

Fox's mother, Polly, is responsible for him becoming a catcher.

"She coached my 10-year-old baseball team, and she's the one who first put me behind the plate and I've loved it," he said.

The team's catcher was hurt so Fox's mother threatened to ground her son if he didn't get behind the plate.

"She said, 'You get back there or you're going to be in trouble,'" he said. "I've been a catcher ever since. Thanks, mom."

Catching isn't exactly a glamorous position.

"Growing up, it's always the short, fat guy who can't do anything else [who is the catcher]," Fox said. "I am a short, fat guy but I've got more athleticism than most guys. You're always part of the action. I can't be an outfielder -- it's too boring. I like to be in the action, to be a part of everything. I like to work hard and show people I work hard."

Tickets: The Cubs announced that 597,571 tickets were sold last Friday, establishing franchise and Major League Baseball records for tickets sold in a single day.

Frank Maloney, director of ticket operations, said tickets are still available with more than 300,000 remaining for individual games this season. Seating capacity at Wrigley Field now is 41,118 after the bleacher expansion.

Fans who wish to purchase the premium Dugout Box Seats, Bleacher Box Seats and Bullpen Box Seats must register at on March 9-11, and winners will be announced on March 15.

Extra bases: Brian Boehringer, who recently signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs, is not far behind. "We're going to fit him in right away," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. ... Roberto Novoa and Scott Williamson were the only pitchers who faced hitters on Monday. ... Among the other pitchers who will go Thursday is Scott Eyre, who led the Majors and set a career high in appearances last season, getting in 86 games for the Giants. Eyre will pitch so Barrett and Blanco can see him before they leave to play in the World Baseball Classic. ... Monday was Day 132 without rain in the Valley of the Sun, but it is in the forecast for Tuesday.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.