Cubs are big fans of new Spring Training facility

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs drew a Cactus League-record crowd of 14,486 on Thursday when they christened their new spring stadium, Cubs Park.

The crowd topped the old Cactus League single-game attendance mark of 13,721, set last March 23 in Glendale between the White Sox and Dodgers.

"The park is beautiful," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team lost the debut game, 5-2, to the D-backs. "They saw their Cubbies back in action."

The fans made themselves heard.

"I don't really take a panoramic view of everything -- and when I played, I never looked in the stands -- but I could hear them, I heard the buzz, which was nice," Renteria said.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith saluted the citizens of Mesa, who voted to approve the $84 million project on the site of the former Riverview Golf Course. While campaigning for the project, Smith said he was amazed at how many Arizona residents "bleed Cubbie blue."

Asked to describe the new stadium, Smith said: "Wow."

This is the Cubs' 36th consecutive spring in Mesa, the longest active streak in the Cactus League. It's the first at Cubs Park after 17 years at HoHoKam Stadium, which the Athletics will take over in 2015.

"I have no complaints about the field," Cubs outfielder Brett Jackson said.

Young third baseman Christian Villanueva liked the new park immediately. He hit a home run in the intrasquad game on Wednesday.

"It's awesome," Villanueva said.

"It's a big difference from HoHoKam," outfielder Darnell McDonald said.

There is a clock on top of the video scoreboard that's a replica of the one at Wrigley Field. McDonald suggested they add a scoreboard like the one at Wrigley as well. Plus, Cubs Park needs ivy, he said.

"That's a staple," McDonald said.

Renteria anticipates variables to new replay system

Renteria excited to manage a youthful Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. -- The new instant-replay system in baseball will still likely result in some disagreements this season.

Asked if managers will still be ejected even with the addition of the review system, in which managers can throw flags to challenge a call, the Cubs' Rick Renteria said, "Absolutely."

"I don't think [ejections] are going to stop," Renteria said Thursday. "There are so many other things that you can still go out and argue. They'll see the video, whether it's conclusive or inconclusive, and there's nothing more you can do. There are other things -- you can still complain about balls and strikes. There are various things that you can still do that will probably get you ejected."

Teams will have seven or eight games this spring to test the challenge system.

"If my eyes tell me I should challenge something, I'm going to challenge," Renteria said. "It's not necessarily that I'm going to take every opportunity to challenge every single play because I can."

He's hoping managers avoid frivolous challenges on calls, saying there should "be a purpose."

Of course, managers may argue, then challenge.

"You can discuss," Renteria said. "I'm assuming any umpire at any particular point, once he gets tired of you lipping off, he can ask you to go challenge or go sit down. Those are things that I think are organic and developing and that everyone will have to develop a feel for."

The Cubs also are still determining whether they'll designate someone to monitor the game and provide Renteria feedback as to whether to challenge a call.

"The whole point is to try to get a call right and hopefully not delay the game," Renteria said. "Everybody talks about the delay-of-game aspect, and there are many things that delay a game. We can be ready to go and we're still off camera, and they say, 'OK, wait a minute, five more seconds.'"

McDonald ready for first exhibition action

ATL@PIT: McDonald mows down nine Braves in six frames

MESA, Ariz. -- After battling shoulder issues last season, James McDonald is very eager to take the mound on Friday.

McDonald, limited to six games with the Pirates because of injuries in 2013, will follow Chris Rusin on Friday when the Cubs face the Angels in Tempe.

"[I'm looking forward to] looking at another guy in another jersey," McDonald said about being in a game rather than practice. "I'm trying to stay focused and take the things I've been working on in the bullpen, make it translate into the game. That's my biggest focus."

McDonald was disappointed in last season and spent the winter at Pro Advantage Training in Gilbert, Ariz., where the emphasis was on building up strength in his shoulder.

Right now, he's healthy -- and he knocked on the wooden support of his locker cubicle for emphasis.

"I'm taking little steps to become a better pitcher," McDonald said. "Once I get on the field, get flowing pretty good, I just want to go out there and pitch."

Parker is perfect in Cactus League debut

PHI@CHC: Parker chases down a popup in foul territory

MESA, Ariz. -- Blake Parker, coming off a season in which he appeared in a career-high 49 games, was the only Cubs pitcher to retire all three batters he faced in his one inning on Thursday in the Cactus League opener, a 5-2 loss to the D-backs. The right-hander came into camp knowing he's starting fresh.

"Every year you've got something to prove," Parker said. "If you're getting paid or not, you want to show them you worked hard in the offseason to be ready to pitch at any time."

Manager Rick Renteria is sorting out the options for the bullpen. Parker knows that.

"You want to show these guys that you're ready to play, whether it's these guys or somebody else watching in the stands," Parker said. "It's just imperative to get ready for the season."

Extra bases

• Emilio Bonifacio did exactly what the Cubs want from a leadoff man in his first at-bat Thursday when he tripled. Renteria said he considers Bonifacio to be similar to Chone Figgins, a veteran in Dodgers camp who can play second, third, short and the outfield.

"He's a guy who puts it on the ground and if he gets it through someplace, he's got a chance to go like he did there, all the way to third base," Renteria said of Bonifacio. "Those are some of the things he brings to the table."

Renteria said Darwin Barney is the starting second baseman but expect to see Bonifacio get some playing time there.

Kyuji Fujikawa, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last June, threw 25 pitches off the mound for the second time this spring on Thursday, and is continuing to make progress. The Cubs hope the right-hander can pitch sometime this season.

• Catcher John Baker livened up Thursday's team meeting by playing a song on his guitar that was a variation on Eddie Vedder's "(Someday We'll Go) All the Way."

"I wrote a song about what it means to be a Cub," said Baker, who got an assist on the lyrics from Barney, Kyle Hendricks, Eric Jokisch, Brett Jackson and strength coach Tim Buss.

"Ricky likes to have people do things that make it a little more fun," Baker said of Renteria.

The lyrics were tweaked so that they were from a player's perspective, and ended with "This year, we'll go all the way."

• Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo will host his second "Cook-Off for Cancer" on May 16 in Chicago. The event, which features celebrity chefs, will be held at Revel Downtown.