Chicago baseball report: Cubs get a spring surprise in Cody Bellinger — and new Sox broadcaster John Schriffen makes his debut

GLENDALE and MESA, Ariz. — The overnight delivery of news of the Cody Bellinger signing provided a nice wake-up call for Chicago Cubs fans Sunday morning, while White Sox fans got their first taste of new broadcaster John Schriffen over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the start of Cactus League play has brought thousands of baseball fans to the Valley in an annual rite of spring, though not every team is as successful as the Cubs are at filling the stadium. The Sox drew a small crowd of 5,364 to their home opener Saturday at Camelback Ranch, while the Cubs’ spring opener against the White Sox on Friday at Sloan Park pulled in 13,332. The Cubs’ 8-4 win over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday also drew 11,079 to Scottsdale Stadium.

Weekends are typically a big sell in the Cactus League, but unfortunately for the Sox, they have only two more Saturday home games (March 16 and 23) and no Sunday home games. The Cubs have three more Saturday home games (March 9, 16 and 23) and two Sunday home games (March 3 and 17).

Every Monday and Friday throughout the season, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Cubs and Sox.

State of the Cubs address

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts was available to the media at the start of full squad workouts, as he has done almost every non-pandemic season in his 15 years of ownership. Shouldn’t every team owner be made available at least once to give fans a glimpse of what they’re thinking?

“I don’t know what other owners do or don’t do,” Ricketts said. “But it’s been 15 years, and it’s gone by pretty fast. I don’t have any comment on what others do, but this has been a good experience for me and my family.”

This year’s “State of the Cubs” address was nothing extraordinary — the usual narrative about how President Jed Hoyer knows “you can only spend every dollar once, and you don’t want to have too many long-term contracts when you have a lot of young guys coming up through the minors.” It was far less contentious with the media than the early days when the Cubs were trying to get public funding for Wrigley Field improvements, or threatening to move their spring training complex to Naples, Fla.

“You guys remember those early days, we had all sorts of changes going on, all sorts of dramas,” Ricketts said. “Now it’s kind of in a groove. The park is fixed and everything is looking good. There’s a lot of stability with the management team. I’m less interesting than I was 15 years ago, so there’s actually not much to talk about.”

John Schriffen stands UP!

New White Sox broadcaster John Schriffen debuted on NBC Sports Chicago this weekend, and already seemed to have a catchphrase for Sox wins: “South Side, Stand UP!” At least that’s what he left us with in Saturday’s win over the Seattle Mariners on Edgar Quero’s walk-off, two-run single in the ninth. Too Gus Johnson-ish? Maybe, but it’s a long season, and Schriffen is just starting, so give him time before making any judgments.

He seemed comfortable with partner Steve Stone, and frequently fed Stone questions about things like his “favorite concert,” (Crosby, Still & Nash), which made Schriffen sound more like a facilitator than the lead announcer. Perhaps that will be the new norm, replacing the Jason Benetti/Stone quipfest that Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf reportedly didn’t enjoy hearing.

With mostly unknown faces playing in the early Cactus League game, Stone extolled the new clubhouse chemistry and general manager Chris Getz’s new hirings, saying improvement would be made while not predicting any miracles. Pedro Grifol’s “improved defense” narrative took a hit when the Sox threw the ball around like Little Leaguers in the later innings, but maybe a new star was born in Tim Elko, a Mississippi legend who just had a statue made of him at the university.

Overall, Schriffen passed the audition and was a “10” on the ebullience scale. The next Sox telecast on NBC Sports Chicago will be March 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Will they “stand UP!”

Week ahead: Cubs

  • Monday: at Royals, 2:05 p.m.

  • Tuesday: vs. Reds, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Wednesday: at Brewers, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Thursday: vs. Rockies, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Friday: vs. White Sox, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Saturday: at Dodgers, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Sunday: vs. Guardians, 2:05 p.m., Marquee

Photos: Inside Cubs spring training camp

Former Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell returns to the Maryvale area of Phoenix on Wednesday to face his old team for the first time. Will ex-Cub third baseman Kris Bryant return to Sloan Park on Thursday with the Colorado Rockies to play his former team? Bryant has played in only 122 games during his first two seasons in Colorado due to injuries and is likely to play first base, right field and DH in 2024.

“I show up here with full joy,” Bryant told “That’s something that in the past I’ve never really paid attention to. I just showed up and went about my business. But I’m trying to find that feeling, when you’re 5, 6, 7 years old, playing on the field.”

The Cubs rematch with the White Sox highlights the week’s slate on Friday at Sloan Park.

Week ahead: White Sox

  • Monday: vs. Rangers, 2:05 p.m.

  • Tuesday: at Dodgers, 2:05 p.m.,

  • Wednesday: vs. Padres, 2:05 p.m.

  • Thursday: vs. Royals, 2:05/at Mariners, 2:10 p.m.

  • Friday: at Cubs, 2:05 p.m.

  • Saturday: at Rangers, 2:05 p.m.

  • Sunday: at Angels, 2:10 p.m.

For non-roster invitees like Tim Elko, spring training provides opportunities. It didn’t take the right-handed hitter long to make an impression.

In his first at-bat this spring, the designated hitter homered to right field against Jordan Wicks in Friday’s 8-1 loss to the Cubs at Sloan Park.

“It was a surreal moment, something you dream about,” Elko said Saturday. “It was an awesome feeling.”

Elko, 25, nearly hit a second home run in the game, flying out to the wall in right-center in the seventh inning.

“I actually thought the second one, I felt I hit it a little better than the first one, but got a little held up by the wind,” Elko said.

He jokingly added, “Yeah, got to play the wind.”

A 10th-round pick in the 2022 draft out of Mississippi, Elko had a combined 28 home runs and 106 RBIs in 131 games for Class-A Kannapolis, Class-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham in 2023.

“I was pretty happy with most of the stuff I did and wanted to clean up some of the swing-and-miss and just try to control the zone a little bit better, swing at pitches that are good to hit,” he said. “Try to work on that a little bit more and perfecting my path and try to get ready to have an even better season this season.”

Photos: Inside White Sox spring training

Elko displayed plenty of power in college, helping Mississippi to the College World Series title in 2022. The school recently unveiled a statue of Elko.

“Just an amazing university and feel so special and honored for them to do that for me and for that national championship team,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Elko said he often works on hitting the ball the other way. He showcased it Friday.

“Here’s what I like about him: The fact that those balls he hit (Friday) were to right field, it’s really impressive to me,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “Pull-power hitters sometimes have a hard time in the big leagues. Guys that can hit the ball from line to line, those guys end up having a little bit of success.

“It’s very, very hard to pitch inside consistently. And if you have the ability, the strength, the approach to be able to do what he did (Friday), it’s a good recipe for the possibilities of him being a good power hitter.”

What we’re reading this morning


“I think basically that, uh, I really don’t have any comments. I don’t want to say anything about what the White Sox are doing.” — Tom Ricketts on the Sox seeking public funding for a South Loop ballpark