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Cubs prepare for bunting madness

Kerry Wood is No. 2 seed Dale Sveum’s bunting tournament bracket. Competitibegins Thursday.  |  Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Kerry Wood is a No. 2 seed in Dale Sveum’s bunting tournament bracket. Competition begins Thursday. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 24, 2012 9:08AM



MESA, Ariz. — The bunts, for the most part, are getting down, but the garbage is flying high as the Cubs’ biggest spring-training contest since Cubs Idol a couple years ago gets under way Thursday.

‘‘It’s going to be fun because you’re going to have to take into consideration all the trash talking that’s going to go on during it,’’ outfielder Tony Campana said of the inaugural NCAA-bracket-style bunting tournament that includes a first-round matchup of Campana and catcher Steve Clevenger.

Campana barely got the words out Wednesday before potential weekend opponent Bryan LaHair walked past and said, ‘‘You’re not getting out of the second round.’’

Clearly, the trash talking was at full throttle as soon as the 64-man bracket — pitchers on one side, non-pitchers on the other — was posted in the hallway outside the Fitch Park weight room.

‘‘There’s already money getting thrown around for it,’’ said Campana, who claims he can’t find anyone to bet against him after he ranked fifth in the National League with eight bunt hits last year. ‘‘I guess that means they’re scared.’’

That’s when catcher Blake Lalli piped in: ‘‘You’re just a bad bunter with a lot of speed.’’

Manager Dale Sveum probably couldn’t have scripted it any better when he devised the tournament format as a way of getting a higher level of focus and emphasis out of what’s typically a mundane, half-hearted part of spring drills.

Players get points for dropping bunts in four squares down each baseline, plus an area in front of the plate. There also are 100-point circles between each corner base and the mound.

‘‘It’ll get fun especially as it goes on, when we get to the Sweet 16,’’ said Sveum, who said he always had the idea in the back of his mind for the day he became a manager. He held similar contests after practices when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization a decade ago.

What he didn’t count on was having to fill out the field with himself (seeded 15th, opposite No. 2 seed Kerry Wood in the first round) and strength coach Tim Buss (taking departed Chris Carpenter’s No. 3 seed).

‘‘We were out here [Tuesday afternoon] practicing,’’ he said.

The seeding appears to have nothing to do with perceived ability and only partly to do with the big-league seniority it’s said to be based on.

‘‘I have no idea,’’ Wood said of how he got his No. 2 seed.

Whether it says anything about what the coaching staff thinks of the team’s power hitting, it’s the most conspicuous example of Sveum’s emphasis on fundamentals.

‘‘It’s funny because you never see anybody practice bunting, and now you get over here and there’s all kinds of people out there practicing to see how easy or hard it is to get bunts down,’’ Campana said. ‘‘It does have a purpose.’’

Now if he can just get somebody to take that bet.



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