When we saw how devastated Mark DeRosa was after the Cubs got swept out of the playoffs last year, we knew he had a big heart. Turns out he has a fast heart, too. That's not to make light of a serious situation - at least no more than DeRosa did.
When we saw how devastated Mark DeRosa was after the Cubs got swept out of the playoffs last year, we knew he had a big heart. Turns out he has a fast heart, too.
That's not to make light of a serious situation - at least no more than DeRosa did.
"It's called something crazy like paroxysmal atrial tachycardia," the second baseman said Monday. "It's all big words meaning, 'My heart beats fast at times.'"
DeRosa returned to Chicago and planned to celebrate his 33rd birthday today at a cardiologist's office, where he was to assess the best way to deal with a condition he's had for half his life. The options: medication or a common outpatient procedure.
It's human nature to hear the words "heart problem" and fear the worst. DeRosa's message: Don't! This condition afflicts millions of people - including many professional athletes - and isn't life-threatening.
"It's a big deal ... but it's not a big deal," said DeRosa, a valuable contributor in last season's division-title drive. "I expect to be out on the field running around by Monday (March 3)."
One of the game's real good guys and an intense competitor, he hated leaving camp. He knows baseball doesn't stop (or even pause) for one ailing player. He also knows this is bound to ramp up discussion of the oft-rumored trade for Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts.
After mentioning DeRosa possibly "falling behind," manager Lou Piniella immediately realized how that sounded and said: "Believe me, I'm not concerned about the falling behind. Let's just get him well and forget baseball for a while. He's got plenty of time to make up ground."
DeRosa has felt heart "flutters" during games, on the golf course and when he's being a couch potato. By using special breathing techniques, he usually gets his heart beating at a normal speed. Saturday, he felt flutters during drills, couldn't stop them and ended up at a hospital.
"It started to get uncomfortable," he said. "I don't think I was scared. The looks on everyone's faces make you nervous. And when the paramedics are called, I tried to talk my way out of that because I knew how that would be perceived ... but I understand the ramifications if something were to go wrong."
Of the possible treatments, DeRosa said: "I don't want to be on medication for the rest of my life if there's a procedure I can do. It's something I don't want to deal with anymore."
When he finished talking with me and a few other reporters before heading to the airport Monday, there were handshakes and good-luck wishes. There wasn't even a trace of sadness in his voice or concern on his face.
Mark DeRosa will be back soon, hopefully better than ever.
With my time in Arizona nearing an end, here are updates on a few other Cubs:
Mike Fontenot: From June 17-30, he batted .420. And that followed a three-game stretch in which he had the big RBI each day. He was so hot - and so instrumental in the Cubs turning around their season - that Piniella batted Fontenot between Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee.
Not bad for a 5-foot-8, 160-pound, 27-year-old who didn't start last season on the 40-man roster.
Then the clock struck midnight and Mike Fontenot turned back into Mike Fontenot, a career minor-leaguer most notable for being the throw-in to the 2005 Sammy Sosa trade. After batting .211 in July and .208 in August, he hardly played.
"Now I'm just trying to make the team," Fontenot said. "That's baseball. Tough game."
When Ryan Theriot slumped in June, Piniella gave Fontenot a two-game trial at shortstop. After a comedy of errors, Lou declared second base Fontenot's one and only position. That works against him because teams want versatile utility infielders. His competition - Ronny Cedeno and Alex Cintron - play second, short, third and even some outfield.
Jason Marquis: Jon Lieber is almost a lock for one of the two rotation openings, and Ryan Dempster has looked great in camp. That makes Marquis, who is due some $16 million over the final two years of his contract, available in trade.
Marquis is durable and has some talent. But as his focus wanders, his pitches rise, he gets pounded and he loses confidence. His team then loses confidence in him; one year after the Cardinals dropped him from their postseason roster, the Cubs banished him to the bullpen for the playoffs.
The Cubs probably would have to pay millions to dump Marquis on another team.
Sam Fuld: Center field is the only position that isn't set. The Cubs hope forever-prospect Felix Pie wins the job, but the bite-sized Fuld isn't making the choice a slam dunk.
"He doesn't catch your eye in one day, but the more you watch him he impresses you," Piniella said. "He's an athlete. He's got really good actions in the outfield. And he plays a small-man's game with the bat: hits the ball all over, puts it in play, keeps it on the ground. He's gonna compete."
Neal Cotts: The former White Sox reliever is making a strong comeback after disappointing the Cubs and spending most of 2007 in the minors. Unsolicited, Piniella offered this Monday:
"What I was pleased about today was Neal Cotts really threw the ball well. We're looking for another left-hander in the bullpen ... and there's nothing better than to see a young man like Cotts come in here and take a job."
Jeff Samardzija: No matter how he pitches in exhibition games, the former football star won't go north with the Cubs. Eyeing a pennant run, Piniella is committed to veteran starters.
"We like (Sean Gallagher) and Samardzija," the manager said. "This is not the spring for them. I'd be lying if I said" they could make the team.
A former All-American receiver at Notre Dame, Samardzija teamed with Brady Quinn to form one of the best passing combinations in recent college football history. Still, he chose the slow MLB road over sure NFL riches because baseball is his passion.
"I even love shagging flies in the outfield," he said. "Kind of sick and twisted, huh?"
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.