Former RiverHawk James in Cubs’ spring camp
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March 31, 2010 - LOVES PARK, Ill. – Attentive Rockford RiverHawks fans noted that few hitters that came into Road Ranger Stadium could belt the fastball like Jason James, who broke most of the team’s all-time hitting records before he signed with the Chicago Cubs last fall. Ironically, James’ only strikeout this spring in the Cubs’ spring camp came when, by all rights, he should have seen fastball after fastball.

In an intrasquad at-bat against Jeff Samardzija, James says he went ahead in the count, two balls and a strike. The right-handed Samardzija then pitched four straight changeups to strike out the lefty James.

Despite that, the outfielder says, the transition from independent to affiliated baseball – sometimes facing highly touted bonus babies – hasn’t meant a huge adjustment.

“The pitching you could say is a little better,” James says. “The pitchers really keep it down. Unlike indy ball, the fastballs are pretty much down in the zone. The breaking stuff isn’t as tough as you would think.”

James signed with the Cubs last September after he hit a team-record .374 – with a league-record 40-game hitting streak along the way – to win the Frontier League batting title. James also hit a career-high 14 home runs and was named to Baseball America magazine’s All-Independent Leagues first team. James holds eight different RiverHawks career marks – including all three Triple Crown categories – and two single-season team records.

On March 21, James, who had played every day with the Cubs’ Class AA team, became the first former RiverHawk to get into a major-league spring-training game. James says one of the minor-league hitting instructors was the first to let him know he would be getting the call up for an exhibition against the Cincinnati Reds.

“It was cool,” James says. “Some of the other guys get called up almost every day. I was just hoping I would get an at-bat.”

James pinch-hit for starting pitcher Carlos Silva in the third inning. James grounded out on a first-pitch fastball from Reds starter Justin Lehr.

“It was good to be around the big-league guys,” James says. “Most of the guys are real outgoing.”

Few of them played, because it was a Sunday afternoon game.

Although minor-league camp in Mesa didn’t open until March, James has been in Arizona since Feb. 22.

“I was in Rockford,” James says. “You saw the weather there.”

A typical day starts with an arrival no later than 7:15 a.m. at Fitch Park, the team’s minor-league complex. The minor-league exhibitions are typically played at 1 p.m. Thanks to the scheduling difficulties caused by an odd number of organizations training in Arizona, sometimes James’ Tennessee Smokies play other big-league organization’s Double-A farm clubs and sometimes they face the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

In addition to plenty of extra hitting and fielding work, James also says he spends more time working out than ever before. If the game is at home, James doesn’t leave the complex until 4 p.m.

“I’m in better shape,” James said. “The days are so long, you wouldn’t understand.”

The RiverHawks are members of the Northern League, an eight-team independent professional baseball league that will play its 18th season in 2010. The RiverHawks’ ninth season begins at 7:05 p.m. May 20 against the Schaumburg Flyers at Road Ranger Stadium. Advertising and ticket information is available by calling (815) 885-2255. Games are broadcast live on ESPN 1380 (WTJK-AM) and on ESPN1380.com. Fans can also visit the RiverHawks online at www.rockfordriverhawks.com.


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