2/28/2014 7:25 P.M. ET
Cunningham's socks keep teammates' feet happy
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- All Aaron Cunningham has to do is open his suitcase in the Cubs' clubhouse, and the players come -- for his socks.
Cunningham is a non-roster invitee on the Cubs, but the outfielder is also a market manager for Strideline, which makes colorful and apparently very comfortable crew socks.
It all started a couple of years ago when Cunningham saw the socks for sale during the holidays. He bought several pairs for family members, and decided to take it another step.
"I sent them an email, and said, 'Hey, I like the product. I'm a professional athlete. I can help you spread the word with all the ballplayers,'" Cunningham said Friday. "They approved it and made me a market manager, and I started giving them out to guys, and they started getting me involved, and now it's a new company."
What makes the socks unique is not that they were created by two college students, but how good they look and feel. The designs include city skylines, such as Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. There are also are pairs featuring the state of Texas and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Cunningham, 27, has a patriotic red, white and blue pair in his locker. Cubs pitcher Blake Parker likes a blue and white plaid pair that he sported Thursday in the first Cactus League game so much that he plans on wearing them every outing. That's because Parker retired all three batters he faced.
On Friday, lefty Zac Rosscup purchased two pairs with the Chicago skyline as soon as Cunningham opened his suitcase with the merchandise. They're in Cubs colors, but fans most likely won't see them because players wear their pants long and cover them up. However, there are some green, yellow and blue camouflage designs that guys may wear with street clothes, so fans may get a glimpse.
"I'll come in here with 100 socks, and they'll be gone in one day," Cunningham said.
The positive feedback is helping sales. Cunningham, who has worked with Strideline at AAU baseball tournaments, selling 300 pairs in a weekend, has sent sample pairs to other Major League teams in hopes that they'll be interested. Cubs clubhouse manager Tom Hellmann plans on stocking up. Who knows? Cunningham may be doing more than just distributing pairs in the Cubs clubhouse some time soon.
"Baseball doesn't last forever," Cunningham said.
Rusin, McDonald see areas to improve after first game
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Both Chris Rusin and James McDonald cruised through their first innings on Friday, but the second innings for each Cubs pitcher gave them something to work on, as the Cubs lost, 15-3, to the Angels.
Rusin started Friday against the Angels, and after a 1-2-3 first, he faced nine batters in the second and served up four runs on five hits.
"I felt good health-wise out there," Rusin said. "The first inning was obviously good. I felt my mechanics were a little off in the second inning. I felt I was pulling off, which caused the ball to be up and not move as much. Those are the balls they hammered. Other than that, I was pleased for the first outing, but obviously not with the runs."
About halfway through Rusin's second inning, Cubs catcher George Kottaras noticed that the lefty was falling off to the side. Rusin said he was able to concentrate on his command and mechanics for the last two batters and just needs to make the adjustment sooner in the future.
McDonald had a rougher second inning. The right-hander also retired all three batters he faced in his first inning, then couldn't get a hitter out in the fourth. He served up a leadoff homer to Chris Iannetta, and the Angels then loaded the bases on two walks and a single. Chicago athletic trainer PJ Mainville and pitching coach Chris Bosio went to the mound to check on McDonald, who stayed in the game and served up a grand slam to to Mike Trout on a 2-0 pitch.
"I was fine," McDonald said. "I threw too many pitches down in the bullpen. I threw a lot of pitches and felt good. I felt a little off, but overall, I'll take the first inning. The first inning was good, solid, I got the ball down. The second inning, I didn't get the ball down. I didn't get ahead of guys like I did in the first inning and that's what happens."
He admitted to feeling a little fatigue, and that his arm wasn't used to the rhythm of the game of throwing, sitting, then throwing again. McDonald was bothered by right shoulder problems last season while with the Pirates, but there were no issues on Friday.
Rusin has been the Cubs' consumate substitute pitcher, filling in after the Trade Deadline the last two seasons. This spring is a little different for the lefty, who knows the players better.
"Going out there and competing is not anything different and nothing new to me," Rusin said. "I just go out there and give it my all and am trying to make the team and we'll see what happens."
Bryant signals what's to come with monster homer
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was one inning in the Cubs' second Cactus League game, but Friday's seventh was a sign of things to come.
Kris Bryant belted a two-run homer in his first spring at-bat, driving in Albert Almora, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Cubs lost, 15-3, to the Angels.
All of the so-called core four -- Almora, Bryant, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez -- had at-bats in the seventh. Arismendy Alcantara, another highly touted prospect, popped up to lead off the inning, and then Almora, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2012, doubled. Soler struck out and Bryant followed with a lengthy at-bat that resulted in a 420-foot shot just left of the batter's eye off a 3-2 slider from the Angels' Jarrett Grube.
Brett Jackson, another Cubs' No. 1 pick, walked and Baez, a first-round selection in 2011, lined out sharply to third base to end the inning.
"It was kind of cool -- Albert got on with a double, Jorge, he had some good swings, and then I drove in Albert," Bryant said. "Hopefully, we can do that a lot in the future."
The Cubs certainly hope so.
Bryant's career has been on the fast track since the third baseman was selected second overall in last June's First-Year Player Draft. After he signed with the Cubs, Bryant played two games with the Rookie League team, then was bumped up to short-season Boise for 18 games. His debut there wasn't nearly as impressive, as he struck out in all five at-bats. But Bryant batted .354 and was promoted to Class A Advanced Daytona, where he hit .333 in 16 games with five home runs and five doubles, plus 14 RBIs.
And he wasn't done. The winner of the Golden Spikes Award as the top college baseball player of the year, Bryant, 22, played in the Arizona Fall League and batted .364 with six more home runs, eight doubles and 17 RBIs.
He may be familiar with playing in the desert, but this is his first big league camp, and the seventh inning was his first at-bat.
"I felt good up there. I was not nervous at all and saw a lot of pitches, which was good," Bryant said. "Home runs don't mean anything if you don't win the game, so that's a little disappointing. For myself, it was a good performance."
Cubs fans will see a lot of Bryant, Almora, Soler and Baez this spring as new manager Rick Renteria takes advantage of the Cactus League games to gauge the talent in the system. All are projected to open the season in the Minor Leagues. All have seemed very much at home in big league camp.
"It was a good first at-bat, and all the nerves are gone now," Bryant said.
How can he be so calm?
"It's just a game," he said. "You've got to go out there and have fun and don't put pressure on yourself and put a smile on your face and good things usually come from that."
It worked at San Diego, where he led the nation with 31 home runs.
"I've just been blessed with power," Bryant said. "I'm putting it to use. Hopefully, I can go out there tomorrow and give it all I've got and hopefully get a win."
• Darwin Barney has been working a lot with Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller and the lessons appear to be paying off. On Friday, the second baseman went 2-for-2 in his first spring game, hitting a solo home run in the fourth.
"I feel I can repeat what I'm doing up there and that's the goal," said Barney, who batted .208 last season. "It's Day 1 and it's a long spring ahead and a lot of work to be done."
Barney isn't being counted on to hit home runs -- he matched his career high last season with seven.
"I'm trying to stay short and hit line drives," he said. "My swing allowed me to do that and I'm happy about that. It's early, it's just one pitch. I've got a lot of work to do."
Bryant added a two-run homer for the Cubs, who lost, 15-3, to the Angels.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.