The Milwaukee Brewers are always close in proximity to the Cubs.
During the regular season, fans can make the 90-mile trek to Miller Park. In spring training, the two clubs are even closer as it's about a half-hour drive from the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz., to the Brewers' Maryvale park on the west side of Phoenix.
The Brewers may not have the most ex-Cubs at spring training, but they've got some of the most interesting stories on our first ex-Cubs watch of the 2014 season, and they deal with former Cubs of recent vintage as well as one from a decade ago.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who slugged for the Cubs from the middle of the 2003 season through 2011, is off to a slow start in Brewers camp after he had a precautionary colonoscopy, which revealed a large polyp. It was removed before it could become cancerous.
Ramirez's father died of colon cancer at age 61.
"I just wanted to do it because my dad died of colon cancer," Ramirez told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I wanted to get checked out because usually it's a family thing. Sure enough, I didn't have cancer, but I had a polyp. I have to get checked out every year again, and we'll go from there."
In his parts of nine seasons with the Cubs, Ramirez hit 239 home runs while posting an OPS of .887.
On a lighter note -- and it always seems lighter when pitcher Matt Garza is involved -- the Brewers have welcomed the volatile former Cubs pitcher into camp following his signing as a free agent.
"He's not a guy that comes into a new organization and just sits quietly and watches," manager Ron Roenicke told the media. "His personality -- he's just all over the place.
"He's vocal; he's laughing. What I like about it is he really works hard. I think that's a great combination to have. You have fun when you need to but when you need to bear down, he can bear down. He really prepares well. On game day, you won't see him like that (goofing around).
"I think it's good to have personalities on a team. It's good to have characters on a team. And he's a guy I think will fit in and really help us with his personality."
The Brewers have hired former major-league catcher Damian Miller as a special spring-training instructor.
Miller was the Cubs' starting catcher for most of the 2003 season, when they came within five outs of going to the World Series before falling to the Marlins in the NLCS. He is a native of La Crosse, Wis.
"He's going help out with some catching here, but he's going to do some stuff in the minor leagues, also," Roenicke said.
Miller played for Oakland in 2004 and for the Brewers from 2005-07.
The announcement that former Cubs ace Ryan Dempster would not play in 2014 caught many by surprise. Dempster, who was part of the Red Sox' world-championship team last year, said he would not play this coming season because of health and family reasons.
In nine years with the Cubs, as both a starting pitcher and closer, Dempster went 67-66 with 87 saves. For the Red Sox last year, he was 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA.
Throughout his career, he has been known as a strong clubhouse presence and a fun-loving guy.
"I think everyone felt as soon as he walked in the door last winter, and spring training, you just felt like you knew him for a long time," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told the local media, adding that Dempster helped to loosen up the clubhouse. "We were collectively trying to find a way to have fun playing baseball again, and we knew enough about Ryan to know that, in addition to what he did on the mound, he might help us do that. And sure enough, he did.
"I wish you could have been privy to some of the stuff that happened off the field, in the clubhouse, on the plane, buses and all that stuff. He's a great pitcher -- I don't want to take away from that -- but he also has a great instinct for when the air needs to come out of the balloon for a team, and he always picked the right moment to do it.
"He's good for the young guys. Every young guy should be able to spend a season with Ryan Dempster."
Colvin lands with Giants:
Outfielder Tyler Colvin, the Cubs' first-round draft choice in 2006, signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants, who invited him to big-league camp as a nonroster man.
He hit 20 homers and had an OPS of .816 for the Cubs in 2010 after making the team with a big spring training.
A punctured lung, suffered when he was hit by a piece of a broken bat, ended that season in mid-September, and Colvin had a tough year in 2011 before the Cubs dealt him to the Rockies. In parts of two seasons in Colorado, he had a line of .271/.307/.493 with 21 homers and 82 RBI in 163 games.
"I've always liked his bat and the pop from it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the San Francisco media. "He's an experienced player with a good bat. We're glad to have him here to give us some depth. He'll be in the mix."
The Giants' website reports Colvin will wear No. 88 in spring training. High numbers are usually assigned to very young prospects and players with little chance of making the team. Colvin will wear 88 as a reminder of what he has to do.
"It definitely gives me something to work for," he told the site. "Being No. 88 in camp is motivation to make the team and not (just) get noticed, but get back to where I was."