Cubs hopefuls dream big

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Braden Looper went 14-7 with the Brewers in 2009, but sat out last season after not getting a contract to his liking. "(I have) a higher regard for my wife and my kids than to just drive them anywhere," said Looper, who lives in Chicago's south suburbs.

    Braden Looper went 14-7 with the Brewers in 2009, but sat out last season after not getting a contract to his liking. "(I have) a higher regard for my wife and my kids than to just drive them anywhere," said Looper, who lives in Chicago's south suburbs. Associated Press

  • This is a 2011 photo of Braden Looper of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This image reflects the Chicago Cubs active roster as of Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 when this image was taken.

    This is a 2011 photo of Braden Looper of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This image reflects the Chicago Cubs active roster as of Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 when this image was taken.

  • Bruce Miles/bmiles@dailyherald.com  He's been to plenty of spring trainings, and veteran Bobby Scales is all smiles as he gets down to work Saturday at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz.

    Bruce Miles/bmiles@dailyherald.com He's been to plenty of spring trainings, and veteran Bobby Scales is all smiles as he gets down to work Saturday at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz.

  • Bruce Miles/bmiles@dailyherald.com  Images from Cubs players and personnel at spring training in Mesa on Wednedsay. Augie Ojeda and Bobby Scales watch batting practice.

    Bruce Miles/bmiles@dailyherald.com Images from Cubs players and personnel at spring training in Mesa on Wednedsay. Augie Ojeda and Bobby Scales watch batting practice.

  • This is a 2011 photo of Todd Wellemeyer of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This image reflects the Chicago Cubs active roster as of Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 when this image was taken.

    This is a 2011 photo of Todd Wellemeyer of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This image reflects the Chicago Cubs active roster as of Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 when this image was taken.

  • St. Louis Cardinals' Todd Wellemeyer pitches against the New York Mets in the first inning of a MLB baseball game, Tuesday, July 1, 2008 in St. Louis.

    St. Louis Cardinals' Todd Wellemeyer pitches against the New York Mets in the first inning of a MLB baseball game, Tuesday, July 1, 2008 in St. Louis.

 
 
Updated 3/13/2011 10:05 AM

One player is getting a World Series ring even though he watched the Fall Classic from his couch last year.

Another sat out the entire 2010 season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yet another is back for his fourth spring with the Cubs at age 33 even though he knows he could start the season in the minors, where he has toiled for more than 1,200 games.

Each player is a veteran nonroster invitee, the guy who comes to spring training on a minor-league contract with no guarantees, only hope.

This year, the Cubs have an interesting crop of nonroster invitees in camp. Among the veterans are five players with past connections to the Cubs: outfielders Reed Johnson and Lou Montanez, infielders Scott Moore and Augie Ojeda, and pitcher Todd Wellemeyer.

In addition to Bobby Scales, the Cubs also welcomed back Angel Guzman, Bryan LaHair, Jim Adduci and Brad Snyder as nonroster invitees.

It's not necessarily a coincidence so many of these players have past ties to the Cubs.

"Obviously, some of the positions we thought might be up in the air or we need some competition at, familiarity helped," said general manager Jim Hendry. "Who wouldn't want to bring Reed or Augie on minor-league deals?

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"Anytime you can bring in a lot of high-quality guys in at the positions that might still be open, that's what we tried to do."

Every nonroster veteran has a story to tell. Here are few from Cubs camp.

Getting a ring:

Asked what brings him back, Todd Wellemeyer says: "Fate. No, I don't know, man. There were a few teams in the mix, and the Cubs were one of them. So why not come back to a place where I know half the people?"

Wellemeyer pitched for the Cubs from 2003-05. He earned a save in his big-league debut in '03, striking out the side in a 17-inning game at Milwaukee. He became the first Cub to earn a save in his debut.

Near the end of spring training in 2006, the Cubs traded Wellemeyer to the Marlins. He spent time with the Royals before finding success in St. Louis, going 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts in 2008.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was awesome," he said. "I love Tony (Cards manager La Russa). That whole organization is top notch. They work hard. They really work hard in every aspect. I learned a lot from them. They gave me an opportunity to start, and it turned my career around."

Wellemeyer tore his quadriceps last year while with the world-champion Giants, with whom he went 3-5 with a 5.68 ERA.

"I had a great spring training with them," he said. "I made the rotation. I had about 12 starts. I was just about to get into a good groove, and that's when I tore the quad. Then I was basically out for the rest of the year. So I watched the World Series from my couch."

Now back with the Cubs, he has a new outlook.

"I'm working with a guy outside the organization," he said. "It's kind of like how every pro golfer has a mental approach. Pitching is pretty much the same kind of thing. It's very similar to a golf swing because you're in your own thoughts the whole time, and you're the one propelling the ball.

"It gives me a little bit different perspective on the game. It gives me a different perspective on basic mechanics. We'll see how it goes. If it doesn't work, it will at least work for my golf game."

The teacher:

Bobby Scales has spent some off-seasons as a teacher. That's why it's not surprising to see him enthusiastically working with prospects at Class AAA Iowa, where has logged time every year since 2008.

"I don't see value in not trying to help people," said the 33-year-old Scales, who made his big-league debut with the Cubs in 2009 after 11-plus seasons in the minors. "Some guys might feel, 'He might take my job; why would I help him out?' To me, that's just selfish. I feel if I can help guys be better, it's almost my responsibility to do so.

"I had some older guys that I was battling with when I first got to Triple-A with San Diego that helped me. I think you get rewarded for it somewhere along the line if you do stuff like that. That's not why I do it. I just feel it's the right thing to do."

The Cubs would like Scales to stay in the game when his playing days are done, but he's not looking that far ahead.

"Honestly, I feel like I can still play," he said. "I'm a player, and I want to play. I don't want to necessarily talk about after the game right now. I'm not 43. I'm 33. Guys still play for a long time into their 30s. I really believe I can help a big-league team win."

The Little League coach:

After going 14-7 with a 5.22 ERA for the Brewers in 2009, Braden Looper sat out the 2010 season because he didn't get a contract to his liking.

The 36-year-old lives in Chicago's south suburbs, and he spent last summer coaching his kids in Little League and attending a couple of White Sox games as a spectator. "It was hard because I won 14 games, but I had a torn meniscus I dealt with that whole season," he said. "That was tough. It wasn't the best year possible, but I felt like I got through it. I felt like I should have got a job pretty much where I wanted.

"Yeah, it was a little bitter. I'm a guy like, 'I'm not going to just go anywhere.' I'm not going to play just to play. I have, I don't know if morals is the right word, but a higher regard for my wife and my kids than to just drag them anywhere. So I just stayed home."

Looper was with the Cardinals system when pitching coach Mark Riggins was there. Riggins now is the Cubs' big-league pitching coach.

If all goes well, Looper could snag a spot as the Cubs' fifth starter or as a long man out of the bullpen.

The homecoming kid:

Hendry's last No. 1 draft choice as the Cubs' scouting director was a shortstop out of Florida named Luis Montanez. That was in 2000.

Montanez never made it to the big leagues with the Cubs. He left as a minor-league free agent in November 2006, signing with Baltimore. He switched to the outfield and now goes by "Lou."

After 93 games with the Orioles, Montanez wants to come full circle.

"Once I left (the Cubs), I left on good terms," said Montanez, now 29. "I only had positive things to speak about the organization. This off-season, when I was looking at all the other teams, I didn't want to bounce from team to team. I liked the familiarity, and there are so many people I still know from here. It was a perfect fit.

"To get to the big leagues is not an easy thing -- 99.9 percent of the people don't get there. So it was not that I wasn't successful. I had a lot of successful years in the minor leagues. It's just that the opportunity wasn't there in the big leagues. It's not necessarily that it didn't work out. The opportunity wasn't there. Maybe it will be there this year."

Montanez has a hitting line of .223/.257/.323 with 4 homers in his brief major-league career. He says he's happier as an outfielder.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I've always said that it fits my personality a little bit better. I'm more of a laid-back kind of guy. In the infield, you've got to be more of a different personality. I'm more laid-back. I like things to come to me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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