Happy Monday, friends.
What a week (and, really, what a month) it was. There’s a whole lot to get into this Monday, and of course, I’ll be starting things off with the Field of Dreams game. That was an awesome event that made three-hour trip straight to the field in the morning and the three-hour trip straight home at night worth it.
Beyond that, the Cubs made some notable roster moves in the week, and I wanted to take a bit of a closer look at them. And in addition, a Rays pitcher nearly accomplished a feat that no pitcher in the long history of the Cubs ever has, and it was pretty fascinating to take a closer look at the time a Cubs pitcher came oh-so-close to doing it.
I’ll get into more of that below, so let’s go. Here are your Monday morning Cubs thoughts.
If you would’ve told me on Aug. 12, 2021, that 364 days later I’d be in Dyersville, Iowa, watching the Cubs and Reds battle in the Field of Dreams game, 500 feet away from where they shot the 1989 film, I wouldn’t have believed you.
That night, I was covering a 12-3 Reds win over the Braves remotely from my living room. The game ended in just enough time for me to head over to my couch and turn on the Field of Dreams game between the White Sox and Yankees. I got to see Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton’s two-out, two-run home runs to put New York ahead in the top of the ninth. I got to see Tim Anderson walk it off with a two-run blast of his own in the bottom of the ninth. I got to witness the whole spectacle of what was one of the best events I’ve ever seen put on by Major League Baseball. If you told me then that I’d get to experience that in-person just under a year later, you know what I would’ve said? No chance.
But lo and behold, that happened. I got to see just how awesome it can be to watch teams play in a small town in Iowa surrounded by cornfields as far as the eye can see. I got to reenact the iconic “emerging from the corn” scene from the movie. I got to meet Carlos Zambrano and chat with him near the end of the Cubs’ dugout. Hell, I even got to “have a catch.”
Here are just a few of the things I captured from the lens of my going-on-3-year-old iPhone:
None of this would’ve been possible without this job, a job I still feel more and more thankful for every single day. It wouldn’t have been possible without the head honchos calling me the week before the Super Bowl and taking a shot on a young reporter with zero experience as a full-time beat writer. It wouldn’t have been possible without all of those who’ve guided me and stuck their necks out for me along the way, when even I didn’t know if I was ready to take on the challenge.
Things have changed so much for me (for the better) over the last year, and even though this job can sometimes feel like a grind, the opportunities to do things like cover the Field of Dreams game put everything into perspective for me. I’m lucky enough to say I do this for a living. I never thought a year ago that I’d be where I am now. I really do feel blessed.
I guess one of the things we didn’t consider throughout the trade deadline speculation surrounding the Cubs was that anyone who got dealt would’ve missed the opportunity of a lifetime.
Not that any of them would exchange a shot at making a World Series run with getting to play in the Field of Dreams game, but it’s certainly a game that everyone looked forward to after seeing last year’s contest. It’s a game that — if MLB spreads future events out a certain amount of years or tries to get every team to Dyersville at some point before offering repeat invites — those players may never have gotten the chance to play in for the rest of their careers. Even though it wasn’t on Willson Contreras or Ian Happ’s minds immediately after the trade deadline passed, it’s something they eventually realized and was just another reason why they were happy to stay with the Cubs.
Both of them talked about just that pregame while standings in the outfield of the movie site on Thursday. Contreras said he didn’t think about it right away, but once he did, he made sure to make arrangements to get his family out to Dyersville. Happ said he was “thrilled” when the realization that he would get to make the trip popped in his head.
I’ve spoken to both Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer about the disappointment of getting traded last year, not just because they were leaving the team they came up with, but also because they missed out on getting to go to the Field of Dreams just 13 days later. I know it’s a game that doesn’t mean more than any other in terms of wins and losses, but when you get the opportunity to go there and experience an event unlike any other in baseball, it’s something these guys care about. I was honestly glad to see some of the players who could’ve been traded instead get to take part in that game. Regardless of what the future holds, that likely once-in-a-career experience is something they’re always going to remember.
Now that the Cubs are past the Field of Dreams, they get to look forward to going across the pond and playing a two-game set against the Cardinals next June.
The Cubs have a great following out in the UK — we even have a few fans who are part of our core group of viewers on the CHGO Cubs shows — so after the planned series in 2020 was canned because of the pandemic, picking them as one of the teams for the 2023 London Series was a no-brainer. It’ll be a welcome trip for the members of those teams, too. Plenty of players and coaches have expressed that the regular MLB season can become monotonous, so getting to partake in events out of the norm are a nice break in the cycle.
The question, then, becomes: Where should MLB play ball next?
That question was posed throughout the week, and players, coaches and even the team president provided ideas. Here’s what some of them had to say:
- President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer liked the idea of playing “a real major league game” in the Dominican Republic. A huge percentage of major league players are Dominican, so that’s an obvious reason for wanting to play in the country. Plus, MLB already had a 2020 spring training game played there (prior to the shutdown) between the Twins and the Tigers. If there’s one international location with a population who craves baseball most, the Dominican Republic is it.
- Though MLB games have been played in Japan as recently as 2019 and in Australia in 2014, Cubs manager David Ross said those are both places where he’d like to experience a regular-season game.
- As far as the continental U.S. goes, Happ mentioned going to Brooklyn and celebrating the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Both Happ and Marcus Stroman also talked about doing things with inner-city communities, and a specific idea for an event from Stroman would play off the 2001 film “Hardball” about a Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago.
Personally, I think playing games in Mexico City is a great idea, and as The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported back in March, that’s supposed to happen sometime in May in each of the next four seasons.
MLB hasn’t had a regular-season game in Mexico since 2019 and never in Mexico City (an April 2020 series between the Diamondbacks and Padres was canceled because of the pandemic). Baseball isn’t the most popular sport in the country, but it certainly has a following. I think playing in the capital of Mexico is an awesome way to help continue growing the game there.
The Cubs are hoping that a change of scenery is all that’s needed to help Franmil Reyes get back to the slugger he used to be.
First of all, let me tell you this: the guy is gigantic. He’s listed at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds on his MLB.com profile. I think that could be underselling it a bit. I walked into the clubhouse last Tuesday and was stunned at just how massive of a human being he is, and then as I watched him take batting practice for the first time, the reputation as a power hitter made all the sense in the world. He has the kind of power that you just can’t teach. He hit 30 home runs last season and blasted 37 two seasons before. His slugging percentage exceeded .500 both of those years, and in his rookie season in 2018, he was just .002 away from hitting that mark, too.
I was surprised to see him get designated for assignment by the Guardians a week ago, because he is that type of dangerous hitter who can put a charge in his team with one swing of the bat. But when I took a look at the numbers, I could somewhat see why. His standard and advanced stats were at career-worsts basically across the board.
At the same time, it made perfect sense why the Cubs would give him a two-month try out. Again, he’s got an enticing amount of power, the kind of power the Cubs don’t really have throughout the lineup. His average exit velocity (92.4 mph) and hard-hit rate (47.7 percent) entering Monday are right around where they’ve sat in his best seasons. There’s every reason to believe that slugger is still in there, and maybe a change of scenery — and reuniting him with bench coach Andy Green and assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington, who were his manager and hitting coach, respectively, in San Diego early in his career — can help unlock that again.
I didn’t really understand people questioning why the Cubs would make this move. Considering the only thing the Cubs gave up to get him is the $1.45 million left to pay him this year (per Spotrac), it was a very low-risk move. He is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons, so if he turns things around quickly over the last few weeks of the season, the Cubs could certainly decide to tender him a contract heading into 2023. And if he doesn’t, well, we’ve seen them non-tender underperforming sluggers in the past.
I will say, both Green and Washington talk about how great his presence is in the clubhouse. Upon meeting him for the first time last Tuesday, I could see it for myself, too. He’s a guy who seemingly has a very big heart and a passion for baseball. Whatever feelings you might’ve had about the move from strictly a baseball perspective, I think he’s an easy guy to root for.
The flip side of the move to bring in Reyes was of course the move to option Frank Schwindel to Iowa.
It’s already the second time Schwindel has been optioned this season (you remember that flat-tire story back in May). This time, we kind of got to see the disappointment in real time as we watched him grab some things from his locker after he was optioned postgame last Monday. However you feel about the way he’s played this season, it always sucks to see a guy get that kind of news.
It’s also tough considering how great of a story he was in 2021. He was a 29-year-old who’d played just 14 big-league games when the Cubs called him up after the trade deadline, and he went on to hit .342 with a 1.002 OPS in 222 at-bats on the North Side. It was the kind of breakout everyone hoped would last (though even last season, there were underlying numbers that made you wonder how much longer he could keep it up). In the end, it just hasn’t worked out. Schwindel couldn’t lock down the job at first base, and his struggles at the plate didn’t help his case to be used as the designated hitter more often, either.
His 2021 really helped everyone get through the post-trade deadline stretch of the season where fans might’ve checked out. He excelled in his first real shot in the majors. That’s when “The Schwindy City” was born, but it just didn’t carry over into 2022. That’s disappointing for anyone who invested time in him as a Cub. But hopefully, he can get back into a good place in Triple-A and work his way into another shot in the bigs.
Watching Tampa Bay’s Drew Rasmussen take a perfect game into the ninth yesterday and lose it on the first pitch of the inning reminded me of two things.
The first thing is that it’s obviously hard to accomplish that feat. Only 23 times in major league history has a pitcher thrown a perfect game. Félix Hernández’s happened a decade ago today, and nobody has done it since. It would’ve been really cool to see Rasmussen reach perfection the day before that decade mark, but really, even getting through eight perfect frames is impressive enough.
The second thing is that in the long, storied history of the Chicago Cubs, not one pitcher who’s toed the rubber for the club has thrown a perfect game. They’re one of 16 teams who’ve never been on the winning side of one. The closest a Cubs pitcher has ever come to perfection came nearly 50 years ago on Sept. 2, 1972, when Milt Pappas was one strike away from a perfect game against the Padres. The box score on Baseball Reference doesn’t have the total pitch count, so we don’t know if he was in “Maddux” territory or not, but we do know he had an 0-2 count on pinch hitter Larry Stahl before throwing four straight balls to walk him. Though he still finished off the no-hitter three pitches later, people will always remember that he was one strike away from perfection. And nearly 50 years later, no Cubs pitcher has gotten that close again.
Yes, it’s freakin’ hard to pitch a perfect game.
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
Get Our Best Cubs Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago Cubs fan with Ryan Herrera's Cubs Newsletter!
Just drop your email below!