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As soon as Marcus Stroman arrived at Cubs spring training in Arizona, he couldn’t hide how excited he was to play at Wrigley Field.
Out of the 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball, Wrigley Field was the only one at which he’d never gotten a chance to pitch. Not when he was with the Blue Jays. Not when he was with the Mets.
Despite appearing in 179 games since making his debut on May 4, 2014, not one of them came at the Cubs’ home park.
“The atmosphere is unmatched,” Stroman said back on March 15. “I think you could look at that. I think everybody knows that from the league. I think, even if you’re not a Cubs fan, even if you don’t watch baseball, you know that the Cubs franchise, you know how rowdy and how unbelievable the energy that they bring every day (is). That’s me as a person.
“I’m telling you, I cannot wait to walk out on that field for my first start.”
Well, he did have to wait, at least for a little bit. But in Sunday’s series finale against the Brewers, Stroman finally threw the first pitch of his career on the Wrigley Field mound.
It was quite the cap to a weekend full of first-time Cubs making their debuts, as beyond Stroman, 10 other Chicago players got onto the field at Wrigley in Cubs uniforms for the first time.
Thursday saw the largest number of debuts, as Nick Madrigal and Seiya Suzuki made the starting lineup, Clint Frazier entered the game as a pinch hitter and Daniel Norris, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens and David Robertson came on in relief. Saturday was reserved for Ethan Roberts, who made his major league debut as he closed out the ninth inning for Chicago. And on Sunday, Stroman was joined by Jonathan Villar (started at third base) and Yan Gomes (started at catcher).
The number of debuts over the weekend was high, and those players gave glowing reviews of the fans that filled the ballpark.
Said Roberts: “Wrigley Field is one of one, man. That’s never gonna happen again. It’s something that’s going to be here forever, and it’s one of the best, if not the best. So being able to do that, it’s just a blessing to me. These fans are amazing. I ran out of the bullpen, and they knew my name. I was like, ‘What the heck?’ But yeah, it was unbelievable. Here, it’s so historic. Listening to ‘Go Cubs Go’ after the win, I got to go in the ninth, I got to hear all that, I got to see all that. It’s magical, honestly, here.”
Said Norris: “It’s wild. The fans are incredible. That first game, I was in (the clubhouse) when we won, but (on Saturday) when we won, walking in from the bullpen and hearing them singing — that was pretty cool. It’s a special place, for sure.”
Said Suzuki, through interpreter Toy Matsushita: “Obviously, the fans are also great in Japan, but it’s just a little different (at Wrigley Field). It’s unique, and I’m just enjoying every moment of it with the fans.”
Right along with Suzuki’s, Stroman’s debut was the one fans wanted to see most, and he ended up receiving the ball on the first beautiful day of the season and the last one before the upcoming road trip.
Even before he toed the rubber, Stroman could already feel the energy emanating from the stands. An announced crowd of 32,858 ended up filling the park, but plenty of them were there to see the high-profile arm warm up at Wrigley in the classic Cubs home jersey. While they cheered for him, he made sure to do his part in getting them going.
He made his way around the field after talking to his family near the third-base dugout, clapping and raising his arms to tell the fans to get even louder. He crouched down near the “400” sign on the center-field wall — “I do that every game,” he said. “It’s just a couple of words for myself, to my family and myself to get me in the right mental space” — as the buzz in the crowd continued to grow.
By the time he took the mound, the energy from the crowd was even more stunning than he’d imagined.
“Pretty electric energy from the second I stepped out there on the field,” Stroman said. “It was amazing to see everyone come out and get there early. It’s the energy I like to pitch off all year. The fan base is incredible, and just to feel it, definitely felt a little overwhelming in the beginning. Definitely kind of tempered those nerves down in the beginning and got going, but the energy that the crowd brought from, like I said, the second I walked out there at 12:30, 12:40 was incredible.”
The way he started the game sure showed how much adrenaline he was taking from being in front of the home crowd for the first time.
In the first inning, the slowest Stroman threw his either of his fastballs was 92.6 mph, which was still above his 2021 averages for those pitches. In his matchup with Milwaukee’s Willy Adames in that frame, he touched 94.6 with his sinker 94.3 with the four-seamer. Then, after showing off that speed, Stroman reared back and earned his first ‘K’ as a Cub with a slider.
Over the next four innings, Stroman’s velocity eased back to normal as he began to settle in on the mound, and the rest of the game looked like a normal Stroman outing. He struck out only three of the 19 batters he faced (his 21.7 percent strikeout rate was in just the 35th percentile of pitchers last year, per Baseball Savant) but he managed to roll 10 grounders on the day (his 50.8 percent ground ball rate was eighth among qualified pitchers, per FanGraphs).
Stroman said he felt his mechanics were a little off — “Pitching on seven days (of rest) is tough sometimes,” he said — but his five-inning outing still put the Cubs in position to win the ballgame.
“Marcus pitched his butt off,” manager David Ross said. “I thought he threw the ball pretty well. If you asked him, he’d probably want to get ahead a little bit more, those first-pitch strikes I think. He saw some of that in spring, just still, the ball is moving all over the place. Just getting ahead of guys, I think, makes you work a little less hard. But yeah, good performance.”
Stroman maintained throughout the spring that he would be full-go as soon as the regular season began, and while Ross kept him to a pitch limit in his first start of the year, Stroman said he could’ve gone longer.
Still, he understands Ross’ perspective of wanting to ease starters into the season, so he didn’t challenge the decision to go to the bullpen for the top of the sixth.
“Everyone ramped up very quickly (during spring training), and now we’re playing high-intensity games,” Stroman said. “I’m someone who’s very in tune with my body, and I want to go out there for 30, 31, 32, 33 starts each and every year. I think, sometimes, doing a little less in the beginning of the year pays off in the end.”
The Cubs have an off day on Monday and then head out for a two-game series in Pittsburgh and a four-game series in Colorado, so Stroman’s next start will likely come on the road. But considering the way he talks about the Wrigley Field crowd after just one game, there’s no doubt that he can’t wait to get back to the Friendly Confines again.
“I’m someone who, I love to feel that from the crowd,” Stroman said. “You could feel that buzz, that energy the second you go out there, and I’m someone who pitches off that. I’m excited to be a Cub, and I can’t wait to have that each and every time out.”
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