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Baseball America calls Schwarber the best hitter in his 2014 draft class

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(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

The initial perception among some scouts and draft experts was that the Cubs might have been reaching when they selected C/OF Kyle Schwarber with the fourth-overall pick of the 2014 draft. But after an impressive half season of professional baseball, Schwarber has already put those beliefs to rest and has publications like Baseball America calling him the best hitter in the draft.

Baseball America‘s 2014 Draft Report Cards named the Indiana University product both the best pure hitter and best power hitter from this year’s draft. He also ranked second in the publication’s Best Pro Debut from a College or Junior College group, trailing only Brandon Finnegan, who has been a key piece in the big league bullpen during the Royals’ World Series run.

Schwarber impressed early on, so much so that he was promoted from Short-Season A Boise after just 20 at-bats. In 23 games with Single-A Kane County, the 21-year-old hit .361/.448/.602 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with four homers and eight doubles, before being sent to High-A Daytona to help out with a late playoff push. In Daytona, he again hit over .300 with 10 homers in 44 games. On the season, he put up a .344/.428/.634 line with 18 home runs and 53 RBI over 262 at-bats.

Baseball America also credited the Cubs with the fourth-best draft from top to bottom.

Also, check out our video with Schwarber from earlier this season.

Now Playing: Rick Renteria looks back on a productive 2014 season

The accompanying article can be found in the November issue of Vine Line.

There’s no denying it—the Cubs saw marked improvement in 2014. The team is still not where it needs to be, but there were clear signs of an organization on the rise, including a 41-40 home record. When we sat down with skipper Rick Renteria before the last home game of the season, he was already thinking about next year and areas where the Cubs needed to improve. We talked to him about the team’s growth, areas he wants to work on next year and making a personal connection with the fans.

 

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/16/14

A host of Cubs prospects were in action Thursday, and made a difference, as the Solar Sox captured a 6-2 win over Peoria. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP Ivan Pineyro got the start, pitching three scoreless innings in the win. He gave up four hits—all singles—and struck out three while walking none.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach went 2-for-4 with his first RBI of the fall. In the fourth inning, he doubled, scoring Addison Russell from second. He reached base again in the eighth with a soft single to left and scored on a Spencer Kieboom (Nationals) homer a batter later.
  • RHP Zach Cates pitched two scoreless innings, striking out one while giving up two hits and a walk.
  • SS Russell went 1-for-4, hitting a single in the eighth inning and reaching base on an error. He scored on the aforementioned Vogelbach double and Kieboom homer.
  • DH Jacob Hannemann went 0-for-4.

Mesa hosts Surprise Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Sandberg Game changed it all

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Photo by Stephen Green

Thirty years ago this month, the Cubs played in their first postseason series in nearly four decades. In the October issue of Vine Line, we look back at a game during that season that gave the organization the spark it needed to reach the playoffs.

Impressive single-game performances by unproven players should generally be taken with a grain of salt. Over a long season, even the most below-average hitter or spottiest of spot starters occasionally has his day. Mario Mendoza, whose name is synonymous with offensive mediocrity, had one four-hit game in his major league career.

Sometimes, though, there is a perfect storm of circumstances that make a single-game performance stand out above the 162-game grind—a performance that launches a Hall of Fame career and helps define a player’s legacy.

On June 23, 1984, Ryne Sandberg had such a performance. His 5-for-6, seven-RBI outburst certainly looks impressive on paper, but his day was about much more than the stat sheet.

Start with the fact that he took the game’s elite closer deep twice, tying the game in both the ninth and 10th innings. Throw in the setting (a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field) and the matchup (an afternoon showdown against the NL East rival Cardinals). Consider the game’s viewership as NBC’s nationally televised Game of the Week. Finally, pile on the fame it brought Sandberg, the playoff boost it gave a struggling organization, and the sustained steady bump in attendance at Wrigley Field, and the Sandberg Game was a seminal moment in both his career and in the enduring popularity of the Chicago Cubs.

* * * *

“While the performance was great, the reason it resonates was that the context was so different,” said broadcaster Bob Costas, who was in his third year on NBC’s baseball broadcast team when he called the Sandberg Game in 1984.

The broadcast landscape was dramatically different in the mid-1980s. Sports on TV were not the 24-hour, 365-day-a-year industry they are today, and cable had not yet taken hold, so most viewers had limited options when it came to what they watched. The National Game of the Week on NBC was a big deal to both baseball and its fans. Every Saturday, the network arranged a premier game to be broadcast in an afternoon time slot, which meant it was often the only matchup going, as most clubs played their weekend games at night.

“The Game of the Week really was the Game of the Week then,” said Costas, who admitted the Sandberg Game was his favorite regular season broadcast of his illustrious career. “No matter how well a game is telecast today, there’s no one game outside of the postseason that rivets everyone’s attention.”

This combination of factors lent Wrigley Field a Monday Night Football-type atmosphere, with a huge audience tuning in and ratings reaching as high as 10, a number today’s postseason games struggle to match. Even with the WGN Superstation broadcasting Cubs games to viewers across the country, there was still reason to get excited about the weekly NBC tilt.

“There’s only one National Game of the Week on Saturday,” said former Cubs catcher Jody Davis, who started behind the plate that day. “Of course, you didn’t get to play in many every year, so you’re lucky to get into one.”

Sandberg shared similar sentiments and said he relished the idea of the national spotlight shining on him and his teammates for an afternoon.

“Every game on television was a big deal to me,” Sandberg said. “I knew that everybody back home was watching. That really got me fired up to play every game. It brought the most out of my abilities.”

* * * *

This particular Saturday was one of those picturesque afternoons that happen only a few times a summer. With temperatures in the low 80s and a slight breeze off the lake, Wrigley Field was made-for-TV perfection.

A series of roster moves—including the addition of right-hander Rick Sutcliffe just 10 days prior—was doing wonders for a team that hadn’t exactly lit up the decade. On the morning of  June 23, 1984, the Cubs sat 1.5 games out of first place and were in striking distance of their first postseason berth in 39 years, further raising expectations for the 38,000 fans in attendance and the millions of people tuning in across the nation. It didn’t hurt that the rival Cardinals, the 1982 world champs, were in town.

Steve Trout toed the rubber for the Cubs, but it wasn’t one of his better outings. The right-hander lasted just 1.1 innings and was on the hook for seven earned runs, spotting St. Louis an early six-run lead.

“You mean to tell me that because of me, [Sandberg] became [a key] in one of the most famous games ever,” Trout said with a laugh, reflecting on his start that afternoon.

Momentum temporarily shifted when the Cubs got two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but they promptly gave them both back in the top of the sixth. Trailing 9-3 entering the bottom of the inning, the North Siders injected some much-needed excitement into the stadium when they plated five behind a run-scoring single from Richie Hebner, a two-run double from Bobby Dernier and a two-run single from Sandberg.

Leading 9-8 with two outs in the seventh, St. Louis called out the big guns, enlisting lockdown closer Bruce Sutter to carry them the rest of the way. The eventual Hall of Famer, who would amass 300 saves in his stellar career, was the elite back-end arm of his generation, earning a Cy Young Award for his efforts in 1979 as a member of the Cubs. Sutter relied heavily on a split-finger fastball, a devastating pitch that was still new to players at the time.

“It was just a pitch that nobody had seen before,” Davis said of the splitter. “He brought [it] out, and nobody knew what it did. And he was the best at it. It was just really tough facing him, and he was a true competitor.”

Sutter fanned Gary Matthews to wrap up the seventh and set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the eighth, putting an apparent damper on any comeback hopes. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion as Sandberg stepped into the box to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the first and third basemen guarding the lines and the infield shifted slightly to the left side.

Sandberg was having a great season in 1984 and was already 3-for-4 on the day with four RBI. After two-plus major league years, he was seen as a good player with a solid glove at second, having claimed his first Gold Glove Award in 1983, but few had him pegged as an eventual Hall of Famer.

“Though he had already emerged as a very good player, he was still early in his career,” Costas said. “That one just propelled him onto the national stage.”

The first pitch came in low and away for ball one. Sandberg took the second pitch on the outside corner for a strike. But the third pitch was on the inner third of the plate, and Sandberg didn’t miss it, sending the ball screaming into the last row of the left-center-field bleachers.

Tie game. Extra innings.

“I said, ‘You know what this is, Tony? It’s a telephone game,’” Costas said, referring to his broadcast partner, Tony Kubek. “It’s the kind of game where as a baseball fan, you pick up the phone and call your baseball buddy, and you go, ‘Are you watching this? Put on NBC.’”

Cards outfielder Willie McGee was having quite a day himself, with a homer, triple and single to his credit. He’d already compiled five RBI and two runs heading into extra innings. The eventual 1985 NL MVP would complete the cycle with a run-scoring double in the top of the 10th and score two batters later, giving the Cards a two-run lead and shifting momentum back into the visitors’ dugout.

After two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th, Dernier took all six pitches he saw to record a full-count walk. As Costas and Kubek thanked the sponsors and crew for their day’s work, up stepped Ryno.

On the third pitch of the sequence, Costas bellowed: “He hits it to deep left-center. Look out! Do you believe it? It’s gone!”

With Sandberg’s bomb, Wrigley Field was up for grabs. The broadcast duo went silent for nearly a full minute to capture the jubilation of the ecstatic crowd.

“I’m sure there was a lengthy period where I called it as ‘gone,’ and we went quiet because the crowd and the pictures said everything,” Costas said. “We had just seen something that almost defied words. And I think the way the second home run was called, it was not just excitement, but amazement.”

* * * *

Just like that, Sandberg became a household name. Few remember that Dave Owen drove in the winning run an inning later on a bases-loaded single to complete the comeback and give the Cubs a 12-11 win.

“I went inside [the clubhouse], and I could barely get to my locker because there were so many people to talk to,” Sandberg said in the book Banks to Sandberg to Grace. “That was the start of my first experience with the media. It was pretty cool.”

With his talent on full display for the nation to see, Sandberg soon became a marquee attraction in Major League Baseball. The first example of his enhanced reputation came with the 1984 All-Star voting. In a matter of days, Ryno surpassed Steve Sax, who had been the leading vote-getter at the keystone position.

“That game really told me that I could do that,” Sandberg said. “It was really a different mind-set that game gave me, and it’s something I wanted to live up to—not only the rest of that year … but it also brought new standards for me each and every year, as far as winning a Gold Glove, a silver bat and an MVP.”

When the ’84 campaign came to a close, Sandberg was a nearly unanimous choice for National League MVP, capturing 22 of 24 first-place votes. According to FanGraphs, he compiled a Wins Above Replacement rating of 8.0, hitting .314/.367/.520 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 19 homers and a league-best 114 runs, all while playing a key middle-infield position at an elite level.

* * * *

The dramatic win didn’t benefit just the Cubs’ now-star second baseman. The team was showing signs of ending a 39-year postseason drought and used the comeback as a rallying cry for the season.

“That was kind of our exclamation point,” Davis said. “It was still early enough in the season. We were off to a good start, [and we were] in the pennant race, which fans weren’t too used to [us] being. The excitement was starting to build, and that day made all of the fans start to believe that we did have a chance.”

The team went 59-34 the rest of the way, including an 18-10 record in July and a 20-10 mark in August. They finished 31-24 in one-run ballgames and won 11 games in walk-off fashion en route to an NL-best 96 wins. The North Siders were fun to watch, and, for the first time in a long while, Wrigley Field became the hottest ticket in town, as more and more fans flocked to the North Side to see the miracle Cubs and their soon-to-be MVP second baseman.

“In ’84, the fans came alive, and you saw the first fans on the rooftops,” Sandberg said. “Just to see that whole transformation and see it be a tough ticket here for the rest of my career [was exciting].”

According to Baseball-Reference, the Cubs hit the 2 million mark in attendance for the first time ever that season. Individual game sales were up nearly 8,000 from the previous year and nearly 11,000 from 1982. At least 2 million people have attended games at Wrigley Field in all but three seasons since.

In that single game, a future Hall of Famer emerged from the shadows into full-fledged stardom, a dormant franchise was catapulted to its first postseason berth in nearly four decades, and the fan base was energized for decades to come.

—Phil Barnes

Cubs AFL recap: 10/15/14

Led by Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards’ three solid innings of work, Mesa cruised to a 5-2 win over Peoria Wednesday. A few of the position players also made contributions in the victory. Here are some Cubs notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP C.J. Edwards gave up one hit and one walk over three scoreless innings, picking up his first win of the fall. He struck out three batters, including Francisco Lindor (Indians), one of the game’s top farmhands.
  • RF Bijan Rademacher went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • DH Addison Russell was 1-for-3 with a run-scoring, second-inning double, bringing in Cal Towey (Angels). He also drew a walk.

Mesa hosts Peoria Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/14/14

Despite outhitting Scottsdale, Mesa was on the losing end of its matchup Tuesday. Addison Russell played a big role for the offense, but Gerardo Concepcion struggled on the mound. Here are some Cubs notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • SS Addison Russell went 1-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk Tuesday. Russell led off the eighth inning with a single to left, and scored one batter later on a Matt Olson (Athletics) home run. He drew a one-out walk in the ninth, scoring from third three batters later on a Kaleb Cowart (Angels) force out. He also committed his first throwing error of the fall.
  • LHP Gerardo Concepcion struggled in 1.2 innings of work, giving up three earned runs on one hit and two walks and striking out one batter.

The Solar Sox resume play Wednesday with a 12:35 local time start at Peoria. Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards is scheduled to start.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/13/14

Mesa was on the losing end of a 2-1 matchup with Scottsdale Monday, despite a lineup littered with Cubs prospects. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • 2B Addison Russell went 1-for-3 with a single to left in the sixth inning and a walk in the eighth.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach finished the day 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
  • RF Jacob Hannemann was 0-for-4 with a strikeout, leaving six runners on base.
  • RHP Zach Cates entered the game in the fifth inning with a two outs and a runner on second. He forced Blake Miller (Giants) to pop out to second.

Mesa hosts Scottsdale Tuesday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/11/14

A trio of Cubs prospects played in Mesa’s afternoon matchup with Peoria on Saturday. A pair of position players got starts, while a reliever pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings in the Solar Sox’s win. Here are some highlights from the Cubs prospects in the Arizona Fall League:

  • RF Bijan Rademacher went 1-for-3, leading off the seventh inning with a single up the middle. He stole second and scored two batters later on a Dalton Pompey (Blue Jays) triple. He also recorded an outfield assist.
  • DH Jake Hannemann went 0-for-3.
  • RHP Ivan Pineyro was credited with his first hold of the AFL season, going 1.1 innings and allowing two hits, striking out one and walking two.

After an off day Sunday, Mesa resumes action when it heads to Scottsdale for a 7:35 CST start Monday.

Vine Line Poll: What were your favorite moments from the 2014 Cubs season?

The 2014 season will likely be remembered as a turning point for the franchise. While the record wasn’t what most fans were hoping for, make no mistake, the team played an entertaining brand of baseball, especially as the season progressed. Exciting prospects made their debuts, young veterans became cornerstone players and a new coaching staff made a strong impression.

As you’ll see below, there were many memorable moments from the 2014 season. For the December issue of Vine Line, we’re asking you, the fans, to pick the best moments of the 2014 campaign. We’ve compiled a list of 25 Cubs-related events that occurred during the past year and are asking you to select your five favorites. The top vote-getting moments will be highlighted in the December issue.

Simply check five selections from the list below and hit the Vote button.

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The 1060 Project breaks ground at Wrigley Field

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The restoration of historic Wrigley Field is officially underway. On Saturday, Oct. 11, the Chicago Cubs and the Ricketts family hosted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, former Cubs pitchers Milt Pappas and Kerry Wood, city and state officials, community and corporate partners, and representatives from the project team at the groundbreaking ceremony for Wrigley Field’s long-awaited expansion and restoration, now titled The 1060 Project.

More than 200 people joined the team for the event, which included a ceremonial dig with special Cubs-themed shovels and a backdrop of construction already underway in the outfield.

“After years of working on a solution to save and improve Wrigley Field, we are thrilled to break ground on The 1060 Project,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “This day marks a significant milestone in our quest to provide our players and fans with the best facilities in baseball.”

The 1060 Project will ensure the viability of the 100-year-old ballpark for future generations of Cubs fans, while preserving the beauty, charm and historic features fans have come to know and love.

“When you think of a baseball park that embodies its city, its community and its fans, there is simply no more powerful example in baseball than that of Wrigley Field and the profound bond it continues to inspire with Chicago, Illinois,” Selig said.

The four-year plan—which includes structural updates; improved player facilities; new signage, including video boards in left and right field; expanded concessions; new and improved restroom facilities; and much more—will be rolled out in four separate phases, beginning in the 2014-15 offseason. This privately-funded, $575 million project will create approximately 2,100 jobs and generate $1.2 billion in net new revenue to the local economy over the next 30 years.

“This restoration project is a significant private investment that will create thousands of jobs, ensure Wrigley Field can be enjoyed by Chicagoans for generations to come, and help the Cubs toward their goal of giving their fans a long-awaited World Series championship,” Emanuel said. “With this project, the Cubs are investing in more than just their historic stadium. They will continue to be a good neighbor by investing in the surrounding area for traffic flow, security and public parks. This is a great step for the Cubs and for all of Chicago.”

The 1060 Project team includes Pepper Construction, a Chicago-based firm that has nearly a century of experience on large-scale projects such as the Merchandise Mart, Marshall Field’s and the Shedd Aquarium; VOA, a full-service international architectural firm that designed many high-profile projects in the Chicago area, including Navy Pier, the Old Town School of Folk Music and Prentice Women’s Hospital; D’Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects (DAIQ), a full-service architectural firm instrumental in restoring Boston’s Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and The Rose Bowl; ICON Venue Group, a project management company that has produced more than $4 billion worth of home venues for franchises in each major professional sports league, and has worked on Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, Toyota Park in Bridgeview and the Cubs’ new Spring Training complex in Mesa, Arizona; and Harboe Architects, led by nationally known, Chicago-based preservation architect Gunny Harboe, who has had oversight of major restoration projects such as the Sullivan Center, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Field Building.

The primary focus of the project’s first phase, to be completed this offseason, is infrastructure work. The ballpark’s structural steel and foundation will be strengthened, and much of the concrete in the Budweiser Bleachers will be replaced. More than 50 million pounds of new concrete will be poured at the Friendly Confines during the course of the restoration.

The first phase also includes the expansion and improvement of the left- and right-field Budweiser Bleachers. This expansion will provide more room for fans in the concourse, additional concession areas, and new group terraces where fans can congregate during Cubs games and other events. Several new outfield signs will be added this offseason, including a 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and a smaller 2,225-square-foot video board in right field.

Subsequent phases will address the improvement and expansion of player facilities; new bullpens and batting tunnels; new restrooms, concessions, seats, luxury suites, clubs, restaurants, and retail and entertainment spaces for fans; additional commissary space for food preparation; and an improved press box. A separate Ricketts family development will feature a hotel, a fitness club, a retail space and an open-air plaza adjacent to the ballpark.

For additional information about The 1060 Project, please visit www.wrigleyfield.com. And watch for the November issue of Vine Line, which will have a cover feature with details on all four phases of the restoration.

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