Hot Off the Presses: The September Issue of Vine Line
It’s always interesting when something completely changes your perspective on the game.
I’ve been watching baseball for about 35 years now, and though the way we analyze games is constantly changing, the things I pay attention to are essentially the same. There’s a pitch, the batter either swings or he doesn’t, if he makes contact, there’s a play in the ﬁeld, etc. I see the action, not the mundane in-between tasks. I certainly listen to the broadcasters and watch the occasional instant replay, but what good is this DVR-enhanced era if I can’t mentally fast-forward the downtime?
As every critic of the National Pastime will tell you, baseball moves at its own deliberate pace.
“Generally, if you go back and watch or listen to any baseball game, there is only a total of maybe ﬁve minutes where there is a lot of action going on,” said Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes in a Q&A with Vine Line last month.
But Mike Barz changed the way I see the game. He’s the lead authenticator for the Cubs, meaning he is charged with making sure the game-used merchandise you buy at Wrigley Field or online at cubs.com is the real deal. He’s also a sergeant in the Bureau of Internal Affairs for the Chicago Police Department, so it’s probably an understatement to say he takes his job seriously.
Though Barz grew up in suburban Arlington Heights, Ill., and is a lifelong Cubs fan, he has taught himself to watch a different aspect of the game—the equipment. He takes the phrase “keep your eye on the ball” to a whole new level. So while I hung out with him in the third-base photo well for an early August contest against the Dodgers, I tried to see the game the way he sees it. I watched the balls, bats, and any other items that could be of interest to the fans or the organization.
When balls are fouled off or scuffed beyond a pitcher’s liking and they aren’t tossed out to a fan, do you know what the ballboys do with them? What about the broken bats or bases that are periodically removed from the ﬁeld? At the Friendly Conﬁnes, many of those items soon materialize for sale at the Cubs Authentics booth on the ﬁrst-base side of the main concourse.
It takes cooperation from all parties to get a baseball from Jeff Samardzija’s glove to Andrew McCutchen’s bat to a fan’s hands in the span of a few minutes, and it is a fascinating process to watch.
“We have the ability working with MLB authenticators to provide game-used items from that day’s game,” said John Morrison, the Cubs’ manager of brand activation. “If it’s your ﬁrst time visiting Wrigley Field or it’s a birthday or an anniversary, you can really take home a unique collectible. You can take home a baseball that was used in that night’s game. You can take home the ﬁrst-base bag that Anthony Rizzo covered in innings one through three.”
For the September issue, we also recap what was a very fruitful month for the Cubs organization. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer made good use of the nonwaiver trade deadline, shedding burdensome contracts and swapping valuable veterans for talented younger players. Though it was difficult to lose solid team guys like Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, the returns for those players should help secure the organization’s future for years to come.
And the Cubs not only added new players to the fold through trades, they also signed their top pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Kris Bryant. The powerful third baseman out of the University of San Diego made a mockery of Division I pitching last season, belting 31 home runs in a time when mandatory bat modiﬁcations have sapped power around the college game. For a little context, over the course of the season, Bryant outhomered ﬁve of the eight teams that made it to the College World Series—by himself. He also brings a ton of conﬁdence and the patient approach at the plate that is so prized by the Cubs management team.
To get authentic Cubs information every month, follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline. We guarantee you it’s the real deal.