Arismendy Alcantara hit a home run off an organizational teammate, and Christian Villanueva was one of the few bright spots in his team’s loss. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- CF Arismendy Alcantara smashed his second home run of the winter off organization mate Frank Batista, but his Tigres del Licey fell to the Aguilas Cibaenas. The two-run shot was his lone hit of the day in three at-bats.
- RHP Batista got the start and gave up three earned runs—including the aforementioned Alcantara homer—over four innings and struck out two for Cibaenas. His ERA now sits at 3.73.
- DH Christian Villanueva finished 1-for-4 with a single and a run scored despite his Yaquis de Obregon side falling 11-2 to the Charros de Jalisco Tuesday. He also managed to draw a walk in the defeat.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
To strengthen the franchise and provide additional streams of revenue, the Ricketts family and the Cubs organization have broken ground on the most ambitious restoration and expansion of Wrigley Field in the ballpark’s 100-year history. The following story can be seen in the November issue of Vine Line.
Even by American standards, Chicago is a relatively new city architecturally speaking. When a raging inferno wipes out a town’s entire central business district in the late 19th century, it does force planners and architects to start fresh.
The landmark structures that define the Chicago cityscape are all of recent vintage. Navy Pier was completed in 1916, the Wrigley Building in 1924 and the Willis (née Sears) Tower in 1973.
That makes Wrigley Field, which first opened its doors as Weeghman Park on April 23, 1914, one of the most venerable and historic structures in one of America’s great cities. When you walk into the Friendly Confines today, the feeling of shared history and connection to the game’s glorious past is palpable. It’s easy to imagine Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown squaring off against Christy Mathewson or Billy Williams striding to the plate to face Bob Gibson.
“So much has happened in the last 100 years, but Wrigley is still the same,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “It is the same ballpark your grandfather came to. It is the ballpark you’ll be able to take your grandkids to. It has a great history—the clubhouse where Babe Ruth got dressed, where Lou Gehrig played, where the Bears played for 50 years—it’s a building filled with 100 years of incredible memories.”
But the Wrigley Field Ruth played in is actually much different from the ballpark Williams played in. And that one is much different from the one Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jake Arrieta call home today.
As the second-oldest facility in the major leagues—behind Boston’s Fenway Park—Wrigley Field is uniquely connected to its past. But while people think of Wrigley as constant and unchanging, and speak wistfully of its early days, it has actually undergone a series of enhancements and improvements over the years to keep up with the evolving game of baseball.
The ballpark Brown played in seated a little more than 14,000 people in one deck and had only a small section of bleachers. Williams experienced the modern bleachers and scoreboard, which were installed in 1937, but never played a night game at home.
Beginning this offseason, the world-famous ballpark, which just completed its 100th anniversary season, will take the next major step in its evolution, as the long-awaited restoration and expansion, known as The 1060 Project, is now underway. This privately funded, $575 million upgrade is designed to ensure the viability of the Friendly Confines for future generations of Cubs fans, while retaining the features that make Wrigley Field so special.
The four-year plan—which will include structural upgrades; improved player facilities; new fan amenities; outfield 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 phases, beginning this offseason.
The goal of The 1060 Project—so named for Wrigley Field’s address, 1060 W. Addison St.—is simple: to preserve the beauty, charm and historic features of Wrigley Field that fans have cherished for a century, while upgrading the overall gameday experience.
“Wrigley is a special place because it’s organic,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “It’s a part of the neighborhood in a way that no other ballpark is. It’s very much unchanged over the last 100 years, so you feel a connection to previous generations and previous players. To be able to walk through the tunnel and know that that’s where Billy Williams and Ernie Banks—or on the visiting side, all the way back to Babe Ruth—walked. It resonates the same way that baseball does for me, which is that it connects you to your past and connects you to the next generation.”
The 1060 Project isn’t just about modernization, though better food and amenities do require that. It also includes restoring Wrigley Field to its mid-1930s glory, when the ballpark was at its peak. The entire project team brings local and national experience working on historic facilities and respects its responsibility to maintain the park’s unique atmosphere. To get the details right, they have spent years studying and researching historical minutiae. This has required everything from poring over old photographs to studying soil samples.
“The ballpark always was designed to be very light and transparent,” said William Ketcham, principal at VOA, the architect of record on the construction drawings. “As we go back in time, the bottom register of the ballpark will be back to its original finishes of stucco and brick and terracotta with windows in it. The upper register will become iron and transparent grillage again. So the wind will blow through the park, and the light will come into the park in a way that is more historic. The way that it presents itself to the street again will be more delicate, a little lighter. The additions that we’re putting on the outside of the building will be of a vocabulary that is respectful of that tradition of the ironwork that was here in the ’20s and ’30s.”
It’s easy to be inspired by the one-of-a-kind experiences Wrigley Field provides: walking up the stairs and seeing the lush, green field for the first time; tracking the game’s progress via the hand-operated scoreboard; measuring the time of year by the amount of ivy covering the brick outfield walls. Leaving those features untouched while updating the ballpark so it’s prepared to last another 100 years presents its share of challenges.
“We’ve had engineers and contractors looking at every aspect of this building for the last two years documenting existing conditions and how the building is today, and utilizing that intelligence that we’ve learned in the design process, but there are still things that we haven’t been able to uncover,” said Michael Harms, senior vice president of Icon Venue Group, the project management team for the restoration. “We’re going to expose almost every square inch of this building in the phases we’re going to do, and we know there are surprises out there. The solution to that challenge is that we’ve hired a great group of professionals who are going to solve those problems and keep the project moving forward.”
To ensure the integrity of the Friendly Confines is maintained throughout the restoration process, the design team visited a number of iconic, older sporting venues—including Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl—that recently underwent major renovations. No modern sporting facility would be designed like Wrigley Field was—the ballpark was constructed 100 years ago—so everyone working on the project wanted to be as prepared as possible before breaking ground.
“Our experience thus far in working with the Cubs organization and the Ricketts family is they want to do this right,” Harms said. “That’s, frankly, the best thing we could ever hear because we want to make sure everything we do in this ballpark improves the fan experience, restores the ballpark back to history and restores the ballpark for generations to come.”
To help fans better understand the scope of the project, which will be rolled out in four phases, here’s what you can expect at the corner of Clark and Addison in the coming years.
PHASE ONE (2015 SEASON)
The primary focus of the first phase of The 1060 Project will be structural work to prepare Wrigley Field for enhancements and improvements over the course of the construction plan.
During Phase One, major structural steel and deep foundation work will be performed in the concourse on the third-base (left-field) side of the ballpark from Gate K to home plate.
“It’s striking that so many things about the ballpark haven’t been addressed over the years,” Ricketts said. “I think we had decades where the stewards of the ballpark just did not address enough, particularly in the infrastructure of the ballpark. We’re going to address that. We know what we have to do, and we’re excited to get started on it.”
Phase One will also focus on expanding and improving the left- and right-field Budweiser Bleachers. Before the 2014 season ended, the team purchased more sidewalk space behind the ballpark on Waveland and Sheffield avenues to accommodate the expansion. The outer walls of Wrigley Field will now extend to the edge of where the sidewalk used to be.
The plan calls for an additional 300 seating positions in the left- and right-field bleachers and 300 more standing room positions in the bleacher deck. There will be new concession areas under the bleachers as well as group terraces where fans can congregate to enjoy Cubs games and other events.
The Friendly Confines will also get new outfield signage, including a 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and a 2,400-square-foot video board in right field. These will provide fans with real-time stats and information about the Cubs and their opponents during games.
“Wrigley has a very special vibe. It’s a special place,” Ricketts said. “We respect that. We think we understand what makes it so special. All the things that people associate with this beautiful ballpark will be preserved. It will just have better amenities and better services.”
PHASE TWO (2016 SEASON)
To win at the major league level, the Cubs must do much more than draft, sign and develop the right mix of players. They also must provide those players with the kind of best-in-class, off-the-field facilities needed to train players, rehabilitate injuries and prepare for the season. Phase Two of The 1060 Project will feature the improvement and expansion of the home clubhouse to give the team the best facilities in the game. The new clubhouse will be located directly west of the stadium beneath the new plaza, the current site of the Purple and Red parking lots.
“We want our players to have every possible advantage to compete on the most competitive stage there is night in, night out and to put themselves in a position to stay healthy and effective for 162 games, which is increasingly difficult in this modern era,” Epstein said. “It’s hard enough to get yourself ready to play and do it 162 times, but when you have dated facilities that are falling apart and that are limited—we don’t even have a batting tunnel to get players ready for the game—it’s really hard for players to get physically prepared, fundamentally prepared and mentally prepared for the game.
“It’s a good feeling for us to know that the players are going to have the best possible support to go out and compete. That, to me, is the most important part of a new ballpark.”
The current 11,000-square-foot clubhouse will be replaced by a state-of-the-art, 30,000-square-foot space, giving the Cubs one of the largest clubhouses in the game. This new area will include a locker room for players and coaches, a strength and conditioning center, training and hydrotherapy areas, a media center, team offices and a player lounge.
The former clubhouse area will be redeveloped into a new, larger dugout, two underground batting tunnels, an auditorium and additional office space for team officials.
Phase Two plans also include the development of a new home-plate club and a third-base club for premium and season ticket holders. The third-base club will be adjacent to the batting tunnels so fans can get a glimpse of Cubs players taking their practice swings prior to at-bats.
To enhance player safety, the home and visiting bullpens will be relocated from the field of play to an area underneath the expanded Budweiser Bleachers. New seats will be added in the old bullpen areas.
The new Wrigley Field will also have dramatically improved concession options for fans. A new, 30,000-square-foot concessions prep and staging area will be built below the plaza to ensure service levels are best in class and provide for the delivery of quality, fresh food.
The seats and most of the concrete from the left-field foul pole to the main gate under the marquee will all be replaced, and the third-base-side concourse will be completed. Plans include new concessions and bathrooms in the area.
Phase Two also calls for enhancements to the upper level in right field, including a new outdoor concourse along the south and west roofline with additional concessions and bathrooms.
“It would be really wonderful if all of the support we put into the infrastructure makes the gameday experience better for the fans,” Ketcham said. “They can spend more time in their seats watching the game, enjoying it, with better food delivered more comfortably, and be able to look around and say, ‘Yeah, it’s still the neighborhood ballpark I remember from 50 years ago.’”
PHASE THREE (2017 SEASON)
For Phase Three, much of the work will move to the first-base side. This will include a new umpires’ room and an improved visitors’ clubhouse, in addition to improvements to the first-base-side concourse to create a better fan experience.
“My first time here with a visiting team was 1996, and I remember being shocked at the visiting clubhouse—just how small it was,” Epstein said. “I thought it was a joke. I thought someone had walked me into the utility closet and told me it was the visiting clubhouse.”
Clark the Cub will get a new home on the first-base side, and there will be a first-base club space for season ticket holders.
Enhancements to the upper level will shift to the left-field side. The new outdoor concourse along the south and west roofline will be completed in this phase as well.
By the conclusion of Phase Three, the goal is to have the majority of work in the main concourse completed.
“As fans come back to the restored Wrigley Field over the next few years, they’ll see some changes, but what you won’t see is a wholesale difference,” Ricketts said. “You’re going to feel like this is the ballpark you know and the ballpark you love. But what you will see are shorter lines for everything, you will see more information during the game, you will see a cleaner, more open concourse, you will see easier exits and entrances. It will be a much better fan experience.”
The Cubs will also add an upper-deck club for season ticket holders and improve and expand the luxury suites. As an added bonus, suite-holders can now customize their space by choosing from several design options.
PHASE FOUR (2018 SEASON)
Phase Four will finish any remaining work in the main concourse along the first-base line and add a two-story retail and entertainment complex of at least 9,000 square feet in the right-field corner to replace the existing street-level restaurant.
Work will also be completed on the middle portion of the upper level. This will include a renovated press box, new seats, new concessions and new bathrooms.
By Phase Four, the Ricketts family’s neighborhood development project should also be completed. Plans call for an open-air plaza outside the ballpark for Cubs fans, visitors and families in the community to enjoy year-round.
The development will incorporate an office building at the north end of the new plaza space to house Cubs offices, a conference meeting space and retail shops.
Finally, the plan features a premium Starwood hotel across the street from the ballpark. This will include 175 rooms, a 40,000-square-foot health club, retail spaces, and food and beverage options for fans and the community.
“This restoration of Wrigley Field is extremely important,” Ricketts said. ”It is Wrigley-ville.
People move here because they want to live near the ballpark. Businesses open and thrive here because of the ballpark. It’s an important part of this community. But it is bigger than that. It is really the beating heart of the North Side of Chicago. It is the place where the people gather. And so we think the renovation of Wrigley and the preservation of this wonderful ballpark means an incredible amount to the city and its people.”
Though it will be some time before The 1060 Project is completed, the Cubs organization and the project team have already done years of groundwork to ensure Wrigley Field remains the jewel it has always been. It has been said before—and often—but the closest comparison for a project of this scale is Fenway Park. It’s the only baseball facility that can match Wrigley Field in terms of age and historical relevance. Following the work in Boston a few years ago, it would be hard to argue that Fenway Park doesn’t still feel like Fenway, despite more modern touches and advertising signs. It’s just a better ballpark experience for fans and players.
“I got to experience the transformation of Fenway Park in Boston, really witness how that was a win for everyone,” Epstein said. “For the fans, it just improved the experience where it was still the same old traditional, wonderful venue, but just enhanced with modern amenities. It’s a more comfortable experience without sacrificing any of the traditions that made it great for generations upon generations.”
By the time fans stream into Wrigley Field in 2018, the ballpark will look a bit different.
Among other improvements, the bleachers will be enhanced, there will be video boards and advertising signs in the outfield, the concourses will be cleaner and more accessible, and an open-air plaza will take the place of the old Purple and Red parking lots. But the bricks and ivy will still be there, as will the hand-operated scoreboard and iconic marquee.
Preserving the past while still modernizing the ballpark will take considerable time, effort and resources, but it’s also essential to ensure a 100-year-old facility can survive and thrive in the modern era.
“There’s really no way to describe the amount of work that has gone into getting just to this point, where we’re beginning the process of restoring the ballpark,” Ricketts said. “There’s a lot of people who have dedicated their lives over the last several years to be ready for this moment, and they’ll be dedicating their lives going forward for four more years. But when it’s done, it’ll all be worth it. For everybody.”
Junior Lake reached base multiple times Monday in the Dominican, and a pair of catchers recorded hits for their respective teams. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action in the Caribbean:
- PR-C Luis Flores entered the game in the third inning as a pinch-runner and finished 1-for-2 with two runs scored in the Estrellas de Oriente’s 5-4 win over the Gigantes del Cibao. The 28-year-old backstop split time between Double- and Triple-A during the 2014 regular season, hitting .253/.388/.371 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with eight homers in 67 games. He was originally a seventh-round selection out of Oklahoma State in the 2008 draft.
- CF Junior Lake had a big day in the Estrellas’ win. The 24-year-old reached base four times, with two singles and two walks. He went 2-for-3.
- CF John Andreoli was 0-for-4 as the Senadores de San Juan fell to the Indios de Mayaguez Monday.
- C Willson Contreras recorded a single and scored a run in the Tigres de Aragua’s loss to the Navegantes del Magallanes. Contreras was 1-for-3 on the day before being pinch-hit for in the eighth inning.
It was a quiet day for Cubs prospects in the Caribbean Sunday. Catching prospect Willson Contreras managed to help his team in Venezuela, while Arismendy Alcantara contributed to his Dominican club. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Caribbean action:
- CF Arismendy Alcantara recorded a single and walk for the Tigres del Licey. He finished 1-for-3 in the 7-2 win over the Aguilas Cibaenas.
- LHP Jeffry Antigua pitched a hitless eighth inning of relief for the Toros del Este. Antigua, who split time between Double- and Triple-A last season, struck out one Leones del Escogido hitter in a 5-4 loss.
- DH Christian Villanueva reached base on a pair of walks Sunday despite his Yaquis de Obregon side getting pummeled 16-3. He finished 0-for-2 against the Caneros de los Mochis pitchers.
- CF John Andreoli had a single in a Senadores de San Juan loss to the Indios de Mayaguez. He was one of four players to reach base in the 2-0 loss.
- C Willson Contreras recorded an RBI single as the Tigres de Aragua cruised to a 7-2 win over the Tiburones de La Guaira. Contreras is viewed as one of the better young catching prospects in the organization. He played 80 games at High-A Daytona, hitting .242/.320/.359 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with five homers.
Not only is the restoration process at Wrigley Field in full swing, but fans can now capitalize on its progress. On Monday, Cubs Authentics introduced the Wrigley Field Collection for fans looking to collect unique items from the historic ballpark.
The Wrigley Field Collection will feature authenticated items in limited quantities throughout the season, including bleacher seats, flags, scoreboard tiles, signage and celebrity guest memorabilia, plus items related to Wrigley Field’s restoration and expansion.
The items are available for purchase or bidding at cubs.com/authentics, beginning with a limited number of Wrigley Field flags plus Budweiser Bleacher seats and aisle placards recently removed from the ballpark. Additional items, such as ‘W’ flags flown over the ballpark after home wins and swatch items with authenticated infield dirt, will become available during the 2015 season and throughout the course of the restoration process.
“The Wrigley Field Collection is the best way for fans to secure an authenticated piece of Wrigley Field history,” said Cubs Senior Director of Marketing Alison Miller. “Whether it’s a flag flown at the ballpark during the season or a Budweiser Bleacher seat removed as part of the restoration, Cubs Authentics and the Wrigley Field Collection offer both the team and our fans a chance to preserve the history attached to these great items.”
In addition to memorabilia made available for sale to fans, the Cubs and Cubs Authentics continue to preserve historic elements of the ballpark and game-used gear for the team’s archives. Some items, such as bricks from Wrigley Field’s original bleacher construction, will be re-used in the restored Wrigley Field as possible. Others, such as unique signage or equipment from noteworthy games, are stored securely in the Cubs Archives.
Cubs Authentics can be found at the following locations:
• The Cubs Authentics kiosk, located in the Wrigley Field concourse (in-season only)
• The Cubs Store (3620 N. Clark St.) across from Wrigley Field
• Online at cubs.com/authentics
• Memorabilia also can be purchased over the phone at 773-404-4753 or by emailing CubsAuthentics@cubs.com.
If you want to learn more about the Cubs Authentics program, check out our video from last year.
Arismendy Alcantara had a big day at the plate in the Dominican Wednesday, while numerous other Cubs contributed to their respective clubs. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action in the Caribbean:
- CF Arismendy Alcantara’s Tigres del Licey fell 6-3 to the Gigantes del Cibao despite the major leaguer’s big day at the plate. The 23-year-old had a three-hit game including a first-inning solo shot. He finished 3-for-4 with a an RBI and a run scored.
- CF-LF Junior Lake reached base twice, going 1-for-5 with a walk and scoring two runs in an Estrellas de Oriente win over the Leones del Escogido. Lake also stole his third base of the season.
- 3B Christian Villanueva is better known for his defense, but he contributed in the Yaquis de Obregon’s win. He racked up his third double of the winter, finishing 1-for-3 and adding a walk. Obregon held of the Venados de Mazatlan by a score of 5-4.
- CF John Andreoli had one of the Senadores de San Juan’s four hits Thursday. Batting leadoff, he finished 1-for-3 with a walk in the loss to the Criollos de Caguas.
With the Arizona Fall League wrapping up last week, we’ll turn our offseason attention to winter ball taking place in the Caribbean. A few pitchers in the Cubs organization made solid contributions in victories for their respective teams Tuesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Caribbean action:
- RHP Frank Batista picked up his third win for the Aguilas, giving up three earned runs in 5.1 innings. He struck out two.
- CF Arismendy Alcantara recorded a single in three at-bats for Licey.
- LF Junior Lake finished 0-for-4 in Estrellas 1-0 win.
- CF John Andreoli led off for San Juan and recorded a single in four at-bats in an 8-3 win.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched a hitless 1.1 innings of relief for La Guaira. He struck out two batters and recorded his second hold of the season.
- RHP Lioger Padron walked the only two batters he faced in Caracas’ 5-4 win.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
As the calendar turned to late September, the crisp fall winds whisked through the Wrigley Field grandstand, signaling the nearing end of another long and winding year for the Chicago Cubs.
After 162 games, countless hotel stays and a punishing travel schedule, major league players are understandably drained after the last out of the season is recorded. It would be more than understandable if most were eager to walk out of the clubhouse doors and forget about baseball for the next few months. But talking to Cubs players about the offseason was revealing—in that not many were genuinely ready for it.
“I’ve seen players get traded every year, and I’ve moved around to different organizations,” said catcher John Baker, who’s played for three teams over his seven big league seasons. “In this game, you become an expert at saying goodbye.”
But, Baker added, saying goodbye to his teammates this offseason was still a difficult transition. That’s because players on professional sports teams are uniquely bonded, and no sport puts its athletes through the wringer like baseball. In addition to the forge of 162 high-stress games, the men share countless hours of practice time, clubhouse chatter, practical jokes, plane rides, hotel stays, meals, movies and much more—and it’s all rigidly scheduled, regular and repetitive.
Athletes often talk about their teammates as brothers, and that’s not really much of a stretch. During the baseball season, which spans from February at Spring Training to late September, players likely spend more time with their teammates than with anyone else. So what do they do once the routine and the camaraderie go away?
The men in the Cubs clubhouse said the shift to the offseason always feels sudden, as if a practical joke were being played on everyone, and they’ll wake up the next day either in a hotel room or in Chicago with another game on the near horizon.
“It’s pretty hard because it feels like you’re upsetting your whole rhythm of your life,” said infielder Javier Baez. “You’re playing baseball every day and then—then you just stop.”
It felt even stranger this year because the Cubs closed out the regular season on the road. Many players didn’t even bother flying back to Chicago after the final game in Milwaukee. They just caught the next flight home—wherever that was. Clubhouse attendants had already boxed up their personal effects and shipped them off.
“My least favorite part is packing and unpacking,” said starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who makes his home in Austin, Texas. “I feel like we live out of a suitcase all year, never really keeping track of where things are. Getting home and having to rearrange everything is kind of a pain.”
There is also a strange feeling of finality when players unpack their things and get settled in for the winter. It hits home that the season really is over, and there is no game to look forward to the next day.
For righty Kyle Hendricks, that feeling of suddenly having a void in his life is the worst part. After a week at home in San Juan Capistrano, California, which lies about halfway up the coast between San Diego and Los Angeles, he begins to get antsy.
“I’m just sitting around doing nothing really,” he said. “That’s what makes the transition tough. After having your days kind of mapped out for you, you have to find a way to keep yourself busy.”
Most players try to take a month or so off before they even start thinking about baseball again. Between working out and taking a vacation or two, it helps to have some hobbies. Left-hander Travis Wood is an outdoorsman. Right-hander Jacob Turner, whom the Cubs acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins in August, said golf keeps him from going stir-crazy.
“I like to play golf a lot, so I try to get out and play as much as I can in the offseason,” he said. “I’m from St. Louis, so we can play until the end of November and occasionally into December if it gets into the 50s.”
Though Arrieta feels restless at the beginning of the offseason, he said his boredom usually passes after the first week or so.
“As you settle in, it’s nice to finally be able to wind down, sleep in if the kids will let you, get out in the garage, and play with the kids outside,” he said. “Then it’s not a tough transition at all. It’s a much-needed break.”
Though it feels like a vacation just being home, Arrieta still gathers up his family and tries to get away somewhere with no cell phones and little contact with the outside world.
“Just kind of hit the refresh button and kick off the offseason in a good way, in the mountains or on a beach somewhere,” he said.
Left-handed reliever Wesley Wright, on the other hand, said he embraces the offseason relaxation from the start.
“The first two weeks of the offseason is the best time of your life because you can kick back and relax,” he said. “You’re active, but nothing is set in stone. If something comes up, you do it. But most guys like to take vacations and do whatever they want to do. You reflect on what the past season was like and decide what you’re going to do to be better next year.”
Wright, who lives in Montgomery, Alabama, said he doesn’t care where he goes or what he does, so long as he’s in front of a TV on Saturdays.
“Weekends are dedicated to football for me, especially Saturdays,” he said. “I’m a big college football fan. But, generally, for the first month, I like to do nothing at all—just mentally take a break from all the stress of games and different things that go on during the season.”
This period is also a time to reconnect with friends and family. Wright and his wife, Sherell, have a 3-year-old and a newborn at home.
“When you go from being a professional player to a full-time dad, it’s a different experience,” Wright said. “It definitely takes a lot more patience. But you get energy from seeing the look on their faces every time they see you. They’re so happy I’m there. It makes a world of difference.”
And those idle days spent with family are precious to ballplayers because once the season starts, there is little time for anything but the game.
“It’s important for me to just hang out with family, just enjoying my time with them for as long as I can,” Hendricks said. “You have to try to not think about baseball. As much as you want to start getting ready for the next season, you have to try to put it off because during the year, it’s such a grind. You know you’re going to have to focus 24/7.”
Baker said he treasures the downtime too, albeit for different reasons. Sometimes the closeness teammates achieve during a season can get a little too close.
“A lot of people don’t realize that showering and going into the bathroom and all that other gross stuff is always with someone else,” he said. “I know when I go home, I cherish the moments of being in the bathroom by myself. Sometimes my wife gets mad at me because I’m in the shower for 45 minutes at a time, but I tell her this is the only time I get to shower by myself. As soon as I go back to Spring Training, it’s prison showers again.”
One thing most Cubs players have in common is the habit of creating structured schedules—even though they’re not necessary in the offseason. Daily routines are so ingrained for athletes, most players can’t help planning out their time.
“You have to learn how to focus that routine-oriented nervous energy into a different kind of routine,” agreed Baker, who fills his time back home in Danville, California, by walking his dog and playing with his two kids, Brooklyn and Fiona.
Sometimes, it’s not the players setting the routine. Arrieta said that at least early in the offseason, his kids dictate his days.
“My routine starts with getting up when my 3-year-old son starts beating me up,” Arrieta said. “The day starts when my kids want it to. Then I’m either cooking breakfast or running down the street to get coffee. From there, it’s playtime for the next three to four hours or so until the kids take a nap.”
Without any children of his own, first baseman Anthony Rizzo said he keeps his routine pretty simple at the beginning of the winter. And he sleeps in. A lot.
“It’s nice because for eight months, it’s a grind, and your body eventually breaks down,” he said. “After a week or two, I’m in complete shutdown mode. I relax and hang out for about a month, month and a half before I start to work out again.”
That’s also when the players tend to get a little antsy and start texting and calling their teammates more often. Baker said the reason is pretty simple. Everyone misses hanging out together.
“You spend so much time traveling around with these guys, you consider all of them family,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re from or what language they speak. You are with them every day, 12 hours a day, for seven and a half months straight. You care about them a lot.”
They also miss sharing all the inside jokes and general locker room banter they have to keep a lid on all winter.
“There are certain things you do in the clubhouse that you just can’t do at home, you know?” said Rizzo, who insisted on leaving it at that.
This is all part of being with a close-knit group of guys for so long. Though players value time with their families more than anything, they do develop a bond and a comfort level with their teammates that’s almost as intense.
“I don’t think there’s really any other job or situation that brings a team of guys as close together as professional baseball does,” Turner said. “Obviously, these are not just teammates but your friends, so you enjoy being around them. I definitely miss that.”
Once November hits, most of the Cubs hook up with trainers and with other professional ballplayers who live in the same area and throw themselves into a training regimen. Then their days have a more familiar structure to them. Many run in the wee hours of morning, train with weights before and after lunch, and, once the calendar flips to the next year, start doing some light baseball activity in the run-up to Spring Training.
“You’re basically working on the specific areas where you want to gain strength, and you’re trying to improve on your weaknesses from the last season,” Wright said. “I think the most important months for baseball players are December and January. That’s when guys get their bodies ready for the grind of a full season.”
By then, the vacation is essentially over. Unlike the beginning of the offseason, the end is a gradual process. Players may still be home in January, but their minds are already on the year ahead.
By the time the Cubs start filtering into the team’s Mesa, Arizona, training facility as early as the end of January, the offseason feels like a distant memory.
Make no mistake, all players need and cherish the break. But after that, they’re more than ready to return to what they love most—being back with their teammates and playing ball.
Bijan Rademacher hit .350 in the Arizona Fall League this season. (Photo by Aldrin Capulong)
The 2014 Arizona Fall League officially wrapped up on Friday with Salt River claiming the league title over Peoria. Though the list of Cubs playing for the Solar Sox this offseason lacked the firepower and name recognition of the 2013 participants, a few lesser-known commodities earned some positive press with solid performances.
Not much is typically expected out of an AFL taxi squad player, as they generally get into games only twice a week. But Bijan Rademacher delivered the highlight stat line for any Cubs prospect in Arizona.
The outfielder hit .350/.404/.525 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and totaled a .929 OPS. Though he didn’t record enough plate appearances to win the batting title, his average was second best among players with at least 40 at-bats. He added a home run, two doubles and a triple while stealing four bases and playing solid defense.
Rademacher, the No. 20 prospect in the Cubs organization according to MLB.com, was a 13th-round pick in 2012 out of Orange Coast College in California. The outfielder spent the entire 2014 season at High-A Daytona, where he hit .281/.363/.448 with 10 homers and 22 doubles. He could be expected to start at Double-A next season.
Jacob Hannemann, who played his first full professional season in 2014, also fared well in Arizona. The athletic center fielder got into 17 games and hit .279/.328/.410. Though he didn’t add a ton of pop, the 2013 third-round pick got better acclimated to the level of talent he’ll eventually be competing against on a regular basis.
Slugger Dan Vogelbach failed to go yard in any of his 21 AFL games, but he managed to show some patience at the plate. His 17 bases on balls tied for second in the league. The 2011 second-round pick received a free pass in more than 19 percent of his plate appearances, significantly better than his 2014 regular season total of 11.8 percent.
Getting C.J. Edwards a few more trips to the mound against elite competition was important for the Cubs after the right-hander missed the first half of the regular season with shoulder issues. In six starts, the club’s top pitching prospect looked like his old self, posting a 1.80 ERA and allowing three runs in 15 innings. He also struck out 13 batters. If there’s one concern over Edwards’ body of work, it’s likely his eight walks in that span. But his 1.07 WHIP also shows that even with the free passes, opposing hitters have a tough time reaching base against him.
The other impressive pitching effort came from Ivan Pineyro. The 23-year-old missed the early portion of the regular season with forearm issues and struggled upon his return to Double-A. But those struggles went away in the AFL, as Pineyro concluded the showcase with a 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings. In seven appearances, the right-hander surrendered only three runs, all in one game on Oct. 22. Even more impressive were his 16 strikeouts versus only four walks. The pitcher, acquired for Scott Hairston in 2013, could open the 2015 season at Double- or Triple-A.
It’s a good sign for the Cubs organization when some of their lesser-known farmhands excel against such tough competition. This group might have lacked the name recognition of last year’s class, but plenty of prospects ended the AFL slate on a high note.
The Arizona Fall League’s regular season came to a close Thursday with Mesa and Glendale wrapping up action in a 4-4, 11-inning tie. Plenty of Cubs farmhands got into the game with mixed results. Here are some notes from yesterday’s AFL action:
- 3B Danny Lockhart singled in the third inning and scored four batters later on a Jon Berti (Blue Jays) homer. He also led off the 11th with a single to finish the afternoon 2-for-5.
- RHP Ivan Pineyro earned his third hold of the fall, going two innings of hitless relief. He struck out three and walked none.
- 1B Dan Vogelbach recorded an RBI double in the fifth inning. He finished 1-for-5 with a walk.
- PH-DH Bijan Rademacher finished 0-for-1 with a walk in the 10th inning.
- RF Jacob Hannemann went 0-f0r-5.