Opening Day is just four days away. As Cubs fans prepare for pitcher Jeff Samardzija and the rest of the squad to kick off the regular season, we here at Vine Line are counting down the days in a unique way. For every day remaining until the season starts—today’s number is four—we’ll commemorate some of the best players to wear that number for the Cubs.
(Photo by Getty Images)
Former Cubs coach and manager Don Zimmer has been in professional baseball since 1949. He played for the Cubs as a backup infielder from 1960-61 and managed the team from 1988-91. Zim, known as much for his personality as his on-field exploits, led the 1989 Cubs to a 93-69 record and an NL East title. Unfortunately the Boys of Zimmer were ousted by San Francisco in five games.
Zimmer went on to win four World Series titles with the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s. He is currently a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Other notable Cubs to wear the No. 4 include:
Billy Williams (1959), Randy Hundley (1977) and Lee Elia
(Photo by Stephen Green)
It all happened fast last season for Cubs left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin. After a flurry of trades and injuries, the Cubs called the 26-year-old up to the majors, where he made seven starts, posting a 2-3 record and a 6.37 ERA. This year, Rusin is likely slated for the minor leagues, but he could also be an option for a swing role in Chicago. So far this spring, he’s posted a 1.80 ERA in 5.0 innings of work. For the March issue of Vine Line, we talked to the left-hander about his call-up to the big leagues, his goals for this season and how he spends his free time.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW It’s pretty crazy. You get everything thrown at you. The first game was probably the most nervous I’ve been in a long time. After that, you kind of get settled in. It’s just how the big leagues are. I had a couple of rough games that were hard to handle, but I had some good ones too. I’ll take that … and try to learn from it.
THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE [The biggest difference between the minors and the majors is you have to] have an everyday routine, and you have to hit your spots. If you don’t, [hitters are] going to capitalize on that. The penalty for missing your spots here is a lot bigger than it is in the minors. That was the biggest thing. If you miss, they get their pitch and hit it.
CRAFTY LEFTIES I like watching [Tom] Glavine or [Andy] Pettitte just because they weren’t overpowering. They were crafty, and that’s kind of what I am. I don’t power pitch, so I have to find ways to get hitters out.
HONING THE CRAFT [This season, my goal is to] just be more consistent. I’m not going to worry about making a roster spot. I just have to do my part … and come back a better pitcher, a better player, and fight for a spot. [I’m going to] do my best and see what happens in Spring Training.
DOWNTIME I watch SportsCenter all the time. It’s either SportsCenter or video games. I’m just a real relaxed guy. I don’t like to go out and do too much. I play golf here and there, but for the most part, I just watch sports and play Call of Duty all the time. It’s a good offseason thing for me.
To read the complete interview with Rusin, pick up the March issue of Vine Line, featuring Jeff Samardzija, available now at select Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, Meijer, Barnes & Noble and other Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today.
The major league season can be a grind. Playing 162 games takes a toll on an athlete’s body and mind. That’s why downtime is so important. Some players play video games; others spend time with their families.
This week, Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. In the last installment of our spring Kicking Back video series, we talk to Cubs players about how they spent their offseason, what they do to kill time on the road and who is the worst dresser in the clubhouse.
Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:
Every season at the outset of Spring Training, organizations invite their top prospects to big league camp. The benefits are twofold: the prospects gain valuable experience watching how major leaguers prepare for the season, and coaches and staff get an opportunity to watch future contributors firsthand.
Top prospect Javier Baez, minor league player of the year Logan Watkins, minor league pitcher of the year Nick Struck, Brett Jackson, Cuban import Jorge Soler and many others have spent the first few weeks of camp with the Cubs’ major league club. This week, Vine Line talked to some of the talented young players who are trying to make a name for themselves in Mesa.
Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:
When new Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa was officially introduced to the media in early December, there was something decidedly different about the Wrigley Field home clubhouse, where the event was being held. The usual press contingent had nearly doubled in size, thanks to the addition of the Japanese press corps.
Ever since Hideo Nomo broke into the major leagues in 1995, the Japanese press has been dogged in following former Nippon Professional Baseball stars in America. When celebrated pitcher Yu Darvish joined the Rangers last season, the team added an auxiliary pressroom and boosted Wi-Fi capabilities at their Spring Training home in Surprise, Ariz., just to handle the additional demands.
This, of course, isn’t the Cubs’ first experience with a Japanese player. Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome played for the team from 2008-11. In Fukudome’s first season—a season that saw him make the N.L. All-Star team—the group of reporters following him was fairly sizable, especially at Spring Training, but the numbers dwindled as the years went on.
The major difference in coverage is that the Japanese press is there to follow a single player, not the team as a whole. So the Cubs would hold a separate press availability with Fukudome after games for the Japanese media, who were described as unfailingly polite and professional.
“The Japanese media were a delight to be around,” said Bruce Miles, the Cubs beat writer for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. “Those of us who have been around awhile were looking forward to the Fujikawa news conference to see how many of our Japanese media friends would attend.”
Fujikawa, who notched 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, made an uneven first appearance for the Cubs in an intrasquad matchup Friday, facing four batters and walking one. Following the game, he first talked to the American media, while the phalanx of Japanese reporters waited for him outside. Then he left the clubhouse to talk to about 15 members of the Japanese press who were there to see his initial outing.
“It wasn’t my first time throwing in Arizona, but in a game situation, it was a first,” Fujikawa said through his interpreter. “I don’t know how much different it will be in Chicago, but first I need to adjust to this Arizona weather. … I’ve heard that from other players that there isn’t much movement on the ball.”
To handle the language barrier—Fujikawa speaks “baseball English”—the Cubs have hired an interpreter, Ryo Shinkawa, who will be with Fujikawa at all times, including in the dugout. When the right-hander entered the game Friday, Shinkawa even went out to the mound with him so the pitcher could communicate more effectively with catcher Rafael Lopez.
Being a major league baseball player can be a strange life. The stakes are always high, millions of people are watching your every move and everyone wants to be your friend. You’d be surprised the things these athletes hear on a day-to-day basis.
Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Spring Training is a few weeks longer than usual this season. As the spring slate drags on, everyone needs to blow off some steam. Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. We’ll post one more installment of our Kicking Back video series early next week.
Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:
(Photo by Rodger Wood)
Even in the unlikely event Matt Szczur’s career doesn’t pan out, at the very least he’s a wildly entertaining player. But with the way the 22-year-old took care of business last season—especially at Single-A Daytona—”not panning out” seems like an unlikely scenario. Szczur is a monster athlete who makes things happen every time he steps on the field.
The Villanova wide receiver-turned-outfielder enjoyed quite a bit of success in the Florida State League last year, hitting .295/.394/.407 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and drawing 47 walks in 352 plate appearances. Despite a late July call-up to Double-A Tennessee, his 38 stolen bases were still fourth best in the FSL.
Though he struggled after making the difficult jump to Double-A (.210/.285/.357 in 35 games), the Cubs sent Szczur to the Arizona Fall League, an after-season league typically reserved for organizations’ top prospects. While there, he hit .264 and drew 14 walks in 91 at-bats. He also swiped nine bases.
The Cubs added Szczur to the 40-man roster this season, and he has been working out with the major leaguers in Mesa, Ariz. This afternoon, he will be batting second and playing center field for the White team in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage, a game that will consist mainly of fringe players and high-upside prospects.
Szczur, who is expected to man the outfield in Tennessee to start the 2013 season, is one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
OF | Matt Szczur
Born: 7/20/89 in Cape May
Acquired: 2010 Draft (5)
Tools: Hits for Average, Glove, Speed
2012 STATS (High-A): .295/.394/.407 in 78 games (Double-A): .210/.285/.357 in 35 games
It was a good developmental year for Szczur, an ultra-exciting, plus athlete who is looking to turn raw tools into game utility. Because of his athleticism, Szczur (pronounced See-zur) has huge upside, but he’s more raw than the typical 22-year-old because he spent much of his life playing football. He got pull-happy last year, rolling over pitches and losing points on his batting average, but he does a great job of drawing walks and can steal bases. He’ll return for a full year at Double-A, where the Cubs hope to see him taking pitches back up the middle and developing his hit tool.
Other players featured in this section: infielders Junior Lake, Josh Vitters and Logan Watkins; outfielder Brett Jackson; and pitchers Alberto Cabrera, Trey McNutt, Brooks Raley, Nick Struck, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych.
Plus, tidbits on OF Jae-Hoon Ha, LHP Chris Rusin, LHP Frank Del Valle, LHP Zach Rosscup, RHP Matt Loosen, IF Justin Bour, RHP Marcus Hatley, LHP Austin Kirk and RHP Eric Jokisch.
Think you know everything there is to know about the 2013 Cubs? Think again.
Did you know Edwin Jackson could have been a real estate agent, Anthony Rizzo feels a kinship with Justin Timberlake, and Dave Sappelt has a little crush on a cartoon character?
Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Spring Training is a few weeks longer than usual this season. As the spring slate drags on, everyone needs to blow off some steam. After a rain-shortened workout Wednesday, even manager Dale Sveum said, “It’s not bad to have a little breather,” from time to time.
Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. Check back later this week for more in our Kicking Back video series.
Danica Patrick’s life has revolved around racing cars since the age of 10, when she was growing up in Roscoe, Ill. Since 2005, the driver and cultural phenomenon has participated in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Nationwide and the Sprint Cup Series. Before Patrick threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on July 1, Vine Line got a chance to talk to her about visiting the Friendly Confines, competing in a sport where she’s often the only female and forever being known (for better or worse) as the GoDaddy girl.
To read the entire article, pick up the February issue of Vine Line.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Baseball is finally back. Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this past weekend, and Cubs fans everywhere got a little more excited with the realization that the baseball season is almost here.
To get us back into gear, the February issue of Vine Line previewed the squad heading into Mesa, Ariz. We broke the team down into five categories—starting pitching, relief pitching, catchers, infielders and outfielders—to give fans a clearer picture of what to expect when the Cubs break camp and head to Chicago.
Below is a look at the infield. The February issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Or visit the Vine Line page on Cubs.com to subscribe to the magazine.
Darwin Barney had a breakout season in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball, winning a much-deserved Gold Glove, but his bat still leaves something to be desired. With a front office that highly values the ability to get on base, Barney’s sub-.300 OBP could be a cause for concern. While his glove alone makes him playable on an everyday basis, it will be interesting to see if he can improve enough offensively to help ease any doubts Theo Epstein and company may have about his future role.
Starlin Castro deserves credit for realizing that despite a solid batting average, he can still improve as an all-around hitter. Under the tutelage of new hitting coach James Rowson, who took over when Rudy Jaramillo was relieved of his duties on June 12, Castro was asked midseason to alter his aggressive style at the plate. He struggled at first, which explains why his batting average fell when Rowson took over. However, toward the end of the season, something seemed to click. Not only did his batting average rebound to a respectable .283, but he was also walking and hitting for more power. With a full offseason of training under his belt, expect an improved approach at the plate to lead to big things in 2013.
Anthony Rizzo hit 15 home runs in just 87 games after a midseason call-up. In his second season, he’ll be relied upon, along with Alfonso Soriano, to provide much of the power for the Cubs’ offense. Rizzo will likely slot back into the three hole, where the Cubs envision he’ll be a mainstay for the better part of the next decade. And his defense at first will also keep up the high standards set by his predecessors Derrek Lee and Mark Grace.
The biggest question mark is what will happen at third base. With a lack of options in the minors or via free agency, the Cubs decided to retain veteran Ian Stewart. It appears the team will enter Spring Training with Stewart battling Luis Valbuena for the bulk of the playing time. Though both left-handed hitters struggled with the bat last season, Stewart’s ceiling is much higher, as he provides plus defense and has shown in the past that he has solid power (25 home runs in 2009). If Stewart can prove his issues over the past few seasons were actually the result of a nagging wrist injury—which he finally had surgically repaired in July—it’s possible the Cubs may once again get solid production from the hot corner. Otherwise, look for Stewart, Valbuena or whomever else the Cubs may find, to serve as placeholders until one of the organization’s third-base prospects is ready to step in and assume the role on a long-term basis.