A local craft brew has been poured and as I sip the nectar of the gods, an interesting question dawns on me. When will the Cubs’ faithful begin to label the franchise as property of number 9? Much like last night’s ballgame, Javy Baez has become a pleasant surprise to the Northside. Javy made his MLB debut August 5th in Colorado, and his first 5 at bats didn’t exactly go as planned. Javy struggled, striking out in three of those plate appearances while swinging blindly at most offerings from Rockies pitchers. That struggle continued until the 12th when Boone Logan entered the game.. or as Ron Santo once called him Loone Bogan (ahh I miss you Ron). On the first offering, Javy jumped a fastball and sent it to the bleachers to give the Cubs a late lead. The Cubs went on to win that game and Baez’s career was underway.
Unlike his infield mate Starlin Castro, early success wasn’t in the cards for Javy Baez. To begin his career, El Mago seemed to feature only one magic trick, which was the ability to strike out in bunches. When the 2014 season was through, Javy ended the year striking out at a whopping rate of 41 percent. His power numbers came in spurts and the growing narrative that he may never figure out major league pitching began to grow. Young players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo began to cement themselves early as the core of this Cubs team, while many considered Baez a stopgap to number one prospect Gleyber Torres.
Fast forward to the 2016 offseason: the Cubs had just come off a playoff loss to the Mets, and starting pitching was a growing concern. With many question marks plaguing the staff after Lester and Arrieta, Theo struck up a conversation with the Tampa Bay Rays for a top of the rotation arm. Going into the 2016 seaon, the Rays had a plethora of top of the rotation starting pitchers — names such as Archer, Moore, Cobb and Ordorizzi all were mentioned as compensation for the utility man. Although a package centered around Baez intrigued Tampa, this trade wasn’t completed and it may end up being one of the best moves Theo never made.
Baez entered 2016 as Joe Maddon’s Swiss Army knife, playing all over the infield and dazzling the crows with every highlight reel play. The Cubs cruised to 103 wins and a division title, earning them a first round bout against the San Francisco Giants. In the first game of the playoffs, the Northsiders found themselves in a pitcher’s duel with the wind howling in and a dealing Johnny Cueto on the mound. Baez worked the count back to 3-2 before sending the 108th pitch of the game into the night. The ball ended in the basket and the Cubs won the game 1-0. A few nights later, Javy found himself in yet another big moment. The Cubs had just battled back from being down three runs in the top of the ninth. He dug in and hit a Strickland pitch up the middle to complete the comeback and close out the series. He continued that success en route to the clubs first World Series Championship in over a century.
From then on, the legend continued to grow. Javier cemented his spot as an everyday player and found himself in the MVP race last year. I only mentioned a few examples here, but to be brutally honest this blog had enough material to evolve into a novel. Here’s the point I am trying to make: when will we begin to realize we are seeing a type of player we haven’t seen before? Javy is the total package and worth the price of admission. He plays the game with fire, has imagination in the field, and he draws the eyes of the most basic of fans. At the ballgame last night, I asked the most casual of fan in our box seats which player he was most drawn to. Without knowing much about the Cubs or baseball in general, he pointed to the on deck circle, where El Mago himself stood. Just a few minutes after this exchange, Javier Baez launched a Buehler hanging slider into the April night to tie the game. There is no question, folks, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo anchor the corners. But up the middle lies the heart – the magic man himself, good old number nine. This is his team.
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