'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs


'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs

This was the message Theo Epstein delivered to reporters one night during the winter meetings: We have opportunity.

Thats easy to say inside a Dallas hotel suite, during the Christmas shopping season. But the Cubs are backing up those words, turning Wrigley Field into a kind of baseball Ellis Island.

That means handing 500 at-bats to Ian Stewart, to see if he can become the hitter Baseball America projected hed become years ago. Its looking at Bryan LaHairs monster Triple-A numbers and being willing to give him a chance at this level.

So the Cubs will throw Michael Bowden into their bullpen and see if he can live up to his potential.

As much as the Cubs want to copy the Red Sox, this is the major difference now. Every game here isnt covered like the Super Bowl, the way it is in Boston. There is room to grow at Clark and Addison.

This is what the 25-year-old Bowden was hoping for when he was designated for assignment on April 15. He got bored waiting around Boston for some answers, so he hopped in his truck and drove back home to Oswego.

When Bowden found out he was traded to the Cubs in the Marlon Byrd deal, he put it right up there with getting drafted (47th overall in 2005) and making his big-league debut (beating the White Sox at Fenway Park in 2008).

This is a dream come true, Bowden said Monday. Im very blessed.

Growing up, Bowden didnt have cable, but he watched the Cubs all the time on WGN. He starred at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, where people noticed the drive and professional focus inside the kid who wanted to pay back the single mother who raised him.

The three former Red Sox executives now running the Cubs Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod know all about Bowdens makeup. They took him five picks after Clay Buchholz, and hoped hed develop into a frontline starter.

After the 2008 season, Baseball America ranked Bowden as the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox organization. Across the next three years, he had 10 different stints with Boston, but never finished a single season with more than 20 big-league innings.

Bowden paused for a few moments after he was asked: Do you feel like you were given a fair shot in Boston?

Thats a tough question to answer, Bowden said. Every time you get the ball, its an opportunity. (But I went) up and down. I never really got a level of comfort over there. So Id go up there and I didnt know really what they wanted out of me and they threw me in a lot of different roles.

But you know what Im very grateful for it. It made me a versatile pitcher. Now, throw anything at me, I feel Im prepared to tackle that.

The Cubs bullpen is in a state of flux. To make room for Bowden, Rodrigo Lopez was designated for assignment, and the Cubs have hopes hell go to Triple-A Iowa. Kerry Woods right shoulder is said to be improving, though theres a chance the veteran reliever will eventually need to go out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Bowden will have opportunities to show he belongs here. His major-league resume 5.61 ERA in 59.1 innings is pretty polished when compared to rookie relievers Lendy Castillo and Rafael Dolis.

Bowden didnt have much left to prove at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he spent parts of the last four seasons, and went 16-for-17 in save chances last year.

Over the weekend, Bowden was flooded with messages and phone calls, but he left only two tickets for Monday nights game against the Cardinals, one for his wife and one for his mother. The ticket requests, well, he said: Ask me again in a week or two.

This is what a full-scale rebuilding project looks like, letting someone sink or swim in the big leagues. If Bowden wasnt in the right place at the right time, he certainly is now.

I just couldnt have written it any better, he said.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”