Family weighs heavily on Loopers mind

Family weighs heavily on Loopers mind

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Posted: 7:34 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Braden Looper has made it clear that theres only one team he wants to play for in 2011.

Its not like playing at Wrigley Field is some lifelong dream. Its just the reality of his wife and three children living in Chicagos south suburbs. The Cubs fit what Looper wants to be as a husband, father and a pitcher.

Its not about the money, because the 36-year-old Looper has made almost 25 million in his career, according to the Baseball-Reference.com salary database.

Its uncertain if the Cubs will ultimately have enough room on their pitching staff for Looper, but he made strides during Sundays 7-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He scattered five hits and allowed one run across 3.2 innings to earn the victory in front of 12,346 fans at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Not bad for a guy who hadnt started a game since Oct. 2, 2009 and spent last summer coaching his kids Little League team.

He was on target, bench coach Pat Listach said. Its a nice competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Weve got a few guys involved and hes keeping himself right there in the running.

Looper already proved how serious he is about family by sitting out last season, when he didnt receive an offer he liked. He doesnt want to drag them all across the country.

Looper worked out this offseason but didnt really throw all winter. His agent knew it had to be the right situation, and a minor-league deal came together in late January.

Physically, Looper feels good, and he says his right arm is basically caught up to where it needs to be. Hes waiting for his kids to get out of school for spring break. He knows that while there are trade-offs being away from home this much, there are also perks in having your dad play in the big leagues.

Everybody where were at is either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, so theyre real excited, Looper said. My sons excited to be able to come to Wrigley Field and run around. (But) well see what happens. We got a long ways to go. I think today was a good, positive step in the right direction. Hopefully we can make more positive steps.

Looper has made 30-plus starts and won at least 12 games in each of the last three seasons hes pitched, a wealth of experience that shouldnt be discounted. Hes willing to share, even with the younger pitchers hes competing directly against.

Whether Im talking to (Andrew Cashner) on the side about pitching or his routine between starts, Looper said, whether its whoever you can fill that name in with whoever you want Im always going to be that way.

If I cant play and be part of whats going on in other peoples lives and help them get better? Thats what its all about. Yeah, were here to win. Yeah, I want to start. But if you cant do the other stuff, its not worth doing it.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”