Once Matt Szczur made the decision, he never planned to be a Monday morning quarterback on his own career.
Szczur had been training for the NFL combine in January 2011 when former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., to watch another workout. They went to dinner at a nearby Morton’s steakhouse and eventually agreed to a $1.5 million bonus that meant riding buses and trying to hit the curveball.
Instead of Halas Hall, Szczur went to work on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The 25-year-old outfielder got validation over the weekend at New York’s Citi Field, becoming the seventh Cub to make his big-league debut this season, surrounded by his Villanova buddies and family from Cape May, N.J.
“It was a long road,” Szczur said. “I didn’t even know I was going to be playing baseball. Out of my junior/senior year, I thought I was going to be in the NFL.
[MORE: Sammy Sosa in exile while Manny Ramirez rewrites the Cubs Way]
“It’s been a great journey. There’s been struggles. There’s been ups and downs. I’m glad I’m here now, but it doesn’t stop here. I got to continue to work and continue to try and get better.”
Szczur played in the 2011 Futures Game and emerged as a Southern League All-Star last season at Double-A Tennessee. He has the athleticism that helped Villanova football win a national championship in the old Division I-AA. He was the MVP of the 2009 title game, drawing pro scouts as a returner/receiver/Wildcat quarterback.
Szczur also gets high marks for his makeup. He donated peripheral blood cells to a 19-month-old leukemia patient in 2010. It was a 1-in-80,000 shot at being a match, and the patient survived, as documented in an excellent ESPN profile.
Those experiences give Szczur some perspective. His speed – 30 stoles bases at Triple-A Iowa this year – and defense could help a team. The Cubs are nearing the point where they will have to really focus more on the depth of their roster 1 through 25, not simply looking at players as part of The Core or not.
[ALSO: As Edwards gets back on track, he knows his time is coming]
But there are questions about whether or not Szczur’s bat will play at this level after he hit one homer and put up a .626 OPS in 116 games at Iowa. It’s getting harder to see how he fits with the Theo Epstein administration and an outfield mix that could include Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber.
Szczur’s also shown that he’s not afraid of a challenge.
“I feel like I could be a really big piece of the puzzle,” Szczur said. “I can contribute a lot defensively, offensively, on the bases. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to help us win.”