'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs

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'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.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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