Chicago Cubs

Mundelein's Borucki: Like father, like son

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Mundelein's Borucki: Like father, like son

Ray Borucki is proud of his son Ryan, who has emerged as the leading major league prospect in Illinois this spring. And he hopes the hard-throwing pitcher will enjoy all of the thrills that he experienced while he was a young and promising baseball player.

Ray was a star second basemanpitcher on Niles West's 1975 state championship team. He pitched a no-hitter to beat Springfield 13-0 in the state semifinals. It was one of 19 no-hitters in the history of the state finals. And it was the third state championship team produced by legendary Niles West coach Jim Phipps.

After the season, Borucki wasn't drafted. But he received 6,000 for signing with the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school.

"Everybody's dream is to be a professional baseball player," he said.

The Phillies assigned him to their minor league club in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was allotted 6 a day for meal money. The team took buses everywhere. He played with future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and one-time Cub center fielder Bobby Dernier.

He played in the minor leagues for five years, first for the Phillies, then for the Detroit Tigers. He never made it to the big leagues.

"But it was the greatest time of my life outside of winning the state title in high school," Ray said. "I enjoyed my teammates and the relationships. The money wasn't big. But you played because you loved it. We won two league titles. I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything."

Now Ray hopes his son will experience even more success in professional baseball. As a 6-foot-4 lefty with a 92 mph fastball, he has the kind of potential that major league scouts are looking for in a young prospect. Thirty scouts showed up at one of his recent outings. He is projected to be chosen in the first 10 rounds in the upcoming major league draft.

His father has worked an 11-to-7 midnight shift for the last 16 years so he can coach baseball, pitch batting practice to his son and attend all of his games. "It's worth every minute," Ray said.

Because his son was so small -- he was a 5-foot-9, 130-pounder as a sophomore -- Borucki never thought he would be big enough to be a pitcher. Both of them thought he would be a first baseman and a hitter. So Ray began pitching batting practice to Ryan when he was five years old.

"As much as he loves to pitch, nothing compares to the time I have thrown to him in batting practice over the years," Ray said. "He has taken more batting practice than anyone. What has been great about Ryan is he never once said he didn't feel like going to have batting practice."

Even though Ryan has grown to 6-foot-4 and become a pitching prospect, not a hitting prospect, his father continues to toss batting practice. Ryan continues to play first base when he isn't pitching. And his continues to be one of his team's leading batsmen with a .343 average. He even takes batting practice while he is sitting out with a sore elbow.

In fact, his father blames himself for his son's injury and his current 10-day layoff. Ryan came up sore while pitching a no-hitter against Cary-Grove last week. Rather than come out of the game, he stayed in to compete the no-hitter.

"I threw a no-hitter in the state semifinals in 1975 and I think part of the reason he didn't come out of the game was because he wanted to say he had pitched a no-hitter," Ray said. "So I think it is partly my fault that he has to sit out for a while."

Father and son have a great bond. They are best friends. "To watch him work this hard, to come on in the last year to achieve what he has...well, I'm really proud of him," Ray said.

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez broke the code of silence when he mentioned to reporters the latest thing for a Cubs team that designed a Party Room for their state-of-the-art clubhouse at Wrigley Field, turned Jason Heyward’s Rain Delay Speech into World Series mythology and interviews each other in the dugout for pretend TV segments after hitting home runs.

“He doesn’t know how the Italian way works,” Anthony Rizzo said. “There are supposed to be team things that stay with the team.”

Baez let it slip before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, replaying the dramatic 10-inning comeback victory from the night before at Miller Park. If you see the Cubs instantly disappear from the dugout, or a TV camera shows a shot of an empty dugout…    

“We got this new thing,” Baez said. “I don’t want to be the one saying it. I’ll just let him say it. But it’s really fun. When somebody’s mad, everybody walks in and we do some fun things that get us hyper. You guys ask Rizzo.”

The Godfather gave a cryptic response. Omerta is expected to be part of The Cubs Way.

“It’s a team retreat,” Rizzo said. “It’s not just me. It’s anyone who needs to let out some steam this late in the season. It’s a team thing. It’s a long season and you go through ups and downs. And there’s times where you get to that boiling point where you just want to kill anything in your way.”

Rizzo needed to vent and called his teammates into the visiting clubhouse on Thursday night after striking out with two runners on in the eighth inning of a tie game that could swing the National League Central race.

“Throughout the year, you go back in the tunnel probably 25 times,” Rizzo said. “You got to take it out somewhere. You can only stay sane so long. It’s September. It’s a team (thing) now.

“It’s worked. We’re 3-for-3 on it. But it’s not me gathering. It’s just whoever feels like it’s time – you’ll see the team rushing off the bench and going for a nice little retreat.”

In many ways, Rizzo sets the clubhouse tone with his laid-back vibe off the field and intense competitive streak on the field. Tom Verducci’s book, “The Cubs Way,” detailed a scene before last year’s World Series Game 7 where Rizzo got naked, played “Rocky” music, quoted movie lines and shadowboxed until reliever Hector Rondon joined “in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.”

“This is strictly in-game,” Rizzo said. “You can’t do it, though, and be selfish and go on a nice little retreat when we’re winning. It’s got to be the right timing. It helps, too, because it’s been fun the last couple weeks since we started doing it.”

One obvious benefit: There are no annoying TV cameras. Like in late July when frustrated pitcher John Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout and exchanged words with the face-of-the-franchise first baseman.

“We’ve come together now,” Rizzo said. “It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. When things go wrong for a certain individual, we rally around him. And that’s what we got to keep doing from here on out.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”