Cubs

Cubs' Bowden enjoying the ride

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Cubs' Bowden enjoying the ride

This time last year, Michael Bowden was gearing up for a season with the Boston Red Sox, hoping to stick on the big-league roster after spring training.

Now, Bowden's days are filled with charity events and a Cubs Caravan tour around the suburbs in which he was raised.

"It's unbelievable," said Bowden, who grew up as a Cubs fan in Aurora. "I was traded last April. Out of chance, I was dealt to the Cubs...It was a dream come true. I couldn't have scripted it any better.

"Hopefully I help the team win and I'm here for a long time. I'm really enjoying this all. It's awesome."

The 26-year-old pitcher joined Cubs players and staff -- including Gold Glove-winning second baseman Darwin Barney and manager Dale Sveum -- in a visit to promote health and wellness to the students Thursday morning at Fox Chase Elementary School in Oswego, where Bowden currently makes his home.

"You go there, you see them all and they're all decked out in Cubs gear. They're impressed that you're there," Bowden said of his visit to Fox Chase. "It's fun to be able to have that kind of effect on kids when you go to places like that.

"To be able to give back to the community that I'm actually living in is really, really cool."

Bowden starred at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora before the Red Sox drafted him with the 47th pick in the 2005 MLB Draft. He came over to the Cubs in the Marlon Byrd deal last spring and immediately joined the Chicago bullpen.

The 6-foot-3 righty got off to a tough start in his Cubs career, surrendering eight runs in 9.2 innings between April and May. The Cubs sent him down to Triple-A Iowa, where he made 23 relief appearances.

Bowden was recalled in mid-August and posted a 1.33 ERA the rest of the way, including 11 straight scoreless appearances to end the 2012 season.

He enters spring training this year hoping to snag a bullpen spot in the majors, but still remembers where he comes from. The hometown kid had friends and family come out to Wrigley Field all last year, and anticipates much of the same this season.

"It's not overwhelming," Bowden said. "During BP and stuff, I'll have old friends and stuff hollering at me from the stands. It's nice because usually during the season, I leave in February and I don't get home until October.

"Now, I'm around friends and family throughout the course of the season. It's good to be around them and see them. It's a different lifestyle than I've been accoustmed to the last seven years."

Bowden said he's even run into some old opponents from his high school days at Wrigley Field.

"I had a couple guys last year tell me how they hit homers off me. And I don't recall that at all," he deadpanned. "A lot of people come out to the game. It's cool to catch up with some guys and see how we know each other or have run across each other in the past."

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

Monday’s interview with Jim Hickey in Chicago — roughly 72 hours after the Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio and within a week of manager Joe Maddon saying “of course” he wanted his entire staff back — is a first step in the reboot at Wrigley Field.

Maddon would probably like to have that answer back, knowing he could have softened the language with corporate speak and created some wiggle room in the middle of a National League Championship Series where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game.

But Hickey, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is a familiar face and an expert voice at a time when Maddon’s honeymoon period appears to be over, repeatedly first- and second-guessed about his decisions, from the World Series Game 7 the Cubs won last year through a frustrating 43-45 start to this season and deep into another playoff run.

That staff is already in flux, with bench coach Dave Martinez scheduled to interview with the Washington Nationals for Dusty Baker’s old job and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now leaving to take a lead role with the Los Angeles Angels hitters.

Here’s why the Cubs will probably have to make Hickey an offer he can’t refuse:

— A rival scout noticed how often Maddon looked like a solitary figure in the dugout, standing there looking down at his lineup card. Whatever friction Maddon felt with Bosio — a big presence who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks — Hickey is someone the manager trusts after their eight seasons together with the Rays.

Maddon insisted he wasn’t maneuvering behind the scenes when he reached out after Hickey surprisingly parted ways with Tampa Bay in October, but it still showed the depth of their relationship: “I called him to console a friend.”

— While working for the Boston Red Sox, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer got an up-close look at what Hickey did in the American League East, helping build the small-market contender that advanced to the 2008 World Series, the beginning of five seasons with at least 90 wins in six years.

Between his time with the Rays and Houston Astros, look at the All-Star pitchers Hickey has worked with: Chris Archer, David Price, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Matt Moore, Fernando Rodney, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, Scott Kazmir, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens.

— Hickey can also offer unique insight into Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will have to do more background work on as they try to replace 40 percent of their rotation. Cobb — who went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays — just turned 30 and has only 700 innings on his major-league odometer after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season.

“He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly,” Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times after Hickey left the Rays with a year remaining on his contract. “He will have a great time being a free agent.

“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.”

— Beyond the connection to Maddon, Hickey is someone who knows Chicago after growing up on the South Side, and that hometown draw will probably matter at a time when the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are among several marquee teams in the market for a new pitching coach that now might be thinking: "Better Call Boz."

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”