Cubs

Cubs-Nationals: Bryce Harper takes aim at Wrigley Field

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Cubs-Nationals: Bryce Harper takes aim at Wrigley Field

You would love Bryce Harper if he played for your team.

The face of the Washington Nationals franchise has been covered in so much eye black that he’s looked like a professional wrestler. He went viral when he dropped “That’s a clown question, bro” on a reporter. He responded to getting thrown out of last week’s marquee game against the New York Yankees by firing back at umpire Marvin Hudson through the media: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump tonight.”

“I don’t know what everybody else doesn’t like,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I like players that play hard and care and obviously he’s pretty good. So I probably would like him.”

Maddon laughed at that line, knowing Harper is the rare superstar who combines off-the-charts talent with maximum effort. At the age of 22, Harper led the majors in RBI (41), runs scored (39), walks (39), on-base percentage (.471) and slugging percentage (.728) on Memorial Day. His 16 homers led the National League.

[MORE: Like Cubs, Bryce Harper would've stuck Kris Bryant in minors]

Harper didn’t beat the Cubs on Monday afternoon, but the Nationals still managed to piece together a 2-1 victory, getting by with home runs from Denard Span and Wilson Ramos and a shutdown performance from their deep pitching staff.

The Cubs (24-20) got a good crowd (38,463) for a holiday and the first-place Nationals. Harper definitely appreciates the game’s history and wants to perform on the biggest stages. Just look at those four homers in 40 postseason at-bats already.   

“I love Wrigley,” Harper said. “You go out there to see the ivy, see the fans. I’m kind of sad there’s not going to be anybody in right field for me. But it’s a lot of fun playing here.

“I enjoy playing here and San Fran and Boston. Those are the three. It just feels like you’re in a ballpark in your backyard playing the game.”

In what appeared to be a mismatch, lefty Tsuyoshi Wada struck out Harper looking in the first inning. Harper sprinted for a double in the fourth inning after smacking a ball into right field, alertly tagging up when first baseman Anthony Rizzo caught up pop-up in foul territory, near the visiting bullpen.   

It looked like Harper wanted to break his bat after popping out against Wada in the sixth inning. Harper worked a six-pitch walk against lefty reliever Zac Rosscup in the eighth inning. 

Harper didn’t put on a show this time, but he will have two more chances this week at Clark and Addison.  

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be here Wednesday night, because they’re all going to be at the Hawks game,” Harper said. “I think everybody’s excited about that, too.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Before the game, Harper stood at his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse and patiently answered questions from the Chicago media for six-plus minutes, understanding his responsibility as an ambassador for the game.

Harper tried to deflect attention away from himself, crediting his teammates and manager Matt Williams for his hot start. He also lavishly praised Kris Bryant, his old teammate/rival from Las Vegas, and how the Cubs have reshaped their organization.   

“It’s just good for baseball to have two young guys on the same field,” Bryant said. “He’s doing his thing. I’m doing my thing. We’re just trying to help the team win. But, yeah, it was pretty cool seeing him out there today.”

Near the end of Harper’s media session, a reporter asked if he had checked the flags whipping around the stadium.

“No, I haven’t,” Harper said and smiled. “I don’t need wind. I’m good.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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