Cubs

Cubs will feel a wave of emotions in NY on 911

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Cubs will feel a wave of emotions in NY on 911

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 6:24 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney Sox Drawer: The White Sox on 911

Alfonso Soriano woke up that morning and turned on the television. He wondered what movie it was before changing to a different channel. He kept flipping and everywhere he saw the same haunting images of the Twin Towers.

Soriano checked his phone and noticed he had about 20 messages, friends wondering if he was all right and the team telling him that there would be no game that night.

Soriano lived in northern New Jersey, not far from the George Washington Bridge that would lead him into Yankee Stadium. From his place, you could look out the window and get sweeping views of New York.

Soriano loved the bright lights of the city, the big bounce and extra energy youd get from New York. The strong Dominican community there made him feel comfortable. Soon everyone would essentially look the same. Scared. Confused. Lost.

Soriano was a 25-year-old rookie, surrounded by his mother and two brothers. Against a bright blue sky, he could see the smoke rising from a skyline that would never look the same again.

Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

In the fall of 2001, the New York Yankees would become Americas Team. The emotions and adrenaline from Sept. 11 would fuel their run to the World Series. Ten years later, Soriano recalled the urgency inside the clubhouse.

We got to give something to the city.

Zombies

The Atlanta Braves were the first team into New York after 911. Chipper Jones remembers walking a few blocks around the team hotel, unsure what he was doing there.

It was like 1,000-yard stares everywhere, Jones recalled. Everybody was still just kind of dumbfounded. Everybody was kind of walking around like zombies. We (all had) the same look: Amazement as to how this could have happened.

The Beatles, the World Series and Pope John Paul II had all played Shea Stadium. It quickly became a relief center, the gate areas and parking lots filling with food and supplies. On Sept. 21, it hosted the citys first sporting event since the terrorist attacks.

The New York Mets wore hats honoring the citys real heroes NYPD, FDNY, PAPD, EMS.

I think I could speak for everybody in my clubhouse, Jones said. We didnt want to be there. We didnt want to be playing baseball at that particular time. I think most guys would tell you if they had a choice, they would want to go enlist and go kick some ass.

We were pissed off and we were mad and we were angry. And the last thing we wanted to do was to be playing baseball. But it was our job. (Maybe) baseball, for some people, was the first step towards trying to rebuild things (and) trying to get that sense of normalcy back.

Witnesses

Jeff Baker was sitting in a nutrition class at Clemson University when he heard the first fragments of news. You might remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. Another generation lived through Pearl Harbor. This was one of those moments youll never forget.

Baker was born in West Germany and moved all around the world following his father, Larry, a former U.S. Army colonel and West Point professor. While stationed in Dubai, Baker would stay at home with his mother inside their villa while his dad went out into the 110-degree heat to install missile-defense systems.

On 911, Baker was able to quickly reach his father, who still had security clearance at the Pentagon, but had rotated back to an assignment at the Defense Nuclear Agency, where he served during Operation Desert Storm.

Baker had a teammate on the Clemson baseball team whose father also worked at the Pentagon, on the side of the building where the 757 hit. Baker watched the concern on his face as he struggled to reach his father and the relief when they finally made contact.

Thousands lost parents who wouldnt be able to watch their kids grow up, leaving empty seats at baseball games, graduations and weddings.

The Cubs utility man understands the sacrifices that have been made in the 10 years since. He knows there will be an electricity in the air before the Cubs play the Mets on Sunday night at Citi Field.

(Its) remembering and rejoicing (and) celebrating their lives, Baker said. (Its) not only the people (who) paid the ultimate price and gave up their life. (Its) the firefighters, the families, the policemen, everybody, the whole city of New York. For such a tragic event, the way they handled themselves afterward is pretty remarkable.

Im not sure if any other city in the world could do it.

Targets

As Jones ran out to left field the night of Sept. 21, he picked up a few cartridges that had fallen to the ground during the 21-gun salute at Shea Stadium. He still has them to this day.

It was scary, Jones said. I think we were all a little leery of being back in town so close to 911, just because its so close to LaGuardia (Airport). A major-league ballpark would be you would think a prime target with so many people being in one spot. It was probably my most vivid memory of any game that Ive ever played in.

Jones is 39 years old now, a seven-time All-Star whos won a World Series ring and been part of 20 postseason series. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the 41,275 fans in Flushing watched Mike Piazza smash the go-ahead, two-run homer that lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Braves.

It was divine intervention, Jones said of Piazzas shot. We all took it upon ourselves to help do our part. And part of it was entertaining the people of New York and people all over America for three hours. That was our job, trying to return some little piece of normalcy to everyday life.

Honestly, it was the first time Ive played in that stadium where I got more thank yous than boos. It was just a really kind of humbling experience.

Heroes

After landing in New York with a 2-0 World Series lead, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly and a group of around 30 players, coaches and front-office staffers visited the rescue workers at Ground Zero.

(It was only a) couple hours we spent there, Brenly recalled. (But) I still have mental scars from what I saw and what I heard that day. For people who had loved ones that were there or people who had rescue workers that were going down there every day they definitely needed something to take their mind off what was going on.

Brenly, the Cubs television analyst, remembers President Bush standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium with his chest out and his chin up, throwing a first-pitch strike before Game 3.

The rest was a blur: The Yankees winning three straight one-run games, one in 10 innings, another in 12. The Diamondbacks coming back in the bottom of the ninth inning against the great Mariano Rivera to win it all in Game 7.

Ive never experienced anything quite like it at a ballpark, Brenly said. Baseballs a distraction. Its entertainment. We take it way too seriously. But at that particular time, the country needed something like that.

A decade later, baseball in New York will be a way to snap out of the distraction, a needed reminder of what was lost, and what should never be forgotten.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here.