Cubs will pay their respects to Dexter Fowler at Wrigley Field

Cubs will pay their respects to Dexter Fowler at Wrigley Field

ST. LOUIS – Dexter Fowler is in such a unique situation that he might get standing ovations at Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field this season.

The Opening Night sellout crowd of 47,566 stood up for Fowler before his first at-bat on Sunday, hoping he can have the same impact on the St. Louis Cardinals as he did with the you-go, we-go Cubs. The Cardinals wanted more energy, athleticism and presence at the top of their lineup and made Fowler an offer he couldn't refuse at five years and $82.5 million. The first snapshot became a 4-3 walk-off win over the defending World Series champs.

Fowler will be busy when the Cubs get their World Series rings on April 12, but he has stayed in contact with club president Theo Epstein and his old teammates. Look for the Cubs to do some sort of public acknowledgement (video board tribute?) and give Fowler his championship bling when the Cardinals visit Wrigley Field in early June.

"I've been talking to Theo about it," Fowler said. "We'll see. I think it's probably my first trip back there."

There are no hard feelings, because Fowler finished his mission in Chicago and earned the security of a long-term deal, while the Cubs wanted to groom Albert Almora Jr. as a center fielder and preserve some financial flexibility for their young hitting stars and pitching reinforcements.

"Dexter is the type of guy that looks good no matter what he wears," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "I tried to bash on him. I was like: 'Man, you kind of look good.' He's obviously a good friend. He's always going to be a good friend. But when we're between the lines, we got to keep it professional."

Just like his old teammates, Fowler has gotten the same kind of thank-yous from total strangers.

"Coming over here, you still have Cubs fans that tend to like me," Fowler said. "They understand the nature of the game, besides the 12-year-olds that are cussing me out."

On Twitter?

"Yeah, on Twitter, Instagram, the whole nine, they're cussing me out, but that's fine," Fowler said.   

Fowler says these things with a smile on his face and an attitude that got a lot of attention from the Cardinal brass and in the St. Louis media. Fowler being a spring-training DJ during the team stretch and batting practice disrupted The Cardinal Way.

"They've welcomed me with open arms," Fowler said. "I felt like we had to turn up a little bit. I just wanted to come out here and be myself. You guys all know how I am. It was too quiet."

Fowler sparked the Cardinals in the third inning with an infield single off Jon Lester. Fowler raced to third base when Javier Baez couldn't pick up a probable double-play ball he lost in a white rotating ad behind home plate. Fowler scored his new team's first run of 2017 on Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly to right field, looking like something out of The Cubs Way.

Manager Joe Maddon won't reveal the updated version of the "you go, we go" message that he used to send to Fowler, saying it's too X-rated with new leadoff guy Kyle Schwarber. But Fowler will always be part of The Team that will live forever in the hearts and minds of Cubs fans.

"What he did the last couple years for us, this is his opportunity to make it good for his family for the rest of his life," Maddon said. "Good for him, man. We'd love to have him. I'd love to be saying (that to him). But I'm really happy for him and his family."

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is home in Kansas City for a couple rare days during the baseball season. His mom wants to meet him for lunch, and his sister, a grade-school teacher in town, just had a baby that he hasn’t had a chance to see yet.

“How much would I love to go get to see her and my new nephew?” Hottovy said. “Can’t do it. Just can’t.”

Not this time. Not with what’s at stake. Not when possible threats to health and professional purpose lurk in every unfamiliar hallway, byway and unmasked face while the Cubs navigate their first multi-city road trip of the season.

Don’t believe the risk of spread and large-scale COVID-19 team outbreaks are that sensitive, extreme and potentially swift? Just ask the Marlins and Cardinals, whose outbreaks in the first week of play put their seasons on hold and threatened the status of the league’s season.

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“I’m not leaving the hotel. I told my family and friends and everybody [in Kansas City],” Hottovy said. “We all signed up for this, to make sure that for this to work we all have to make those kinds of sacrifices. I love my family to death and would love to get to see them, but right now this is our home.”

The Cubs second trip, which started with a 6-1 victory Wednesday in Kansas City and continues to St. Louis before finishing in Cleveland next week, coincides with stepped-up COVID-19 protocols from Major League Baseball following the Marlins and Cardinals outbreaks.

The Cubs already had protocols in place that exceeded MLB’s original mandates and that are in compliance with the new mandates. And a month into the league’s restart they remained the only team without a player having tested positive for the virus.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

In fact, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant decided on his own to start wearing a protective mask on the bases when the Cubs played last week in Cincinnati, where three Reds players were sidelined either by positive tests or self-reported symptoms as that series opened. And first baseman Anthony Rizzo told ESPN 1000 on Tuesday that he plans to keep a mask in his pocket while in the field in St. Louis and will consider wearing it when somebody reaches base.

“No matter what measures you put in place, when you’re trying to pull off a season that requires travel in the middle of a global pandemic, it ultimately does come down to personal responsibility,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “And everyone is at the mercy of the least responsible person because of the nature of the spread of this disease.”

Nobody knows that more than Hottovy and many of the Cubs who watched their pitching coach deteriorate in real time during daily Zoom sessions in May and June until the worst symptoms of his frightening monthlong bout with the virus forced him to hand off his job duties.

Whether Hottovy’s experience led directly to the Cubs’ more extreme safety policies or the individual players’ apparent hyper diligence, MLB’s recent coronavirus outbreaks and other cases at least raise questions about whether some teams and players — or even the league — respect the potential severity of a virus that has killed more than 158,000 Americans in five months.

“I don’t think people underestimate that aspect of it; I think they underestimated how easy it was to spread,” Hottovy said of the outbreaks — including a Cardinals outbreak that reportedly was traced to one asymptomatic, outside individual familiar with the team.

Hottovy called the highly contagious nature of the virus “the scary part of this,” both in terms of the potential to quickly render an organization unable to field a team as well as the subsequent, inherent risk that poses to family members and others who might, in turn, be among those who then become severely impacted by the virus.

And the hardest part, he said, is not letting down your guard within the team bubble when it’s easy to trust that when it’s only teammates in the room that it’s OK to disregard masks, distancing and other safety measures.

“That’s when it gets dangerous,” said Hottovy, whose team talks often about assuming everyone — including each other — has the virus.

So just like in Cincinnati, neither he nor anyone else in the Cubs’ traveling party plans to go anywhere but to and from hotels and ballparks during their trip.

“Listen, you don’t have to search too far for a reason to take it serious,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said.

“I have three of my close friends who got it, that are over it. But the symptoms are as real as it gets from the sounds of it. And I think you have guys who are risking stuff coming and playing this season, whether it’s Craig [Kimbrel] and his daughter [heart condition] or Anthony [Rizzo] and Jon [Lester] with their [cancer] history.

“You’re paying respect to them and doing your teammate justice by not being the one to kind of go out,” Kipnis added. “It’s one of those years where, hey, you’ve got to buckle down and stay the course. I think everybody’s going through it, so you don’t want to be the one that kind of screws this one up.

The Cubs’ 10-2 start to a 60-game season seems to further incentivize that discipline — some players in recent days even suggesting the discipline in following the protocols has carried into the professionalism on the field.

It’s impossible to know if any of it will be enough for the Cubs to keep their moving bubble secure, much less whether the two outbreaks that MLB seems to have withstood will provide the significant enough wakeup call that MLB and team officials have suggested.

“The vast, vast majority of everyone involved in this enterprise, the players and staff, are doing a solid job so far in making a lot of sacrifices,” Epstein said. “And we just have to get everybody on board. And hopefully these two outbreaks are enough to get everyone to the point where we have essentially perfect execution going forward, because that’s largely what it will take.”


Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Cubs shortstop Javier Báez recognizes he should have run out of the batter’s box.

“It was my mistake,” Báez said after Wednesday’s 6-1 Cubs win over the Royals. “I thought that ball was foul.”

With two on and no out in the fourth inning Wednesday, Báez hit a towering pop fly down the right field foul line. He hesitated in the batter’s box for a few moments, leaving shortly before the ball dropped in fair just inside the line.

“I kind of lost it, but the wind started bringing it back,” Báez said. “Even [Royals catcher Salvador Pérez] was kind of surprised and he was like, ‘I think it’s gonna be fair,’ so I started running.”

Báez wound up with an RBI single, scoring Kris Bryant from second and moving Anthony Rizzo to third with no outs. He likely could have wound up at second base with a double, setting up the Cubs with two runners in scoring position and no outs. 

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The inning ended shortly after, as Willson Contreras grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, scoring Rizzo to take a 2-1 lead, and David Bote struck out two batters later. In the end, the moment didn’t hurt the Cubs, who never trailed after taking that fourth inning lead.

After the game, Cubs manager David Ross defended Báez and said he didn’t talk to him about running that ball out.

“I think that’s a really close play,” Ross said. “If I want to be the type of manager that nitpicks every little thing... These guys go out and play their butt off every single night for me and for this group. 

“If I feel like they’re dogging it, we’ll have a conversation. I feel like that’s a play that he may have assumed was foul. I think Javy’s one of the most exciting players and he plays hard every time I see him out there on the field. 

“So, I don’t have a problem with a guy that brings it every single day.”