After eight months away from Wrigley Field, Addison Russell is back wearing the Cubs logo and the white uniform with blue pinstripes.
Russell's 40-game suspension for domestic abuse ended last week, but the Cubs opted to keep the infielder in the minor leagues to continue to work on his timing and get ready to handle a big-league workload after missing all of April.
Theo Epstein said the organization's initial plan was to add Russell to the big-league roster next Tuesday in Cincinnati — the first game after the Cubs' current 10-game homestand — but with Ben Zobrist on a leave of absence and Daniel Descalso still nursing an ankle injury, the Cubs needed some infield depth.
Russell was promoted Wednesday afternoon and immediately inserted into the Cubs lineup, batting eighth and playing second base (Javy Baez remained at his shortstop post). Russell received a mixture of boos and cheers as he was announced before the game and then had a similar reaction from fans when he took his first at-bat in the third inning. He finished the day 0-for-3 with a walk as the Cubs pulled out a 3-2 victory in 11 innings.
Epstein and the Cubs also felt Russell was ready to take the next step in his rehabilitation. Epstein reiterated again that just because Russell is back in Chicago does not mean there is any sort of "finish line" or that his work is complete.
The Cubs gave Russell a conditional second chance and they feel he's met their conditions to date, though Epstein acknowledged this will be a lifelong process for Russell.
"Very meaningful for me, honestly — the testimonials from people in Addison's life who had been affected by his inappropriate behavior before who are now talking about his growth, his improved communication skills, coping skills, emotional control, his increased engagement as a father and as a co-parent," Epstein said. "To me, that's really significant and shows that there's been some progress to this point.
"He wouldn't be here had there not been progress. This is not a finish line. The work continues. Addison is committed to continuing to put the work in and he'll need to."
If everything had gone according to plan with the Cubs' roster, Russell would've rejoined the team on the road and not at home.
But Wednesday night's crowd for first pitch was hardly typical of Wrigley Field, due in part to the start of the game getting pushed up a half hour because of inclement weather. Between that and the rebuilding Marlins in town as the Cubs' opponent, this wasn't exactly a standing-room only crowd for Russell's first game back.
Even if the Cubs' ideal plan was to bring Russell up on the road, that would only have delayed the inevitable return to Wrigley.
"I think it's fine," Epstein said. "It's part of the process. Had he made his return on the road, he would've had to deal with another round of inquiry and dealt with a return to Wrigley field at some point in the near future, so he can deal with all that today and continue to move forward.
"Look, if there's an additional burden and there's additional scrutiny on him and there are other things that he has to deal with, I think that's just part of the process. That's not unfair. That's part of his arc and the journey that he's on."
As for how Cubs fans might welcome Russell back Wednesday and beyond, Epstein understands there will be some negative backlash along the way.
"I hope Addison continues to grow," Epstein said. "That's what this is all about. I think he should expect to face adversity along the way and he doesn't deserve to be met with an unconditionally warm welcome and with open arms. I think he will receive an appropriate response and that's something he needs to take responsibility for — to process, to handle the right way and to grow from.
"I think it's all part of the process. He knows it's a long road back to earn people's trust — whether that's the organization, most importantly the people in his life on a daily basis, his teammates and then the fans. It's not something that you get back easily. It's something he has to learn.
"Because of the work that he's put in, he's still a part of this organization and I think this buys him a chance to try to earn people's trust back and that's it."
What was Russell expecting as a reaction from fans?
"I'm not sure. I'm really not sure," he said. "I'm just gonna try and go out there and help my team win. Good or bad, I think in my mind, it's gonna be a positive reaction just because of how hard I've worked to get here. I realize there's a long road ahead of me, but I'm happy I'm here in Chicago, ready to help this team win."
Russell said he feels part of his goal is to try to win over fans who were against the Cubs bringing him back and reiterated that he's done a lot of work off the field.
"I've just improved overall," he said. "Better relationships, better communication with my teammates and family and friends. Just overall, I feel like I'm a better person. Hearing from my family and friends and also teammates that I have improved as well is a lot of assurance for me.
"And then just continuing my therapy as well. I know that I'm making great strides. It's a long road ahead and there is no finish line, but I'm committed to this."
What would he say to fans who don't feel he deserves to be back in a Cubs uniform and back on an MLB field?
"I'm here," Russell said. "I know they're going to think and say whatever they want to say and they're entitled to that and I respect them for that, but the thing is, I'm here and I have an opportunity to help this team win."