Dusty Baker has been here before.
Meaning he was here, at Wrigley Field, for a long time. Baker, the Cubs’ manager from 2003 to 2006, was one of the few North Side skippers to experience postseason baseball prior to last year’s curse-smashing World Series win. And he managed a whole bunch of games, regardless of where the calendar was, at the corner of Clark and Addison.
So Baker, who’s managing against his former team Monday and Tuesday as the NLDS between the Cubs and Washington Nationals shifts to Chicago, will use his familiarity with the Friendly Confines to help his current squad advance deeper into October.
"Yeah, you know, I've got a bunch of homies here," Baker said with a smile ahead of Game 3 on Monday afternoon, "so I've got some backup.
"I mean, it's always nice to come to Chicago. I enjoyed coming here for years and years. You know, it's a nice place to come. A nice place, you know, for us to try and get a victory."
Baker knows all about the wind and the sun and all the extra stuff that comes with playing games on the North Side. While the Nationals pay a visit to Wrigley Field each and every season, his team is short on guys who have logged significant playing time here. For example, Bryce Harper's only played 14 games here. Anthony Rendon's played 15 games. Daniel Murphy's been here 25 times. Game 3 will be Trea Turner's first at Wrigley.
Meanwhile, Baker managed 324 regular-season games in his four years as the Cubs' manager. He visited plenty as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants and now with the Nationals. So he's far more familiar with the place than much of his current roster, meaning those players would be wise to ask him how to best go about playing in such a unique ballpark.
"You talk to them to continually check the wind," Baker said, "and what you see earlier in the game may not be what you see later in the game. I think that giant scoreboard in left-center field has changed how the ball plays some out there, because it used to — if the wind is blowing in or across, it used to knock everything down when it was open. But now it seems that it's blocking the wind, especially in that area.
"I found it, contrary to popular belief, when I was here, it seems like the wind blew in more than it blows out, or at least it was a cross-wind. Most of the time it's a from left to right, and so yesterday during practice, we didn't hardly have any wind. So you know, what it's like today, I don't know. It's a beautiful day out. It's short-sleeve weather. I'm sure it's going to be a good day for a ballgame."
But Game 3 brings an additional wrinkle. Hardly any Nationals hitters have faced Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana, just three to be precise: Matt Wieters, Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind. But the Nationals do have a valuable fountain of information on Quintana in the form of Adam Eaton, the injured outfielder who spent multiple seasons as Quintana's teammate with the White Sox.
Eaton played 433 games during his three seasons on the South Side, a three-season span during which Quintana was quietly one of the American League's best pitchers, posting a 3.29 ERA in 96 starts.
So, much like Baker can offer his team insight into the conditions at Wrigley, Eaton can offer insight into what his teammates can expect from Quintana.
"We've got scouting reports, there's nothing like the naked eye seeing a guy. I think the advantage most of the time goes to the pitcher if you haven't seen him," Baker said of Quintana. "So we're relying on some of the guys who might have played with him and some of the guys who played against him.
"I'm sure (Nationals hitting coach Rick) Shu has spoken to (Eaton), and since you made that point, if he hasn't, I'm going to make sure he does speak to him.
"Quintana, I was told a long time ago — I was told by (Kansas City Royals manager) Ned Yost about how difficult he can be to hit sometimes. I haven't seen him in other, other than on video or TV. This will be our first look at him for a bunch of players."
Of course, neither Baker nor Eaton will be the ones on the field making the plays during Games 3 and 4. But their respective experience could help narrow the gap between these two evenly matched teams in certain areas.
In a series where the slightest thing can go a long way in determining who advances, Baker and Eaton's Chicago ties could prove incredibly valuable.