Cubs

Cubs announce plans for extended protective netting at Wrigley Field for 2020

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USA TODAY

Cubs announce plans for extended protective netting at Wrigley Field for 2020

Baseball fans will be more protected than ever at Wrigley Field this season.

Saturday, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney announced the club is extending protective netting at Wrigley Field to the elbows of the ballpark. Essentially, it will stretch a bit past where the old on-field bullpens were and stop before the walls in the left and right field corners.

Kenney added the extensions will be ready by Opening Day.

Last month, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced all 30 ballparks will extend their netting for the 2020 season. Manfred didn’t specify which teams would do what, but he said netting at each stadium would extend “substantially beyond the end of the dugout.”

With pitchers throwing harder than ever and batter exit velocities are through the roof, fans have little time to react in the stands when a ball is launched their way. It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting hit, even for those paying attention.

The Cubs have experienced this firsthand. In a game against the Astros last season, an Albert Almora Jr. foul ball struck a 2-year-old at Minute Maid Park. That young girl has a permanent brain injury, her family’s attorney announced earlier this month, an injury that affects her body similar to how a stroke would.

Almora was visibly shaken after the incident and said Friday at Cubs Convention it weighed heavily on him for the first couple of days.

“After that I had no other choice but to move forward,” Almora said. “But I always have that in the back of my mind. Every update that does come up, I am on there and I am seeing all of this."

Almora said he’s tried reaching out to the family but is respecting their privacy. As a father of two himself, he said there’s no reason to even think of his sons getting hurt while attending a game.

“Obviously prayers go out to the family. It’s unfortunate, and like I said before, that should never happen on a baseball field."

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Cubs' Twitter trolls Brewers, Christian Yelich after Yu Darvish's stellar start

Cubs' Twitter trolls Brewers, Christian Yelich after Yu Darvish's stellar start

The Cubs' Twitter account has been saving this one for nine months.

First, let us present you with this doozy of a tweet from the Cubs after Thursday's 4-2 win over Milwaukee.

If you recall, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich went at Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish on Twitter last November. A since-deleted tweet from Yelich's account to Darvish read "nobody needs help facing you."

A video circulated in November that showed Darvish step off the rubber while Yelich was in the batter's box during a 2019 Cubs-Brewers game. Some suggested Darvish stepped off because Yelich's eyes moved, also suggesting Yelich was looking for signs stolen via technology.

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In response to the video, Darvish explained his actions from that game, clarifying he wasn't accusing Milwaukee of stealing signs.

Here we are nearly a year later, the Cubs' Twitter playing off Yelich's tweet after Darvish dominated Milwaukee. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, allowing a hit (a solo homer) and two walks while striking out 11.

If you're wondering, Yelich went 0-for-2 with a hit by pitch against Darvish on Thursday.

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Why Anthony Rizzo isn't the Cubs leader you think he is — but the one they need

Why Anthony Rizzo isn't the Cubs leader you think he is — but the one they need

Let’s get one thing straight about Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

He’s not this team’s leader. Or its captain.

At least not the way you probably think.

Not in the Mark Messier, intense-and-in-your-face way. Not the Kirby Puckett “Jump on, I’m driving the bus” in Game 6 way. Not even the Derek Jeter all-business, team-spokesman, New York-state-of-mind way.

But Rizzo’s style as a frontman has been the perfect fit for this team in this moment, during a high-stress COVID-19 sprint the Cubs are leading at the three-week mark with a 13-3 record.

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“What’s the definition of a leader to you?” Rizzo said during a long talk this spring about his role and expectations this year. “My style of leadership is my style.”

That question as it relates to Rizzo has been the subject of almost as much local sports talk so far this season as the Cubs’ closer situation.

The answer over the years has mostly involved playing 153 games a year with a career .862 OPS, fearless approaches charging batters and crowding the plate, and at least one dramatic comeback from a “season-ending” ankle injury during a pennant race to homer against the Cardinals.

But no season the Cubs have played with Rizzo has ever been built more for what he brings to a clubhouse, between a mischievous sense of humor and grin and what he calls a communication style based less on blasting teammates than sending a message “in the right way, in the loving way.”

After a three-month shutdown and long-awaited return to the field under strict testing protocols and fan-less conditions, nobody has turned up the humor, and no one has seemed to love the moment more than the team’s ringleader of all that dugout “energy” the manager and players keep talking about.

“I think everybody is [raising his leadership efforts], but it starts with Rizz, for sure,” teammate Kyle Hendricks said. “He’s really taken on a lot, being an unbelievable teammate, the energy he’s bringing every single day, it’s definitely on another level.”

From the hand sanitizer in his back pocket for the first runner to reach first base this season, to the “Tony 2 Chainz” bling for Wednesday’s big night at the plate in Cleveland — that part of Rizzo’s nature that is about laughing and trying to lighten the mood for everybody else has never held more value.

“I don’t know whether it’s the circumstance of the year or just a change in his approach,” said first-year manager David Ross, a teammate in 2015-16. “I really feel like he’s just trying to have the most fun he possibly can out there on the baseball field on a nightly basis. He wants to succeed. He wants to contribute.”

And it’s no accident.

After a quick exit from the playoffs in 2018 and missing the playoffs last year, Rizzo faced not only the likelihood that the Cubs’ championship core was in danger of being broken up in trades but also a long look in the mirror at how much he was willing to change to become the kind of leader and influence in the clubhouse he wanted to be.

RELATED: Anthony Rizzo savoring Cubs’ hot start: ‘This could be our last year together’

He already was a leading face for the franchise, a strong off-the-field representative and popular personality in the clubhouse — if not the classic, first-to-the-park, last-to-leave, kick-ass leader.

He may never be those last few things. He said in spring training he had no intention of changing who he is: “I’m not going to show up at 10 [a.m.] when I usually show up around 2 or 3. That’s pointless to me unless we’ve got something going on.”

But he said Thursday he took to heart “dialogue” he had with the front office, former manager Joe Maddon and others since the end of last season.

And a season heavy on less-is-more, with restrictions on how much time players can spend at the ballpark and undertake indoor hitting and video work, plays into the strengths of his personality and character.

“I say all the time we create our own weather,” Rizzo said of all the noise and “cheerleading” in the dugout that’s not necessarily new for this team — but newly necessary with no fans. “Whether it’s 30 degrees or 100 degrees, it’s how we look at it.”

If Rizzo was as follower earlier in his career, he has clearly shown a shift in more recent seasons, none more than this one, with its real-world backdrop and its borrowed-time feel for the core.

“Anthony Rizzo has matured a lot since we played together, in a great way,” Ross said. “Not that he was immature before. But he continues to grow and wants to be the leader that he knows he is. And he has those characteristics.”

Teammates say they’ve noticed small differences in Rizzo even since last year, in a willingness to approach a teammate with something he’s noticed or even to take charge of a drill that’s not being done right.

Rizzo said that only works “when guys know it’s coming from the right place and coming from the heart,” he said, noting the change in clubhouse cultures just since his debut in San Diego in 2011. “It’s not, ‘Call someone out in front of the whole team’ anymore. My first couple of years it was more of that.

“You just learn more and more now it’s not really the way to do it as much anymore, because guys will crawl into a hole a little bit more and lose your trust.”

If he’s ascending at 31 into a “leadership” role, it’s more a natural order of things, Rizzo suggested, more the turn of the core players to ascend after the likes of past veterans John Lackey, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero or even Ross cycled out of the clubhouse as players.

But don’t confuse Rizzo with Jason Heyward as a guy who’s suddenly going to call the next rain-delay meeting that inspires a clubhouse to change baseball history. That’s still not necessarily Rizzo’s way.

It’s not like he needs anyone to “slap a ‘C’ on his chest,” as some of our favorite, amped-up broadcasters like to shout.

“It’s just being mindful,” Rizzo said. “Not running from being the leader, being the quote-unquote face of the franchise of however you want to say it. It’s embracing it and making sure everyone is OK in all aspects, whether it’s our bullpen, whether it’s guys not playing every day — just picking guys up and making them feel all right. And in return, it’s the same thing guys are doing for me.”

It’s also the chains on Wednesday. And the pocket of hand sanitizer in the opener. And whatever he has in store behind the smile tomorrow.

“He’s doing a great job of leading,” Ross said, “and being the example of having fun.”

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