Nico Hoerner has yet to make an Opening Day roster, but the Cubs rookie already is trying to make a difference in Chicago during the COVID-19 crisis.
Hoerner, who is sheltering in place in Arizona with three teammates, has launched a fundraising effort through the Cameo app on Twitter to help provide remote learning resources to Chicago Public Schools kids through Children First Fund.
“I wanted it to be something that had an immediate impact but also to build some relationships, where I can do some face-to-face stuff in the future,” said Hoerner, who first saw the app as a means to “spread positivity” through personalized videos when introduced to it recently, before seeking a good cause to support in Chicago once he realized its potential impact.
“I want it to be part of my time in Chicago,” he said.
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That could someday be a long run for Hoerner, a 2018 first-round draft pick out of Stanford who successfully debuted in September as an emergency shortstop during a playoff drive.
For now, the emphasis is on “someday” as he follows Arizona’s week-old stay-at-home order during the pandemic, along with roommates Ian Happ, Dakota Mekkes and Zack Short.
“It was bad for a while,” he said during Wednesday’s conversation by phone. “I was a little nervous going to the store. Not for myself. Arizona was a little late making [precautions] serious on people, and there were a lot of older people out and about.
“I think we’re in a good spot now.”
Hoerner, whose loved ones are well, checks in on his parents in Oakland regularly, joins the occasional Zoom chats Cubs position players are doing to stay in touch and makes a point to try to call at least a couple people a day, he said.
“This is affecting people in so many different ways,” he said. “Anytime you can pick up the phone and call anyone at this time it’s really nice. It adds purpose to your day.”
It’s all part of the staying-sane effort that goes along with staying safe for many players during the nationwide shutdown of professional sports.
“When we first got shut down my initial reaction was to drive back to Oakland right away and make sure I was with my family,” said Hoerner, who was advised to let the developments play out for a few days before making that decision. “By that point, California was totally shut down, and I wouldn’t have had anywhere to work out, and it would have been a tough situation.”
While he misses his family, he said, he’s in a good place professionally and safe.
“It makes you nervous,” he said of all the overall uncertainty and risks. “My parents are getting older. I have friends with grandparents and older parents, and [in Oakland] we live in a highly populated area. So it’s scary. But California did a good job.”
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One thing Hoerner has not worried about is how to fill his days during an idle time for his profession and so many people across the country.
Thanks to Happ’s fondness for media ventures and his ingenuity, the four roommates have a podcast they call “The Compound” that has proven to be entertaining, surprisingly polished and that has attracted “celebrity” guests ranging from Kyle Schwarber to Cub fan Jeff Garlin.
“I don’t know if it’s something that will ever get that big, but I know there are people that look forward to it and enjoy it,” said Hoerner, who gives Happ all the credit for most of the segment ideas and connections. “It’s so cool for me. I love talking to people who have different baseball stories. …[Garlin] was amazing. I wish we could have played the full thing. … He’s very genuine and heartfelt in his connection to the Cubs.”
They hope to get more celebrity Cubs fans on their pod.
Meanwhile, they’re taking cues from the union and anywhere else they can gather information to try to plan for whatever might be next for baseball and the rest of the world — including trying to decipher the recent report suggesting Major League Baseball is discussing sending all 30 teams to Arizona to start the season, using spring ballparks and Chase Field, and instituting several “experiments” for the shortened season (including electronic strike zones, expanded rosters and doubleheaders featuring seven-inning games).
“I have no idea how true that is, but I love that people are getting creative and making a strong effort,” said Hoerner, who would stand to benefit professionally from the altered season, which would all but assure a spot on an expanded roster.
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“I would love if baseball is the first sport back — for personal reasons, obviously — but I think it would be awesome for the game to have that showcase,” he said. “People are starved for sports at this point. Beyond that, it would be interesting to see what new rules they implement and what stick moving forward.”
He also sees the opportunity for friends on the big-league fringes to get major-league experience they might not otherwise get, he said.
But he’s well aware of how far away any realistic plan for starting the season is at this point — and how much bigger the realities of this moment are as he and Happ, Mekkes and Short stay safe, sane and as ready as possible for whatever’s next.
“That’s a pretty funny story,” Hoerner said of how they set up their workout space at their place. “The last couple days we were allowed to be at the Mesa complex, guys were literally taking carts in the weight room and taking the weights back to their house.”
Not exactly with permission from the staff at the Cubs’ facility.
“But they ended up kind of accepting it and have been really great with giving us advice with the equipment we have and making the most of it,” he said. “We have a pretty solid weight room in the garage.”
Like most things in life with most players these days, that also is a one-day-at-a-time proposition.
“Any week it’s going to be 105 here in Arizona,” Hoerner said. “There’s no AC in the garage.”
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