The symbolism was undeniable.
Dillon Maples had been waiting for the call to the big leagues his entire life and at various points throughout his journey, that ultimate goal looked so daunting and far away. The same could be said about the 700-page book he was reading on George Washington that late-August day in Memphis.
Maples was reading that "beast of a book" in a Starbucks one morning on a day the Iowa Cubs (Triple-A) had just found out their game that night had been rained out.
Cubs director of player development Jaron Madison happened to be at that Starbucks at the same time when he got the call the big-league club wanted Maples to join them for the stretch run. Madison told the rest of the Cubs front office he'd tell Maples himself instead of somebody else breaking the news over the phone.
So Madison walked over to Maples and asked what he had planned for the rest of his unplanned day off, suggesting the young pitcher should come back to the team hotel with him. Maples initially declined, saying he preferred to stay at Starbucks, get a drink refill and do some more reading.
But Madison insisted and broke the news to Maples that his lifelong dream was finally coming true. His first reaction was nerves, like you'd expect, but not about pitching in the big leagues — he was nervous to DANCE in the big leagues in the new Cubs bullpen tradition.
Maples only appeared in six games for the Cubs in the final month of the season and posted a 10.13 ERA, but his story — one of perseverance and inspiration — resonated with the fan base. It doesn't hurt that the kid throws 100 mph with a devastating wipeout slider, either.
The trip to Chicago was the icing on the cake for Maples in 2017, a year where he took control of his career and his life.
A former 14th-round draft pick who was paid like a 1st-rounder ($2.5 million signing bonus to sway him to the life of professional baseball over college) and heralded as one of the most talented high school arms coming out of the 2011 Draft, Maples had struggled to put it all together in the Cubs system for six seasons. He was actually close to quitting in late 2016 after finishing a rough year in A-ball.
But in 2017, everything clicked and he struck out 111 batters in 68.2 innings across three minor-league levels and the big leagues.
Maples is very cerebral, sucking up knowledge even when he's not on a baseball field. He finished that intimidating George Washington book and now has a novel on Hamilton lined up next. He likes reading about the battles and leaders that founded the U.S.
But even he couldn't fully grasp how the roller coaster of 2017 would affect him until he got a little perspective after the season.
"The first few weeks after the season ended, you're not doing too much, just relaxing," Maples said. "I kinda just let it hit me. I thought about how crazy it was and all the people that have been supporting me through thick and thin.
"It's been really awesome. I've been really grateful to be surrounded by so many great people. Last year was pretty crazy, but this year, I've moved on. That's why I had that two-week period where I could sit back and let it soak in."
"...To let [last year] rest, I had to have that acceptance, reflection. I let that happen. Last year was incredible. I'm glad that I had that time to reflect and I'm ready to move on and get after it next season."
Maples is already to the point where he says last year is "kind of irrelevant." He's turned the page, focusing his energy and brainpower on taking that next step in 2018, entering his age-26 season.
This winter, Maples — who lives in the gym when he's not devouring history novels — has focused on sticking with his same workout routine while still trying to get stronger. He's incorporated some of the things he's learned from the big-league veterans last year and is really putting an emphasis on improving his fastball command.
The Cubs aren't handling him with kid gloves anymore, either. They're ready to unleash that wipeout slider that could be a gamechanger out of the Chicago bullpen if he can harness his control.
"Now it's just about being more consistent and efficient with his pitches," Madison said. "As long as he continues to do that, he'll stay healthy. He works his butt off in the weight room. He's done a lot of work with the mental side of the game.
"We think he's gonna be in a position to help contribute at the big-league level for a long time."