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Former Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur has many talents. From playing wide receiver at Villanova, to running the "Szcz the Day" Foundation, to playing professional baseball, to art, he's no stranger to meeting his inspiration with ability.

Since COVID-19 struck the country, Szczur has turned to art as an outlet. And when he's not tending to his baby son Matthew with his wife Natalie, he's found the time. 

"I just wanted to start painting again," Szczur said. "I do it in the offseason a bunch. I wasn't sure how long we were going to have. So, I figured I would paint what was trending. I would just throw one out there and see how it would do. It created a ton of buzz and I just kept doing a different painting every Sunday.

"So, it was a lot of fun, a lot of work, but it was worth it for sure. I was able to get to painting when I put the baby down to sleep, and that was good for me."

Previously, it was scenes from when his Cubs team won the World Series in 2016. One of those paintings is hanging in Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts' suite at Wrigley Field. Others have fetched as much as $40,000 for charity. One depicting George Floyd, created in collaboration with former White Sox infielder Micah Johnson, recently sold for $10,000, with benefits going to organizations supporting racial injustice. (Note: This interview took place before news of Floyd's death.)

Szczur turned to Michael Jordan and "The Last Dance" for some of his other latest creations. Having won a championship for Chicago himself, the series brought back memories. 

 

"I think the coolest thing was — and I didn't think about it at the time — I don't think I realized the whole Bulls buzz when I was playing with the Cubs, you know? It was kind of in the past and I just really didn't even think about it," Szczur said. "But when I saw those guys on stage at the park, that was a great memory for me. Just being able to be on a stage and see a sea of people, you couldn't see any grass or anything besides buildings around that wasn't covered with people.

"So, when I saw that, when I saw Steve Kerr give his [1997 parade] speech, when I saw those guys up there with the trophies, it brought back a really good memory for me for sure."

And in advance of the next ESPN documentary release, "Long Gone Summer," featuring the 1998 home run chase season between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Szczur went back to baseball for his next piece on canvas.

"I was young but I remember it because I remember following Sosa and McGwire and I was lucky enough to be coached by McGwire," Szczur said. "He was the bench coach for the Padres. And we created a really good relationship. He had a lot of respect for me and I had a lot of respect for him.

"It was almost like an idol or hero figure and you always get nervous about meeting people like that because you don't want them to turn out not like you thought they were. But he was as advertised and more. He wanted to help everybody, would do anything for anybody."

Szczur played for San Diego from 2017-18. McGwire was the bench coach from 2016-18. In 2017, "Big Mac" commissioned Szczur to do a painting commemorating his induction into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.

"That was super cool because he was like a little kid coming up and asking me to do the painting, and I'm like, 'Dude you're Mark McGwire, man. You don't have to be nervous,'" Szczur said. "So it was cool. I'm super excited to see him, more from my perspective as an adult. I watched him play as a kid, and I was able to learn from him as an adult and I want to watch him as an adult now. I think I'll be able to have a little bit different perspective and appreciation for how hard he worked."

As for the controversy surrounding McGwire's confirmed performance-enhancing drug use, and Sosa's alleged use, Szczur said it doesn't alter much about his opinion of their skills. 

"I've talked to Big Mac about it, and hearing him talk about how he prepared, what he did, and he said it," Szczur said. "He came out and said he thinks he could have hit 70-plus homers without steroids. And when you talk to him, you believe him, because of how smart he was and is about the game of baseball and hitting.

 

"It's like he's painting a Picasso picture for you on how to hit a home run. It's not like him trying to hit the home run. He has an approach, and it was really cool to hear him say that. When I heard that on air I made sure I texted him and I told him, 'I believe you.' It was a cool moment for us."

Szczur also has fond memories of a story former Cubs strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss told him about Sosa, and his famous home run with the American flag.

"I remember his hop, that's like the first thing I think of is him hopping and hitting homers," he said. "And the second thing I think of is him running around the bases with the American flag. That was amazing. Tim Buss talks about how he told the third base coach, 'Hey I'm going to hit a home run and you give me the American flag and I'll run around the bases with it.'

"How cool was that? I'm super excited to watch it and I think everybody else is excited as well."

Szczur's paintings help raise money for his foundation, which helps find bone marrow donors, and assists with philanthropy and volunteer work. More can be found here.

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