Seven years ago this fall, in a small town called Capitan, not far from the Cubs’ Dominican Republic academy, a high-energy, 16-year-old Cubs prospect sprinted to catch his bus.
What happened in the next few seconds almost cost him his left eye and a professional baseball career that had yet to include a game — a career that led Tuesday night to the major-league debut and home run that shook Wrigley Field in the eighth inning of an otherwise ordinary weeknight win over the Pirates.
“God is good," said Christopher Morel, whose pinch-hit homer in his first big-league at-bat cleared the last row of the left field bleachers to finish off the Cubs’ 7-0 victory.
"And I'm here now."
Morel, who was called up from Double-A Tennessee before Tuesday’s game, was just a kid looking for lunch on his way home from instructional-league work with the Cubs that day in 2015 when his baseball dreams turned to nightmares in the flash it took him to recognize his bus was pulling away and to instinctively sprint.
He was inside a cafeteria next to the stop at the time. And the glass door did not give — until it broke in razor-like pieces around him, slashing a nerve and tendon in his left forearm and badly cutting the left side of his face.
The nerve damage required surgery. “And I [came] close to losing my left eye,” he said.
“I could show you the pictures if you want,” Morel said.
He didn’t have to show the pictures to new teammate Willson Contreras, who saw him in spring training in 2016 and was stunned.
“It’s a blessing that he’s still playing baseball,” Contreras said Tuesday night, “because what happened to him wasn’t easy. But he never gave up.”
Morel missed a full season. He was told by doctors after the injury he would miss two.
“But I said I feel ready to play in 2017,” he said, “and then I played in the Dominican Summer League.”
He hit .220 in 61 games, hit seven home runs and stole 23 bases — 220 points, seven homers and 23 steals more than anyone had a right to expect.
He didn’t make much more noise the following year in his first season of low-A ball in the U.S.
But after a more productive A-ball season in 2019 and minor-league season lost to COVID-19 in 2020, he started gaining more notice last year, impressing with his power and defensive versatility, and by Tuesday was one of the hottest hitters in the organization this season.
“He’s been swinging the bat really well,” farm director Jared Banner said before Tuesday’s game. “More importantly his defense has been great.”
Everywhere — including center field and shortstop. “Not a lot of guys can do that the way Chris can,” Banner said.
Maybe nobody who took the road that Morel did to reach the majors.
“He makes me proud,” Contreras said, “because I know what kind of guy he is. He’s always smiling, and he’s always looking to win the game. I’m just so happy for him and his family.
“Hopefully, this is the start of a huge career for him.”
A career that almost ended when he missed the bus.
A career that still got to Wrigley Field right on time.
A career that delivered a moment that meant more than a debut home run by the time that 3-2 pitch landed at the back of the bleachers.
When the crowd reacted with a roar that didn’t end when Morel reached the dugout, Contreras — the last Cub to homer in his debut at-bat, in 2016 — nudged him back onto the field for a curtain call.
“I heard the fans so loud,” Morel said. “I said, this is my moment, so I need to enjoy this.”