Cubs

How Cubs’ Nico Hoerner is making an impact in Chicago during shutdown

How Cubs’ Nico Hoerner is making an impact in Chicago during shutdown

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.

Ready?

“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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What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

Assuming safety protocols are effective enough to allow teams to play in their home stadiums and prevent coronavirus outbreaks well enough to play the three-month MLB season and subsequent postseason, we took a shot, based on conversations with multiple industry sources, at answering how the Cubs might handle several logistical questions.

The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic makes any plan open to sudden and possibly dramatic change. But if the current trends don’t change significantly in the coming weeks and months, and the generally optimistic signals from local authorities continue, a baseball season in Chicago can start to at least be envisioned. 

And here are seven glimpses of what that vision might include — with an unexpected bonus to whet fan appetite at No. 4.

What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

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Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

The rhetoric sounds harsh. The sides aren’t close. And the chances look bleak for baseball owners and players to reach an agreement to play baseball as the week closed without a counterproposal from the union since Tuesday’s "extremely disappointing" ownership proposal.

If this past week was the most important week for Major League Baseball in 25 years, as some said, what does that make the coming week as MLB tries to salvage a season during a pandemic with an early July start?

The edge of the abyss, maybe?

But as dire as the situation looked based on the massive gap left to close between the sides’ negotiating positions as of Friday, at least a few indications at week’s end pointed to reasons for optimism a season can be played.

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First, too much is at stake on both sides to let the season be scuttled over financial haggling, perhaps especially for the owners, who have at least hundreds of millions of dollars at stake short-term and billions long-term if an already shaky competitor for America’s entertainment attention goes dark for a full season.

Second, deadlines have a way of turning stalemates into serious dialogue.

MLB has internally discussed three weeks of “spring training” before starting a three-month season — up to four weeks for pitchers — and that makes a June 10 target date for assembling players especially important (3 1/2 weeks before July 4).

And while nobody on either side is willing to risk suggesting a hard deadline for an agreement with so much at stake, Monday has long been considered a soft deadline, and the planned ramp-up time makes every day beyond that a faster-ticking clock toward potentially catastrophic damage to the sport.

While the union is more amenable to pushing back the start of a season and playing longer if necessary, starting later than early July gets increasingly risky from the MLB standpoint — whose main financial incentive for playing a season without fans is the nearly $1 billion of national TV money to recoup, most of it for the postseason.

Every additional week the start is pushed back increases the risk of a coronavirus outbreak within the game (or a second wave nationwide in the fall) that abruptly ends the season — and shortening to less than half its normal size makes it almost impossible to justify calling it a legitimate season.

But even beyond the logical reasons surrounding timelines and motivation, maybe the rhetoric isn’t even as bad as it sounded at times last week as negotiating positions, details and even internal memos were leaked.

Even Scott Boras, the player agent who in a private email to clients used the Cubs as an example of teams financially stronger than they admit when talking about losses, emphasized Friday he was not criticizing the Cubs in the email that apparently was leaked by a player.

“They did a smart thing. I’m not saying they did anything wrong,” he said in a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “The truth is we want organizations like the Cubs to run their businesses effectively and efficiently as they are doing, and certainly their choice of investing their revenues rather than paying off the debt of purchase is their choice, and I’m sure it’s a good choice.

“But those choices do not reflect the profitability of the team and the value of the players to the club who support the dramatic revenue that they’re making from the players’ performances.”

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Boras certainly has his share of critics in the industry. Even a player, Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, strangely targeted him this week, tweeting at him to “keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.”

But Boras, who has no direct involvement in negotiations, according to multiple sources, not only is right in this case, his agenda aligns with the union’s.

Maybe the players will have a compromise to offer in the coming week, beyond the prorated salaries already negotiated in March. But the economic future of the game and ability to sustain what has been a golden financial age for owners is in their owns hands right now.

It starts with the critical second step of staging a 2020 season. The first step? Back off the cries of billionaire poverty during an economic crisis that has crushed American workers and run the business with the same level of responsibility during a time of losses as the level of aggressive self-investment demonstrated during times of record revenues.

If nothing else, more transparency might be a good starting point for a week that has a real possibility of altering the course of the baseball in this country for a generation.

“The general principle of negotiating is really about good faith,” Boras said. “But when they open the door of the car for you and they know there’s no gas in the tank, you understand the invitation is pyrrhic.”

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