Where Cubs could find position of strength in 2020: South Bend

Where Cubs could find position of strength in 2020: South Bend

When and where? Major league players got their answer on the first part earlier this week with MLB imposing a schedule that opens a second round of spring training July 1 and a 60-game season about three weeks later.

The “where” is still being finalized, but almost every club will be based in its home city with a second, nearby site for training and then a taxi squad during the season.

And that’s “where” the Cubs could find a position of strength among their big-league peers in both quality of facilities and potential containment of any coronavirus outbreaks.

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While the Cubs haven’t made the announcement yet, it’s expected to happen this week with their Midwest League affiliate in South Bend opening its state-of-the-art facilities to roughly half of the players the Cubs will activate for the season.

“We are prepared, and we feel optimistic,” said Andrew Berlin, owner of the South Bend Cubs and an investor in the big-league Cubs.

The award-winning South Bend complex, about 95 miles from Chicago, includes a ballpark with similar dimensions to Wrigley Field, a 17,000-square-foot covered area for fielding and other skills work, six state-of-the-art indoor hitting tunnels as well as two indoor pitching mounds in addition to the mounds on the field and in the bullpens.

The biggest advantage when it comes to limiting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and navigating three months of baseball without a significant outbreak might come in Berlin’s four recently built apartment buildings that ring the ballpark.

Because the pandemic followed December’s grand opening so closely, Berlin said enough vacancies remain that players can be more safely clustered in their own part of a building, making use of the one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“Our loss is the Cubs’ gain,” Berlin said.

As Spring Training 2.0 camps open next week, each team may activate 60 players, with at least 20 expected to work at the alternate sites as minor league depth. Eventually, the number would grow to as many 30 or more as teams narrow their “spring” rosters to the requisite 30 to open the season, then reduce to 28 in mid-August and eventually 26 by September.

RELATED: What the Cubs' initial 30-man roster could look like

In addition to depth for the big-league teams, clubs also are expected to include some of their top minor-league prospects on the taxi squads with no intent of using them at the big-league level, to make use of development opportunities during a year with no minor-league season.

Whether that means Cubs first-round draft pick Ed Howard of Mount Carmel will be part of that group, Berlin said he hasn’t heard names of any players who might be included on the taxi squad.

Either way, he and his top staff are staying in touch with Indiana state officials — as the Cubs and White Sox are doing in Illinois — for the possibility of including fans at the stadium.

“We’ve asked the same question, because we do have a baseball-starved public that would buy tickets just watch these guys work out,” Berlin said.

But whatever opportunity the second-site status might provide for Berlin and his South Bend Cubs to recoup a fraction of the losses associated with the lost season of games, that’s not what’s on his mind, he said.

“What’s more important than the income right now is just to be a good team player,” he said. “We’re dedicated to the strength and success of the major league team. That’s what a good minor-league partner ought to be.

“We’ll be delighted and happy to take one small part in helping these guys train and get ready.”


Why Kris Bryant is 'glad' Cubs were 'overly cautious' with his stomach issues

Why Kris Bryant is 'glad' Cubs were 'overly cautious' with his stomach issues

Kris Bryant wasn’t worried about COVID-19 when he consulted the Cubs medical staff before the Cubs’ game Saturday.

“I was looking for some relief of a symptom that I had,” Bryant said. “I didn’t even think anything twice of it. But considering what is going on around the league and how serious this thing escalates, our team doctor thought it was appropriate to just be overly cautious with it.”

Bryant returned to the Cubs lineup Monday for the team’s series opener against the Royals. He sat out for two games against the Pirates as he went through MLB’s protocols for players with possible symptoms of COVID-19. Both his regularly scheduled diagnostic tests and expedited tests were negative.

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“I had no clue that this is what would happen,” Bryant said, “but I’m glad it did because if I did end up having it, that’s the way to catch it.”

Even after Saturday’s game, Cubs manager David Ross said Bryant “just had a bad stomach.” But Bryant’s absence was the latest example of the team’s commitment to following protocol.

“That’s important,” Cubs MLBPA representative Ian Happ said of reporting symptoms. “We have to applaud guys like that. We have to encourage it. You saw it with the Reds, and they did such a fantastic job -- Moose (Mike Moustakas), (Nick) Senzel, Joey Votto recently -- of reporting symptoms early, of telling guys, ‘Hey, don’t want to alarm anybody, but this is how I feel, and I’m going to stay home today.’

“And that’s the right thing to do. That’s how you keep it out of the clubhouse. And the actions of one guy don’t affect just the team, don’t affect just the city, they affect the entire league. And it’s important to remember the gravity of that.”

In the Cubs’ three-game series in Cincinnati last week, Moustakas and Senzel missed the first two games and reportedly filed an appeal to MLB’s Joint Committee to return for the third after reporting symptoms earlier in the week.

The Reds placed Votto on the injured list Sunday. Votto had self-reported COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, but had not tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday morning.

“It’s just going to keep us on the field,” Bryant said. “With the testing and all that, it seems there is a way for the virus to get in, seeing how its spread with the Marlins and the Cardinals now. Hoping that all those guys are alright.”

The Marlins had at least 21 players and staff members test positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak last week. The Cardinals have had 13 members of the organization test positive in the last week, MLB announced Monday, including seven players.

“If we can add another part to our responsibility,” Bryant said, “in that if you do feel something, just stay away and take it as seriously as possible, that’s the only way that we’re going to get through a World Series. I just think it’s important. Put your pride and egos aside, and it could end up helping the rest of your teammates too.”

With Bryant’s tests coming back negative, the Cubs are believed to be the only team in the National League that hasn’t had a player test positive.



Cardinals have 13 positive COVID-19 cases, weekend Cubs series tentatively on


Cardinals have 13 positive COVID-19 cases, weekend Cubs series tentatively on

The Cardinals' four-game series against the Tigers this Tuesday-Thursday has been postponed in wake of St. Louis' COVID-19 outbreak.

In a statement Monday, MLB said 13 members of the Cardinals, seven players and six staff, have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last week. The club first learned of two positive tests on Thursday, ahead of their weekend series against the Brewers, which later was postponed.

The Cardinals have been quarantined at their Milwaukee hotel room and will continue to be tested daily. MLB said the tentative plan is for St. Louis to resume its schedule Friday against the Cubs. The situation obviously is fluid.

“I would imagine that we’re probably not playing those games this weekend. But I can’t fully speak to that,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said on Sunday. "That’s just my opinion. Maybe there’s a way where we flip the schedule around where we’re playing somebody else. I think guys right now just want to keep playing.

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“It sucks that we’re dealing with this, but it’s the nature of the beast right now. The league I’m sure will alter the plans going forward. If we’re in St. Louis on Friday, we’re in St. Louis on Friday. We’ll figure it out, and we’ll try to beat the Cardinals and move on to the next day. But right now, as of today, I don’t see that happening.”

The Cubs play four games against the Royals this week, including two in Kansas City on Wednesday and Thursday.