Every player’s first callup to the big leagues is a special moment, never mind their actual debut at the game’s highest level.
But when the Cubs called up 26-year-old outfielder Narciso Crook from Triple-A Iowa for Thursday’s series finale against the Reds, it was extra sweet.
“I was with them for eight years,” said Crook of the organization that drafted him almost a decade ago.
“It's very meaningful, and it's cool that I get to play against them for the first time.”
That Crook — who pinch hit in the fifth inning — made his debut against the only other organization he’s played for is the latest layer to his unique road to The Show.
Crook was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to New Jersey when he was 11. He said he didn’t learn to fully speak English until he graduated high school, and overall was unaware of how the process of playing college baseball worked.
“But luckily, I was able to go to a good junior college and I got drafted out of there,” said Crook, who spent one season at Rowan College of South Jersey-Gloucester before the Reds drafted him in the 23rd round in 2013.
He spent the next eight years in the Reds organization, spending 2021 in Triple-A. He signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs last November and has been on a tear with Triple-A Iowa.
In 47 games, he posted a .268/.375/.510 slash line — despite going just 13-for-73 in 25 games in April and May.
“I’ve heard he’s been one of our better minor league players, to be honest,” manager David Ross said before Thursday’s game.
“He’s got a really good story coming over and working on some things our minor league group identified within his swing and making some adjustments.”
Crook reported to the Cubs’ Arizona complex around Thanksgiving, Ross said. Of the tweaks he made, Crook mentioned adjusting where his hands are and trying to get his swing more inside the strike zone.
“Little things that just add up to a lot of big results at the end,” he said. “So very little minor details, but they can go a long way through the season.”
Based on his results with Iowa, those tweaks paid off. And while it’s a tiny sample size, it’s so far, so good for Crook in the big leagues.
He smashed an RBI double in his second career plate appearance, driving home Christopher Morel in the seventh inning Thursday. He added a single in the eighth.
And while he grounded into a double play in his first plate appearance, it was a 100.2 mph ground ball smash to shortstop.
Ross, from his interactions with Crook in spring training, called him a “great guy” and said third base coach Willie Harris — who knows Crook from their shared time with the Reds, “loves the guy.”
One scroll through Twitter shows Crook's positive reputation, and it’s easy to see why. When asked what his strengths are Thursday, he had a team-oriented answer.
“Whatever they put me out there to do, I'm gonna do it to the best of my capabilities,” Crook said, “I'm gonna go out there and feed the team whatever it is that I need to do.
“Whether it’s energy in the dugout, whether it's playing out there and making diving plays, making routine plays, hitting — anything. I'm ready for everything.”
His long road to the big leagues has been realized.
“In my heart, I always knew I was a big-leaguer,” Crook said. “I always wanted to prove that to myself. I'm not a quitter.
“I’m here. I've always worked, and I'm gonna continue to work.”