The Cubs loaded up the Jackie Robinson West players with bats, personalized Cubs jerseys and other swag as they hosted the returning U.S. champs from the Little League World Series.
But JRW’s success and celebrity might do far more for the Cubs and the rest of baseball, the way the team played this season and the way it made baseball look cool again to a generation of kids.
“I already got a few calls about kids playing baseball,” JRW manager Darold Butler said. “Just outside. No parents, no coaches. Just five, six, seven, eight kids playing baseball on their own.”
MLB officials ranging from incoming commissioner Rob Manfred to Cubs president Theo Epstein and Chicago-born All-Star and locally active big-leaguer Curtis Granderson have spoken out in recent weeks about the need for greater interest in the game among American kids to stem a decline in the U.S. talent pipeline — and the impact stories such as Chicago’s 12-year-old baseball heroes can make.
Butler said he saw local Little League registration spike last year after the JRW squad just missed qualifying for the LLWS.
“I’m sure registration’s going to go sky high this year,” Butler said. “This year we made it way cooler than it’s ever been. I hope everybody at least gives baseball a try.”
MRI for Rizzo?
Anthony Rizzo missed his seventh game because of back soreness Monday, and if he doesn’t improve enough to play by Tuesday, he faces a possible MRI exam.
“Still a little, and if it doesn’t clear up maybe we get an MRI just to make sure everything’s OK,” manager Rick Renteria said.
“But he’s doing fine. We’re just limiting him, making sure once he gets back on the field he doesn’t have a setback.”
Rizzo, who hit his 30th homer in the last game he played Tuesday in Cincinnati, has described what he and the club believe is a muscle issue.
Soler maintenance plan
As they did over the weekend in St. Louis, the Cubs will continue to give newly promoted prospect Jorge Soler scheduled time off as a precaution against reinjuring the hamstrings in both legs that put him on the disabled list twice.
“Physically, he’s fine,” Renteria said. “It’s just a matter of making sure we continue to graduate him in terms of his playing time. I don’t think he’s played more than four or five games in a row. So that’s the table that we’ve been using.”
Renteria said he expects such restrictions to be lifted for Soler by next season. Soler, by the way, got drilled near his right hamstring by Welington Castillo’s foul line drive in the sixth inning but said he was fine after the game.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Jorge Soler’s double made him the third player in at least 100 years to record an extra-base hit in each of his first five games (also the Red Sox’ Will Middlebrooks in 2012 and Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter in 1938).
◆ Right-hander Blake Parker was recalled from Class AAA Iowa as rosters expanded for the final month. He finished the seventh inning for starter Jacob Turner, allowing a solo home run.
◆ Renteria said he expects about “a half-dozen” more call-ups this week with the Class AAA and AA seasons concluding Monday.
◆ Among the call-ups: lefty starter Eric Jokisch, a Northwestern product, who could become the ninth player to make a big-league debut for the Cubs this season.