Remember when Dexter Fowler burst out of that huge birthday cake during spring training? OK, his surprise arrival didn’t happen like that, but it sure felt like it. Come to think of it, it hasn’t stopped feeling like that.
When Jason Heyward crashed into the right-field wall in San Francisco on Friday night, it was another reminder, painful as it was, of how fortunate the Cubs were that Fowler had a change of heart.
The team is relieved that Heyward is only out three to five days with a bruise near his right hip and ribs. The Cubs already are without left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who was lost for the season when he tore knee ligaments April 7 in Arizona.
If Fowler had decided to sign a three-year contract with the Orioles, rather than the one-year deal he took to stay in Chicago, the complexion of the Cubs’ season might look a whole lot different.
Had Fowler left, Heyward, a Gold Glove right fielder, would have shifted to center field, a position he has played only sparingly during his careeer. At a minimum, it would have meant more ground to cover and more wear and tear on his body. If Heyward had gotten hurt in center field, the Cubs would have been in a world of hurt.
Fowler’s absence would have meant Jorge Soler in right field, a big defensive dropoff. The reason manager Joe Maddon was gushing about Soler on Saturday was partly because Soler had played well two games in a row but mostly because he needs him. He certainly needs more from Soler than the .204 batting average he brought into Sunday’s game against the Giants.
Fowler is hitting .324, leads the team with a .445 on-base percentage and has five home runs and 21 runs batted in. You’d have a hard time finding a more productive leadoff hitter.
When he showed at camp up in street clothes after signing his contract, shocking his teammates, it turned out to be a bigger bonus than they could have possibly imagined.
Thank your lucky stars for this season, Cubs fans, but particularly one of them.