Almora waits patiently for answers about future with Cubs

SHARE Almora waits patiently for answers about future with Cubs

Albert Almora Jr. scores a run Monday during one of his best games as a Cub. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs don’t do “me.”

Not Jason Heyward when he can’t hit. Not Javy Baez when he doesn’t play enough. Not Ben Zobrist when he gets thrown into the outfield. Not Hector Rondon when he gets replaced as closer. Not Jason Hammel when, despite his 15 victories, he’ll likely be left off the postseason roster.

Tommy La Stella? OK, maybe he did the “me” thing for a while there.

Other than that, though, the Cubs are all “we,” all the time. It’s one of the biggest reasons they were able to reach 100 wins this season, a long-anticipated feat made official by Monday’s 12-2 clubbing of the over-and-out Pirates.

You know who has proven himself to be a heck of a “we” guy, too?

Albert Almora Jr.

You remember Almora, don’t you? He’s the 22-year-old outfielder and former No. 1 draft pick who joined the Cubs in June only to throw out a runner at home on his first defensive chance, get his first big-league hit the following day … and be sent back down to the minors a month and a half later.

Almora was called back up in September — he started and had three hits Monday — but so far has yet to find a meaningful role with the 2016 Cubs. Where Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and Baez all are key cogs in this playoff-bound Cubs machine, Almora is still biding his time and wondering.

Any chance he’ll be a surprise inclusion on the playoff roster? Manager Joe Maddon said Monday that it’s still possible.

Will the Cubs give him a real shot to make his mark in 2017? He has no way of knowing.

“I’m a small part of such a big picture with this team, but it’s OK,” Almora said. “I don’t need the answers right now. This is baseball. It has been a team sport ever since it was created.”

Besides, other events have put Almora’s experience this season into perspective in a painful, powerful way.

Almora grew up and became a nationally known high school star in Hialeah Gardens, Fla. Another star in the state, three hours away in Tampa, was a strapping right-handed pitcher named Jose Fernandez, who’d recently defected from Cuba.

The young players followed each other’s blossoming careers. A year before Almora went in the first round to the Cubs, Fernandez went in the first round to the Marlins. They got to know each other some during that exciting time and eventually shared an agent in Scott Boras.

“Jose was one of my buddies,” Almora said. “He had the world in his hands, and now he’s gone.

“So I’m really just going to take my own situation day by day, just knowing this is what we do but it’s only a game, you know? There’s other things more important.”

None more so than family. Almora got married and became a father this season. Fernandez — the Marlins All-Star killed early Sunday in a boating accident — and his girlfriend reportedly were expecting their first child.

Almora isn’t worrying about himself much right now, not that he was doing that before. Cubs teammates describe him as quiet, humble and eager to learn. Maddon has found him to be the same.

“He’s a great kid. He speaks frankly, which I love, and we have easy conversations,” Maddon said.

Maddon knows it hasn’t been easy on Almora to be sort of left behind by other huge-name young players in the organization.

“Albert has handled it extremely well,” he said. “His time is coming, and this is a great first experience for him. I think he has actually handled it perfectly.”

With — what else? — a “we.” And, this week, with sadness in his heart.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.


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