Turns out the Cardinals’ pursuit of outfielder Dexter Fowler — the leadoff hitter who helped make the Cubs go during the 2016 season — had roots deeper than just baseball.
In a wonderfully written and reported story by USA Today Sports’ Bob Nightengale that appeared in our print edition today and can be found online here, we get the deeper meaning of the Fowler signing.
Nightengale writes: “The Cardinals not only believe Fowler can be the difference that permits them make a return to October baseball, but perhaps just as important, help transform a city.”
Turns out the Cardinals asked Ozzie Smith — a team icon who has proudly become a full-time resident of St. Louis — to help recruit Fowler as he mulled his free-agent options. Before signing a five-year contract, Fowler wanted to know his family, including Iranian-born wife Darya, would be welcome.
As one of just 69 African-American players to appear on an Opening Day roster last season, Fowler had concerns about the racial divide that was highlighted in suburban Ferguson.
The Cardinals saw Fowler filling more than just a need atop their lineup.
“We touched on a lot of topics, and it was not just baseball, far from it,” Cardinals general mangerJohn Mozeliak told Nightengale. “His social awareness and social engagement will allow him to handle this as well as anyone. Having someone like Fowler who’s comfortable, not afraid to speak out, not afraid to answer a question, is going to be healthy.
“No one changes the world, but having somebody that becomes that face of the Cardinals who’s different (than the recent past), is OK.”
Take some time to read this story. It will make it tougher for even the most hard-core Cubs fans to hate the Cardinals this season.
Anthony Rizzo, after battling some lower-back issues, has finally returned to the Cubs’ lineup — or, at least, he is in the lineup that was posted this morning.
In this morning update from Cubs camp, Gordon Wittenmyer also details what will be a theme throughout the 2017 season: A possible farewell tour for Jake Arrieta.
And for some fun, see if you can spot Gordon making a surprise cameo in AROUND THE HORN ON TWITTER below.
Our Rick Morrissey has been searching for flaws with this Cubs team. Any flaws will do.
Is this Cubs team perfect? No, but Rick is exhausted after determining that there are no real weaknesses on this team of defending champs.
As Rick says: “Everything is a possibility with the Cubs. That’s the fun and the beauty with this team. The list of good things isn’t endless, but you do have to squint to see all the possibilities lining up.”
Rick doesn’t get this excited about much, so do yourself a favor and read this rare rave review.
DEEP CY OR DEEP MYSTERY?
Jon Lester’s daughter who was born in November was named … Cy.
If you’re a major-league pitcher, it seems easy to connect these dots. Cy, as in Cy Young. Get it?
Lester says not so fast.
“That’s more of a coincidence than anything,” the Cubs’ star left-hander said. “It’s not after Cy Young. It’s just a name we really liked.”
In this same post, the Cubs’ Opening Day starter says pitching in the season opener, well, “sucks.” He also discusses life with a new catcher after David Ross took his talents to “Dancing With the Stars.”
CRAZY LIKE A FOX
FoxSports.com came out with its Cubs season preview today. It’s standard preview material for the most part — Cubs fans will like the “Best-Case Scenario” sectionand prefer to avoid the “Worst-Case Scenario” section. My favorite part was this nugget from the “Surprising Stat” …
“In [Mike] Montgomery, [Wade] Davis and [Koji] Uehara, the Cubs’ bullpen features three of the last four pitchers to record the final out of the World Series. (Sorry, guys, you can’t have Madison Bumgarner, too.)”
Check out the prediction at the end.
NO BARK, ALL BITE
Our Steve Greenberg visited Indians camp and discovered Terry Francona and his players have moved on nicely from losing that extra-inning Game 7 of the World Series to the Cubs.
Francona will never be mistaken for the wild-and-crazy Joe Maddon. The Indians’ manager — having won two World Series with the Red Sox — knows the importance of an even keel, no matter the Series outcome.
“Once it’s over, I kind of move on,” Francona told Greenberg. “Win, lose or draw, you enjoy it, do whatever. You celebrate or you don’t. OK, what’s next?’’
Check out Steve’s story. It’s a wonderful glimpse inside the world of the Indians, who should find their way back to the postseason in 2017.
ON THE SOUTH SIDE
Since winning the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year Award as the Cubs’ catcher, Geovany Soto has played for the Rangers, A’s, White Sox, Angels and now he’s back with the White Sox.
Soto turned 34 in January but believes he can play in 140 to 150 games this season.
He’s in the Sox’ lineup today for the first time in a week.
RED LIGHT? GREEN LIGHT!
White Sox third-base coach Nick Capra hasn’t been on the field since 2005, but he promises to be aggressive waving runners home to test outfielder’s arms this season.
“That’s the way I’ve done things my whole career,” Capra said. “Be aggressive and make good decisions. I have to train [players] to make good decisions, and I have to train myself to make good decisions.”
THE WORLD IS WATCHING
The World Baseball Classic got off to its start today with a thrilling 2-1 Israel victory over South Korea. First-roundgames are being played in Seoul, Miami, Tokyo and Guadalajara. Second-round games will be in San Diego and Tokyo, and the championship round is schedule for March 20-22 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
AROUND THE HORN ON TWITTER