Why sharing Wrigley Field with Nick Madrigal would mean ‘a lot’ to Cubs’ Nico Hoerner
As the spring has progressed, the Cubs’ middle-infield picture has become clearer.
MESA, Ariz. — Before they were allowed to return to the Cubs’ spring-training facilities mid-lockout, middle infielders Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal were turning double plays on a high school field in Phoenix.
“Nice to keep building that relationship,” Hoerner said. “And we’ve played against each other so much but haven’t really spent that much time together.”
Over the winter, Hoerner and Madrigal didn’t know how much time they’d get to play together up the middle. Rumors were still swirling about which free-agent shortstops could join the team. Hoerner took reps at shortstop and second base and in the outfield.
As the spring has progressed, the Cubs’ middle-infield picture has become clearer. The Cubs signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons and versatile infielder Jonathan Villar to, among other things, help balance Hoerner and Madrigal’s workloads. On Saturday, Cubs manager David Ross revealed that Simmons is dealing with a sore shoulder.
So how often will Hoerner and Madrigal be the Cubs’ middle-infield duo? The answer could be quite a lot.
“Just sharing the same field in general would mean a lot to me,” Hoerner said. “So just good to come full circle like that, for sure.”
Hoerner and Madrigal have known each other for so long that Madrigal can’t pinpoint the first time they met. But it was around the youth travel-ball circuit.
“He was just a familiar face I saw, and he was on one of the best teams around,” Madrigal said. “So it was just fun to compete with him. And then over the years, I got to know him personally.”
They grew up in Northern California and played together as teenagers with USA Baseball. But most of their relationship has been as rivals.
They went to Pac-12 universities, Stanford (Hoerner) and Oregon State (Madrigal), and were named to the same All-Pac-12 first team twice.
“I describe our careers as parallel, for sure,” Hoerner said. “We’ve just kind of always been at the same level on good teams, whether it was high school, college or earlier than that we played together.
“[Madrigal has] always been the same in a really positive way. Just super consistent. Always hitting for a high average, playing great defense and always played for winning teams, too. So definitely someone you want on your team.”
Hoerner and Madrigal technically became big-league teammates at the trade deadline last year, when the Cubs acquired Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer from the White Sox for closer Craig Kimbrel. But Madrigal was still recovering from a season-ending hamstring tear, so they never got on the field together.
Over the winter, they trained in Arizona. Hoerner estimates that they worked out together at Desert Vista High School about a dozen times.
“It’s nice to be able to get on the field together before we got here,” Madrigal said after spring training opened, “because it feels like we’re locked in now that we’re here.”
They had the familiarity that comes from sharing a diamond for so many years. But as teammates over the winter, they learned some of the intricacies of each other’s play. What kind of double-play feeds does Hoerner like? How does Madrigal communicate?
“It’s exciting,” Madrigal said. “We have that connection off the field, but it’s going to be fun to get on the field and show people what we can do together.”
In less than two weeks, that connection is coming to Wrigley Field.