ESPN analyst Boone reflects on Wrigley’s charm, Fowler and Schwarber

SHARE ESPN analyst Boone reflects on Wrigley’s charm, Fowler and Schwarber
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Kyle Schwarber rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam in the seventh inning Saturday against the Cardinals. | Nam Y. Huh/AP

After playing for six clubs in 12 seasons and spending the last seven years as an analyst for ESPN, Aaron Boone has seen his share of ballparks.

He spent the bulk of his playing career in the National League and became very familiar with Wrigley Field.

From its marquee to its ivy-covered outfield walls, Wrigley is a special place to Boone.

“Wrigley is special because of the people there,” Boone said. “It’s everything from the people there who enjoy baseball. It’s the Midwest, Chicago and just embracing all that comes from the charm on the field.”

That charm is what attracts millions of fans who want to experience a piece of baseball history in the second-oldest stadium in the majors.

But recently, Wrigley has been taken over by offseason construction projects, giving it a new look. Boone said the Cubs have done a good job adding modern-day luxuries while saving the park’s original allure.

“They’re modernizing it, but they’re able to do these changes while keeping the nostalgia and charm of what makes Wrigley so unique,” Boone said. “They’ve really been able to modernize and update the park while keeping the old charm.”

Boone will return to Wrigley on Sunday to help call “Sunday Night Baseball” on ESPN alongside play-by-play man Dan Shulman and former Cubs catcher David Ross, who is subbing for analyst Jessica Mendoza. First pitch is 6:35.

The Cubs will go for the sweep against the Cardinals. Though it’s always interesting when the longtime rivals meet, this series has had extra intrigue because of Dexter Fowler’s return to Wrigley. The former Cubs center fielder signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Cardinals in December.

Fowler had quite a homecoming Friday. After being presented with his 2016 World Series championship ring and receiving a standing ovation, he led off the game with a home run.

Boone said it can be weird for a player to return to a ballpark he once called home.

“You build these relationships in the clubhouse with your teammates, and then, in Dexter’s case, go to arguably the team’s biggest rival,” Boone said. “It’s going to be a special experience but weird.”

Boone said he doesn’t think Cubs fans appreciated how versatile Fowler was at the plate.

“Even though Dexter is not off to a great start with the Cards, the Cubs lost a guy who got on base over 30 percent of the time hitting from both the left and right side of the plate,” Boone said. “I don’t think people realized how special of a player he was.”

During his two seasons with the Cubs, Fowler hit .261 with 30 home runs, 94 RBI and a .367 on-base percentage. This season, Fowler is batting just .228 with an OBP of .319.

Despite the slow start, Boone said Fowler was a big pick-up for the Cardinals, who desperately needed a center fielder. He believes Fowler will play a key role once he gets back into his hitting groove.

Fowler’s hitting woes are nothing compared to those of Kyle Schwarber, who has struggled offensively all season. Schwarber is batting .166 with nine homers, although he did hit a game-changing grand slam Saturday in the Cubs’ 5-3 win.

With Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Boone said the Cubs have the potential to be dangerous if Schwarber can get on base more consistently.

“I love it. I think you have to move him down until he gets moving a little since right now he’s struggling,” Boone said. “But once he gets going like I know he can and Maddon knows he can, he has power and can get on base. Following him up with Bryant and Rizzo, it’s a tough trio for pitchers to throw against.”

Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.

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