Chicago Cubs: 2012 First Half Highlights

The Cubs are currently 15 games out of first place and only a half game away from becoming roommates with the Houston Astros in the basement of the NL Central. Looking up at everyone in the division except the Pittsburgh Pirates who head into the break as the penthouse resident of the Central, it would be easy to cast the first half of the 2012 season aside and claim there were as many bright spots for the Cubs in the first half as there were home runs for Robinson Cano in the home run derby. Zero.

This is simply not true. The following players have provided opportunity for fans to cheer this Cubs squad in 2012:

1. Starlin Castro: Coming off of a 2011 season where he made the All-Star team as the youngest Cubs player to do so and had a collection of 200+ hits, Castro had a lot to live up to in 2012. While his sporadically distracted play in the field continues to be something to work on for the young shortstop, his performance in the batter’s box provided big shoes to fill and thus far he hasn’t disappointed. Castro (along with Bryan LaHair) will be representing the team in the All-Star game tonight and has been the Cubs’ best hitter with 344 at bats, a .291 average and 100 hits to go along with 16 stolen bases. Castro continues to be the brightest spot for the future of the club and is in great position to reach 200 hits once again this year.

2. Bryan LaHair/Anthony Rizzo: LaHair will be in Kansas City tonight representing the ballclub at the All-Star Game – an honor the young outfielder did not expect when he was chosen by Cubs’ brass to be the team’s starting first baseman this season. With Carlos Pena out, the team needed someone to step up and provide numbers, preferably someone young enough to count on not only now, but looking to the next 5-10 years, too. LaHair delivered and has become so valuable, that even when Rizzo was called up after dominating AAA ball, Sveum found a way to keep his bat in the lineup by moving him to right field. So far this year, LaHair is batting .286 with 14 home runs and an OPS of .883. Always a great All-Star break when your team is represented by 2 or more players as opposed to the pity All-Star rep in a year where you only get the bare minimum on the field representing the club. Rizzo hasn’t been in the bigs as long but arguably has made a greater impact on the club in a shorter amount of time. Born on 8/8/89, the one year anniversary of the lights coming on at Wrigley, Rizzo made his way through the minor league system and made his 2012 debut with the Cubs on June 26th. In the 12 games he has played in, the Cubs are 8-4 and trying to find away to climb the standings in the Central. Any movement towards the top will do a lot for Cubs’ fans’ hopes of the future and Rizzo will surely be a big part of any movement the club can make in the second half. The 22-year-old Rizzo is currently batting .354 in 48 at-bats, 4 HR’s and a 1.055 OPS. The right side of the field is shaping up for the long haul at Wrigley thanks to Rizzo and LaHair (whether they stick around or team brass decides to trade them in for additional pieces in building towards future success).

3. Ryan Dempster: Dempster could very likely be pitching his final game for the Cubs very soon (if not on this coming Saturday) as he remains one of the most coveted pitchers by contending teams in MLB. Along with Garza and Samardjiza’s strike out rate, he has kept the Cubs in the position of most respectable starting rotation for a last place team in baseball (for what that’s worth). Dempster has been held back in the win column by poor run support (as have the rest of the starting rotation) however, contenders must be attracted to his veteran leadership, work ethic and his quality start totals along with his 1.99 ERA, 70 strike outs and 86.1 innings pitched (Dempster is coming off of four straight durable 200 innings pitched seasons). Dempster has been a quality guy on and off the field for the Cubs. His first half of 2012 has been one of his better stretches and it will be both disappointing and interesting to see where he ends up around the trade deadline as Theo & Co. build towards the future.

Congratulations to Starlin and LaHair for making the 2012 All-Star Game. Looking forward to having more reasons to believe the future is bright with this ballclub while watching the second half of the season.

Go Cubs Go!

Today: Taking Rhys to his first Cubs game

Today was amazing. I brought my son, Rhys, to his first professional baseball game to see our favorite team in person and I could not have asked for a better time. I have wanted to take him to a Cubs game since he was born and I can’t wait to do it again soon.

My son is about 20 months old so there is no way his experience was going to be affected by a win or a loss. Despite the fact that the Cubs lost today, I wouldn’t even list a victory as something that would have made it better. While I personally always enjoy seeing the Cubs win (of course), today wasn’t about the end result whatsoever. It was about introducing my son, my first born, to the game I love and the team I love as something I want to share with him for a long time to come.

The Cubs are on the road this weekend, facing the New York Mets at Citi Field. The stadium is about 45 minutes from where we live so it was a must-do for this weekend with the Cubs in town. A 4pm start is perfect for a little guy like Rhys. Lunch and a nap, a quick car ride. Dinner and a game at 4pm, home by 8p for bed. He was in the mood, not tired and excited to see baseball. I told him that we were going to go to a baseball game and asked him if he wanted to go. He said ‘yes’ this morning and immediately started saying ‘ball, ball ball’ around the house. We stopped at a picnic on our way out there and Rhys made sure to where his Cubs hat in the car ride there. He was either wearing his hat or mine all day and couldn’t wait to get to the stadium. Here we are just out of the car as we arrived in the third inning (which I highly recommend with a kid under 2. Sacrifice the first couple innings and stay the rest of the game!!):

We hit up the ticket booth and made sure to get seats in the shade, with access to a Club with air conditioning since it was supposed to be 100 degrees today in New York. I have been to Shea/Citi more times than I count in my lifetime so I knew right where we needed to go for both. We hit up the ticket booth for tickets on the third base side, infield (third base side just like I sit when I go to Wrigley) with access to the Promenade Club. The shade was an amazing decision as we hardly needed the AC and did great in our seats. Immediately once inside the stadium, we hit up the gift shop and bought Rhys a souvenir baseball. I think I’ll get him a ball at every stadium we visit together going forward. It was also Mini-bat Day at Citi Field today so we got bats as well. When you put a bat in Rhys’ hand, it doesn’t even look like a mini-bat, it just looks like a bat with all the proportions. Here we are at the ticket booth getting our tickets:

Once inside, Rhys was taking it all in as we looked at the baseball field. I showed him where the Cubs dugout was along the third base side and pointed out guys like Rizzo and Castro and Soriano.

We made our way up to our seats, but before we got there, we immediately got two helmets filled with ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. This sooner than expected or desired became a helmet full of soupy vanilla juice and melted colored goo. Didn’t matter. We just ate faster. Well, I did. Rhys was having a blast with his Cubs hat on and his Mets helmet of ice cream in his lap melting away. Every lift of the spoon resulted in a hansel and gretel style drip trail of melted ice cream from his lap up to his mouth. He was loving it.

He’d dance when the walk up music played, cheered on his Cubs when I cheered/clapped and was actually sitting in his seat watching the game. He wasn’t complaining, he didn’t want to get up and walk around or play with any toys we brought, just in case. He was thrilled to be with his parents, eating ice cream on a Summer day and watching Cubs baseball. It was the best day of the Summer for sure and one of my all-time favorites.

Here is a video of Rhys at his first baseball game today. The Cubs desperately needed to shut down Kirk Niewenhuis in this spot and we were doing all we could to make it happen from the stands. That’s me in the Cubs tee next to Rhys:

I was rooting for Clevenger to do some damage in the bottom of the ninth and help tie the game and send it into extra innings. However, when the final pitch was thrown and the game was over, I was just thrilled to have spent the afternoon introducing Rhys to baseball. It was so much fun to go with him and my wife. Today wasn’t about keeping score and looking back at a single in this inning or a double play in that inning. Looking back at this day as I’m sure I will many times and will keep the ticket as a keepsake – when I look back at today’s game it will be more about that inning that Rhys smiled with ice cream dripping down his face, that inning when Rhys danced in his seat over and over again and every time he clapped and cheered taking the entire experience of his first baseball game in with his Mom and I.

It was an amazing, amazing day. One I’ll never forget and will definitely talk about with Rhys at future Cubs game as he gets older. Can’t think of a better way to spend a Summer day. Amazing. Just simply an amazing, amazing Summer day.

Go Cubs Go!