Ace of Spades: Despite injury, Wade Miley has made an impact in the clubhouse thanks to a unique new Cubs tradition
Moments after his major league debut, Christopher Morel walked into the Cubs’ clubhouse with the elation of his first career home run still fresh.
At his locker was Willson Contreras with a black box that had a bottle of Ace of Spades champagne in it. It was signed in gold sharpie with congratulations for his debut and home run and the date on the box. The box was signed by his teammates, too.
“Congratulations,” Contreras told Morel. “Welcome to the big leagues.”
Morel was overwhelmed. He thought the gift came from the Cubs’ veteran backstop. But the gift was actually from a different veteran — pitcher Wade Miley.
“It comes from the heart,” Morel said. “It’s who he is.”
He isn’t the only Cub to have received the gift. There are black Ace of Spades boxes sprinkled throughout the Cubs’ clubhouse with the gold ink commemorating various statistical markers.
Miley hands them out to rookies making their debuts or during milestones, but he insists they’re not from him.
“It’s from the team. It’s from the team,” Miley said. “It’s from everybody.”
A couple of weeks ago in Milwaukee, Miley had a bottle ready for Yan Gomes when he reached 10 years of big-league service time. He had a box primed when the Cubs returned to Chicago from Los Angeles for Ian Happ to mark his first All-Star Game.
“You hit a milestone or do something really cool and it’s just a little tradition, I think,” Miley said. “Just try to keep it going so guys – especially young guys – can understand how special this is, how sacred it is to come up here and do something cool and be rewarded for it.”
For Miley, the tradition started when he was a young player and veterans would gift bottles of champagne to younger players. Last season when he reached 10 years of MLB service time with the Reds, his then-teammate Joey Votto gifted him a bottle for the occasion.
“We opened it up and I shared it with the team,” Miley said. “We all toasted, drank it and then I got them to sign the empty bottle and put it back in the case. That’ll be in my house till I’ve sucked dirt — until I’m dead.”
Miley wants to give that back to the younger players. He wants them to remember those moments that only come around once.
“I mean it’s cool, but I just think we’re so outnumbered, veterans to young guys. It used to be flip-flopped,” Miley said. “Just a way of like keeping a tradition going. Making sure those guys understand, take care of the younger player, take care of the next generation because that generation did it for myself and the other guys – Drew [Smyly], Yan, guys that have been around a long time.
“I just feel like it’s easy to forget how cool it is to be doing this. This is pretty special — to be a Major League Baseball player and to get that opportunity.”
It is leaving an impression on the younger players, too.
“It’s all about how I felt in a moment and what they gave me and I want other people to feel the same way I did,” Morel said. “[Miley] made me super happy and I would like to make someone as happy as I was in that moment.”
That was the case for Narciso Crook. After his big-league debut, Miley came up to him with his Ace of Spades box and congratulated him on his big day.
“It’s a very special gift. It means a lot. I was very happy with it and I thanked Wade,” Crook said. “It sounds cliché, but to have a veteran guy realize that it’s a special moment for a young guy like me and to do that for young guys on this team, it’s special.”
Crook had never heard of the name of the bottle before, but knew it was distinct right away.
“I’m not at that level yet,” Crook said with a smile. “I’m not that fancy, yet. It’s the nicest bottle I ever got so far.”
It’s so nice and such a memorable gift, that Crook said he has no plans on opening it or drinking it.
Morel is in the same boat — he said the bottle was “so beautiful.”
“Contreras told me, ‘Don’t even open it. Keep it there as a memory, a souvenir. That’s something that you’ll never experience again,’” Morel said. “I’ll never have a welcome like that in the big leagues again.”
What does Miley want the guys to do with their bottle?
“It’s yours,” Miley said. “It’s whatever you wanna do with it.”
For the players receiving the black box with gold lettering, it’s more than just a bottle of nice champagne. It’s the gesture that carries so much meaning and makes a profound impact.
“That speaks more than words,” Morel said. “Miley is a good person on and off the field, on the team, off of it. I have seen that he is a man with a good heart and a good person.”