Cubs still in awe of Javy Báez’s magic
As spring training neared its end, Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce sat down with Chicago media in Arizona for a chat on the team’s hitters.
A reporter asked if Javy Báez was experimenting with anything with his swing or offensive approach during the exhibition games.
“I mean, Javy experiments with tattoos,” Iapoce deadpanned.
That might be the perfect quote to describe Báez and how the Cubs view him.
This organization has truly let Báez be himself and didn’t try to fit him into a box. They’ve been rewarded with a star.
He is a unicorn — a player who rarely walks and isn’t afraid to swing-and-miss but can also hit any pitch out of the ballpark at any time in any count.
He can recover from an error in one inning to make an incredible glove flip to start a double play the following frame.
He can deliver a chest-pounding celebration after a game-tying home run and he can also be the first guy out of the dugout when he feels like the opponent is showing up one of his teammates.
And we haven’t even gotten to the swim-move slides and the tags. Javy Tags are high-class art in the baseball world.
Báez is in his final year under contract with the Cubs. A career that began in August 2014 now has only five guaranteed months left on the clock.
It’s a career that has included a pair of All-Star apperances (2018-19), a Gold Glove award (2020), a Silver Slugger (2018), an MVP runner-up (2018) and a co-NLCS MVP (2016).
And, of course, that World Series ring in 2016.
A lot has happened in that time. Báez came up as the young hotshot prospect with Gary Sheffield-esque bat speed.
Back then, Pedro Strop took Báez under his wing, serving as a mentor and spiritual guide.
When Strop returned to Cubs camp this spring, he knew he was taking on a different role in Báez’s life.
“He’s a grown man now. He’s got 2 kids!” Strop laughed.
Báez may be a grown man now, but the Cubs still haven’t grown tired of watching “El Mago” work his magic on the field.
Here are some of the reactions and thoughts from Báez’s teammates throughout the first couple months of 2021:
Williams spent his entire big league career playing against Báez in the division, pitching for the Pirates for five seasons.
Now the veteran right-hander is happy to have Báez on his side, making defensive plays behind him.
During one of his first Cactus League starts in spring training, Williams gave up a hard ground ball that careened up the middle. He thought it was ticketed for the outfield but Báez flashed into the ball’s path with a sliding stop.
The Cubs didn’t get the out, but it taught Williams a valuable lesson: Don’t assume anything is out of Javy Báez’s range.
“I put my head down ‘cause I thought it was going through,” Williams said at the time. “When I saw him slide, I kinda became wide-eyed. It’s amazing, is what it is. To see that happen, it’s something that I’m gonna get spoiled by. I’m looking forward to be spoiled by that.”
In a game on April 23, the Cubs offense exploded for an early 10-0 lead. That didn’t stop Báez from selling out for a full-length diving stop to start an absolutely incredible double play:
Javier Báez send tweet pic.twitter.com/wYNnF6j4wA— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 23, 2021
Hendricks has been on the mound for so many of Báez’s highlight-reel defensive gems but he won’t ever take it for granted.
“It was awesome to watch from my vantage point,” Hendricks said. “Just such a sweet play. It did surprise me a little bit, but it shouldn’t at all. This is just what he does, day in and day out. It’s such a treat to watch him take the field every day.”
The veteran is in his first year with the Cubs and he was in center field for the play on April 23, so he had a front-row seat to Báez’s diving stop.
“Can we talk about that play Javy made? That was probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the field — that little glove flip,” Marisnick said. “When he’s out there doing stuff like that, it’s hard not to get excited.”
Báez isn’t just magic with his athleticism, he also walks the walk in terms of having his teammates’ backs.
When Reds reliever Amir Garrett taunted Rizzo after a strikeout over the weekend in Cincinnati, Báez stalked out of the Cubs dugout to jaw at the giant southpaw.
“I’m just not gonna let him or anyone disrespect my teammates or my team,” Báez said after the game.
Rizzo certainly appreciated the support.
“When I don’t need to say anything and I see my whole bench, my teammates sticking up for me, it’s such a great feeling,” Rizzo said. “Knowing that they have my back at all times — seeing Javy lead the charge there was nice.”
His manager was all for Báez’s reaction, too.
“You always love it when guys stick up for one another,” David Ross said. “That’s just part of a team and the history these guys have together. They’re not gonna stand for a disrespect for one of their teammates.
“I love all these guys. I think the world of this group. They’re a really fun group to come compete with every day. They have each other’s back. They stand up for one another. I think that’s part of just being a team. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
As a young player, Hoerner has shared the middle infield with Báez over the last couple years, soaking up all he can from the two-time All-Star.
Báez helped communicate with Hoerner on a popup against the Brewers to let it drop and turn a heads-up double play.
And as Hoerner watched the Garrett incident unfold in Cincinnati, he was in awe of Báez.
“I really just appreciate Javy,” Hoerner said. “He had Rizz’s back and that was his entire intention the whole time – it was about our team and I love that he kept it that way.
“I love playing with Javy. He plays the game with no regrets. It’s all about the group with him. Really all facets of the game, I love playing with Jav and appreciate having a teammate like that.”
Báez did not start Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Dodgers but still had a major impact on the game anyways.
In the bottom of the 8th inning with the Cubs down to their final out and trailing by a pair of runs, Báez sent a pitch into the left-field bleachers for a game-tying homer:
LARGE 💪 pic.twitter.com/lOI7MgbnsM— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 5, 2021
“It was insane,” Joc Pederson said. “Javy continues to come through in the big moments and it’s fun to watch. The whole stadium was behind it and a ton of energy.”
Bote wound up with the walk-off hit in the nightcap Tuesday. He appreciated how Báez came off the bench and still delivered even in a foreign role.
“Javy — that’s a great at-bat right there,” Bote said. “He hasn’t [come off the bench] as much as some of the other guys but it’s the same at-bat for him, which is really incredible to watch.”
Let’s end with the manager, the guy who came to Chicago and helped change the culture in the Cubs clubhouse.
Ross has seen Báez grow up a lot over the last seven years and now that he’s the manager, he knows exactly what he has in his star shortstop.
“He’s the magician,” Ross said. “He can do a lot of things — pull tricks out of a hat. He definitely did that [Tuesday] night. A huge spark for us. A guy that has been a staple here, put up some really good numbers. He’s a hard worker; he’s a leader in a lot of ways. Former Gold Glover last year.
“I think for me, it’s a guy that’s just nice to pencil into the lineup every day. [A guy] you rely on to hold down the middle of the infield and real power in there. He’s always got that threat of a home run no matter whether he’s going really good or bad — he’s always kinda got that in his back pocket.
“He’s extremely dangerous and he’s very elusive on the basepaths. He’s a guy that causes havoc on the basepaths. There’s a well-roundedness to his game when he’s on that’s really scary for the opponent. I think he’s one of the more exciting guys to watch play in baseball.”