New Cubs explain why it truly is so ‘different’ at Wrigley Field
“It’s different here.”
That’s the Cubs’ marketing slogan for the 2022 season and an oft-used phrase by fans on social media even before this year.
It’s a perfect slogan for this season simply because it’s true: It is different at Wrigley Field.
In fact, it’s so different that the ballpark, city and fans served as a major recruitment tool for the Cubs this winter.
As the Cubs get set for Opening Day 2022, Jed Hoyer’s front office has turned over nearly half the roster from how the team finished up the 2021 campaign.
Many of those new faces were free agent signings, including a flurry of additions in the week after the lockout ended.
As those veterans were determining where to sign, obviously factors such as playing time and financial commitment factored heavily into each player’s decision. But Wrigley Field and the entire atmosphere at “The Friendly Confines” was right up there as well.
Take, for example, Hoyer’s pitch to Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki.
“I’m fortunate,” Hoyer said. “I could work for any team. I work for the Cubs. Such an easy thing to sell. I don’t think there’s a better summer city in America than Chicago. There’s no better place to play than Wrigley — the fans are so passionate.
“Certainly selling our vision to him was important but also selling what an incredible opportunity it was to come play in Chicago in front of fans in Wrigley Field every day. I feel really fortunate to have such an easy thing to sell.”
With the way the schedule worked out after the lockout, the Cubs are fortunate enough to open the 2022 season at Wrigley Field. It will be frigid and potentially rainy, but it will also be open to 100% capacity for the first Opening Day since 2019.
“Wrigley’s a special place,” manager David Ross said. “One of the historic ballparks, the museums that we get to play at. When that place is packed, I don’t know that there’s a better place I’ve ever been.
“Opening Day is an amazing thing, especially at Wrigley Field.”
As more than a dozen players get set to make their Cubs debut this weekend, let’s hear from a bunch of those people on what Wrigley Field means to them.
The big-ticket free agent signing didn’t wait long to endear himself to the fans.
As reports of his deal trickled out just hours before the MLB lockout went into effect, Stroman Tweeted how excited he is to pitch in Chicago:
Chicago has always been one of my favorite cities. Culture and passion everywhere. Beyond excited to pitch in front one of the best fan bases in all of sports. Thank you to everyone in the city for the warm welcome. I can feel it. Let’s get to work! @Cubs— Marcus Stroman (@STR0) December 1, 2021
He will make his Cubs debut Saturday against the Brewers. That game will also serve as his Wrigley debut.
Stroman has pitched in 179 big league games in his career but Wrigley Field is the only ballpark where he has never toed the rubber.
“I’m an energy person so I can’t wait,” he said. “I can’t wait to walk out there to warm up and feel that energy, that crowd. I’ve never pitched there before so it’s definitely something that’s exciting to me.
“I’m trying to kind of dumb it down and tell myself to not get too excited because I don’t like to pitch with too much emotion. So it’s definitely gonna be a matter of calming the nerves down as far as getting out there for the first time and dialing it back a bit.”
Stroman will have the advantage of soaking in the first two games of the weekend as a fan, enjoying the day as Kyle Hendricks and Justin Steele take the mound.
“It’s one of the most historic franchises and fanbases in the world,” Stroman said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it, to have that loyalty and that fanbase that shows up each and every day. It kinda gives you that authentic energy. That’s something you strive for as a player. I can’t wait to feed off that and dive in and be a part of it.”
Before Suzuki made his decision, the Cubs invited him to Wrigley Field to experience the magical stadium.
Needless to say, the pitch worked.
“I had the adrenaline rush when I saw my name on the billboard,” Suzuki said through his translator, Toy Matsushita, about his visit to Wrigley Field.
He was also in awe of the rooftops, as he has never seen that surrounding a baseball stadium.
Suzuki admitted he is a bit apprehensive about the cold early-season games at Wrigley Field and joked that if he strikes out a lot, he’s worried fans will pour beer on him from the bleachers.
But he fully understands the allure of Wrigley Field.
“It’s a field with a lot of tradition and rich in history,” Suzuki said. “To be able to play in that type of field is something that I’m very, very thankful for.”
The Cubs signed the veteran catcher to bring some stability to the position behind Willson Contreras.
Gomes has 10 years of big-league experience and has caught more than 6,800 innings. He also has a unique perspective on Wrigley Field as he was a backstop on the Cleveland Indians in 2016.
So Gomes has a claim few people alive can say: He has played in a World Series game at Wrigley Field.
“I’ve played in one of the biggest games there in a long time,” Gomes said. “The intensity of how that felt was something I’ll never forget.”
He appeared in Games 3 and 5 of the 2016 World Series at Wrigley Field and now that he’s wearing Cubbie blue, he is looking forward to being cheered — and not booed — at the corner of Clark and Addison.
“You go to some cities and some places and the fans are just so intense,” Gomes said. “They love baseball and they know that they bring the atmosphere and the momentum in the game as much as we do on the field. It’s awesome to see that.
“It’s been so many years that they’ve done it. Every year that I’ve gone in there, it’s always been an awesome thing. You take pictures on the field just because you got to play at Wrigley.”
Wrigley’s aura was so powerful that Gomes admitted it played a factor in his decision to sign with the Cubs.
“When these guys called, they jumped to the top of the list and [there] wasn’t an intensive amount of negotiations because I’m like, ‘dude, I’m in with the Cubs,'” Gomes said. “I want to go play there.”
The Cubs traded for Madrigal last summer, acquiring the second baseman from the White Sox in exchange for Craig Kimbrel.
Madrigal has never played an official game at Wrigley Field but he remembers what it was like during Summer Camp in 2020 without fans in the stands. He got a little taste of what Wrigley has to offer late last season when he came to Chicago for a weekend to visit with his new team.
“I’ve thought about it for a while now — stepping onto the field in front of those fans,” Madrigal said. “I was fortunate enough last year to go for a weekend series to check out the crowd. I played there during that COVID season when there were no fans in the stands. It’s a whole different atmosphere right now.
“I’m excited just to be there, step foot on the field, just to get playing. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. From what I’ve heard, it’s one of the happiest places in the world to be in front of the Cubs fans. It feels like it’s a huge party and everyone’s happy out there. I’m excited to experience it for myself.”
The veteran reliever reached a deal with the Cubs during Spring Training and had the opportunity to pitch at Wrigley Field last season as a member of the Reds.
He is struck by the history surrounding the ballpark and remembers watching Cubs games on WGN as a kid with his great grandfather.
“Having the opportunity to be in a Cubs uniform is great,” Givens said. “Instead of watching it, now I’ll be in the stadium every day to live that dream.”
Smyly was actually with the Cubs in 2018 as he signed a 2-year deal while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
However, he never received the opportunity to pitch with the big-league team, as he only made 1 rehab appearance with Class-A late in the year and was traded to the Rangers the ensuing fall.
He re-signed with the Cubs this spring in part because he felt like he had some unfinished business.
“Definitely,” he said. “I was super excited when I was here and got to spend the summer in Chicago and watch these guys play and how electric Wrigley was. I was pretty bummed when I didn’t get a chance to put on the jersey and play for them. I’m definitely excited for that this summer.”
Unlike some of the other players on this list, Brault has plenty of experience at Wrigley Field but all of it has come as an opponent.
He has spent his entire 6-year MLB career playing in the NL Central as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and has appeared in 11 games at Wrigley Field.
When the Pirates designated him for assignment in the offseason, the Cubs became a “destination team” for Brault.
“I always thought the Cubs were pretty cool and playing at Wrigley would be amazing,” he said. “I thought it’d be a good fit as well. I like the staff here. All the guys that I’ve met playing against the Cubs for so long, I’ve enjoyed their company even though sometimes it’s been them hitting home runs off of me.
“Trevor Williams was here last year. He’s one of my best friends and he loved it here.”
[WATCH: New Cubs discuss Wrigley experiences]
Brault is currently recovering from a triceps injury and signed on a minor-league deal. It’s unknown when he might be up at Wrigley Field, but he is certainly daydreaming about the day he gets to pitch on the North Side of Chicago.
Wrigley Field has always been his favorite place to shag batting practice in the outfield. He loves interacting with the fans in the bleachers.
He also remembers pitching in Chicago during the magical 2016 Cubs season, dueling against Jake Arrieta on an August evening.
“It was absolutely insane,” Brault said. “That was when the [bullpen] was still on the side [of the field], not behind the bleachers. Oh my god, dude, it was unbelievable. I was like, ‘this is the place I wanna go.’
“There’s insults but then there’s like creative insults. Chicago fans really get that. I appreciate that kind of humor. I always thought this would be a cool place to play.
“It’s Wrigley. The ivy wall, the beautiful city — Wrigleyville — around it. I’ve spent a decent amount of time here over the last 5 years and I think it will be a really cool experience to be able to play there.”
Like Brault, Frazier has heard the stories about Wrigley Field’s magic from those who have lived it firsthand. But unlike Brault, Frazier has never played at “The Friendly Confines.”
The outfielder inked a deal with the Cubs just before the lockout. His fiancee, Kaylee, played soccer at Loyola and she was in college when the team won it all in 2016.
“She’s told me all kinds of stories about how the crowd is and what the environment’s like there,” Frazier said. “Obviously I’ve asked guys here. I’m just excited to get out there and see if I can hit one out of that stadium.”
The journeyman reliever may be a new face relative to this roster but he was with the Cubs for a couple of months at the end of the 2018 season.
As he gets set to reunite with Wrigley Field, he couldn’t help but get nostalgic.
“Going out there, running out of those gates and listening to the fans, the smell of the grass and the ivy, it’s unbelievable,” Chavez said. “I love history so being able to run through there is pretty cool.”
The rookie reliever wasn’t an offseason acquisition but he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in November.
Roberts enjoyed his first big-league camp this spring and certainly made the most of it. He was rewarded for his efforts with a spot on the Opening Day roster in what was one of the most wholesome moments in recent memory.
[MORE: Ethan Roberts’ special moment]
As the 24-year-old worked his way up the Cubs system, he has visualized pitching at Wrigley Field, on the biggest stage.
“I do mental imagery a lot,” Roberts said. “You put yourself in moments. I want to be a back end bullpen guy so I put myself in a moment where I come in in the 7th with 2 guys on and 1 out and I gotta get out of it.
“So here lately — the past 9 months — I’ve been visualizing myself at Wrigley rather than Des Moines or Omaha or wherever. I’ve been trying to put myself in that spot.”
Roberts has only been to Wrigley Field once — back in 2019 during the All-Star Break when he was pitching for the Cubs’ Class-A affiliate in South Bend.
He and his wife, Hopelyn, went on a tour of the historic ballpark with their son, who was 6 months old at that time. The Roberts family made sure to take plenty of pictures on the field that day.
Now he’ll be pitching on that same field at some point this weekend in his MLB debut.
“This is insane,” Roberts said. “It’s hard to put it in words. It’s something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time.”