‘Dream come true’: Chicagoland native Eric Stout cherishing opportunity with Cubs
On Sunday, Eric Stout received a phone call he had been waiting his whole life for.
It came from Iowa Cubs manager Marty Pevey, who informed him his contract had been selected and he was being promoted to the Cubs on Monday.
“It’s by far a dream come true,” Stout said Monday prior to the Cubs series opener against the Padres. “I would say it’s better than my first call up with the Royals in 2018. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
The left-handed pitcher grew up in suburban Glen Ellyn rooting for the Cubs. He had been to Wrigley Field only twice, though — the first time when he was around 10 on a tour and the second time for a pre-draft workout.
That’s why Sunday’s phone call meant so much. He was going to his hometown team — it was much better than the calls he had been making and receiving in the last four years since he made his major league debut with Kansas City.
Stout was called up on April 24, 2018 and struck out that season’s NL MVP, Christian Yelich, in his first at-bat. But he was optioned 5 days later and in September, he was designated for assignment and ultimately released.
That began a whirlwind next few years for Stout. He was released by a major league team two more times, played independent ball (including with the Chicago Dogs in 2020) and pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He did that all in hopes of getting the call back up to the majors.
While he was getting looks, that call to the majors wasn’t coming. So he turned to his dad, Mike, and Pirates run prevention and game planning coach, Radley Haddad, who he has known for years.
They were the ones he knew he could count on when things were going rough — when the major leagues felt as far away as the moon. He would call them when he thought his career was over, when he wanted to leave the game.
They wouldn’t let him think like that.
“Just kinda reminding me that, ‘you’re throwing well, you’re healthy, just keep it going as long as possible’,” the elder Stout told him.
So, Stout kept plowing away, hoping, praying and working towards another shot in the big leagues.
He signed with the Cubs this spring, fully aware of the number of major-league debuts they had last season and knowing there was a good chance at an opportunity to break into the Chicago ‘pen at some point. He pitched 5.1 innings, striking out 7, posting a 0.00 ERA and allowing just 2 hits during Spring Training.
It opened some eyes in the Cubs organization.
“Came over for a Dodgers game when we went to their place and threw the ball really well,” manager David Ross said. “Came out of the ‘pen, didn’t know exactly who he was and that ball was jumping out of his and did a really nice job.”
That “nice job” was thanks to a slider he began working on with Cubs assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos. Over dinner one night in Spring Training, Moskos showed him a new grip and the next day, Stout began using it in camp.
“I threw it and was just kinda like, ‘woah that actually moves a little bit,’” Stout said.
With the Iowa Cubs, Stout worked on fine-tuning that pitch, trying to turn it into a weapon that could help get his elusive call.
Opponents were hitting just .168 off him in Iowa and he had 48 strikeouts in 29.2 innings of work. His 1.35 WHIP was his lowest mark in the minors since 2017.
That success resulted in the happiest call of his life.
“I know I’ve always wanted to throw in Wrigley,” Stout said. “That was my dream.”
After he learned of his decision, he had to make a few phone calls of his own — first to his parents. Then he texted buddies from Butler, where he went to college, and St. Francis High School in Wheaton, to tell them to make sure they got tickets in the bleachers.
He then made an important call to some of his Iowa Cub teammates. A group of 8 players go golfing every Monday — which are off-days in the minor leagues — and he had to let them know he was skipping his tee time.
“My two things I say are I’m never late — I focus on punctuality — and I never miss a tee time,” Stout said with a laugh.
But the most important person he had to inform was his 91-year-old grandma Edith “Oma” Kruk.
Kruk hasn’t left her house in Glen Ellyn much over the last couple of years because of the COVID-19 pandemic but she wasn’t missing the opportunity to see her grandson potentially pitch for the Cubs.
“I’m probably most excited to see her, honestly,” Stout said. “I know she’s gonna be a wreck, so hopefully she can recognize me from that far away. It’s awesome that she’s able to come.”