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How a simple text from Nico Hoerner helped welcome Nick Madrigal to the Cubs

2 years agoAndy Martinez

Nick Madrigal sat in front of his TV with his girlfriend, Alisa Sandgren, on July 30 and watched a trade deadline show as moves were being made across the league.

As he saw what unfolded, he joked with her about the possibility of him being moved.

“I didn’t see my name in anything,” Madrigal recalled.

Then, his phone rang.

He picked it up and on the other end was White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who was informing him that he was being traded across town to the Cubs with Codi Heuer for closer Craig Kimbrel.

“To be honest, it was a surprise,” Madrigal said.

But Madrigal quickly turned the page. He was excited to get to start a new chapter in his career. And one text made that next stage of his life a little more familiar.

His phone buzzed and there was a message from Cubs’ infielder Nico Hoerner.

“If the rumors are true, welcome,” Hoerner’s message to Madrigal read.

That meant a lot to Madrigal. It wasn’t just another guy or a future teammate reaching out to him.

After all, the pair had grown up together. Hoerner was born and raised in Oakland and Madrigal had grown up in Elk Grove, Calif., less than 90 miles from Oakland and just outside of Sacramento.

They had faced each other plenty growing up — in little league, travel ball, high school and summer teams. In college, they squared off in the Pac-12 conference, Madrigal at Oregon State and Hoerner at Stanford.

“I feel like I’ve seen him everywhere we went,” Madrigal said. “Over the years, we grew a friendship … but to be here at the highest level together, I’m looking forward to it big time.”

The Cubs are excited to have Madrigal, too. In 324 plate appearances over 83 games, he has a .317 batting average with a .774 OPS. He has a knack for putting the ball in play, an aspect that has been missing from the Cubs’ offense in recent years. The ability to put a barrel on the ball earned him the nickname “Nicky Two Strikes” from White Sox fans. He’s a lifetime .299 hitter in 2-strike counts and a .483 hitter in 0-2 counts.

“He doesn’t punch out in a world where everybody and their brother punches out all the time,” Cubs bench coach Andy Green said. “Having that skillset in a lineup, especially, Nico in there as well, that changes our offensive dynamic quite a bit.”

Madrigal hopes both he and Hoerner’s ability to put the ball into play will be part of a balanced lineup that has some contact and can slug.

“I understand that some guys in the game get paid to hit home runs, I’m all for that,” Madrigal said. “I do really think the game needs that, but I also think in a lineup you need someone that gets on base and puts the ball in play when you need to.”

But that’s still far away for Madrigal. After all, he’s still rehabbing from surgery to repair a right hamstring tear he suffered in June. He saw the doctor on Saturday, and he’s cleared to start jogging and some running progressions. He said he could be fully cleared by November but is in no rush to return.

“We have so much time,” Madrigal said. “The ultimate goal is to be as strong and as ready for spring training.”

Until then, Madrigal is enjoying his first extended stay at the Friendly Confines. His only other trip to Wrigley Field before this weekend was during last season’s pandemic-shortened season with no fans in attendance. This weekend he got to experience the historic park with a packed crowd that celebrated former Cub Kris Bryant on Friday.

“I always knew how much tradition was over here and just the whole style of Cubs baseball,” Madrigal said. “To see how much passion the fans have for one player — I mean he deserves all the standing ovation, everything he got yesterday and probably for the rest of the weekend. I was looking forward to all that.”

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