In Eric Hosmer, Matt Mervis has mentor to guide him as the pair look to win with Cubs
Eric Hosmer remembers looking at a then 40-year-old Raúl Ibañez in the Royals clubhouse in 2014 with a little sense of awe.
“And [he] really wasn’t playing at all, especially as we got closer to the playoff race and the pennant chase and all that stuff,” Hosmer recalled. “But he just found something to do every day. One certain guy to love on, if a guy was going through it.”
Here was a guy that Hosmer had grown up watching, a player who had a long, successful career and he was OK taking a backseat to some of the young, up-and-coming players that were in the Kansas City clubhouse.
But it wasn’t just Ibañez. Alex Gordon was like that and the year before Miguel Tejada, was, too.
“To see them on my team and the role that they were in and how they were just trying to go about their business, trying to bring the team together, trying to bring everybody up for the game, each night, I think that was something that really stood out to me,” Hosmer said. “It’s about getting the team ready to win and how special winning is. Having experienced that, I think that’s what everybody wants to do.”
Fast forward nine years or so and Hosmer finds himself in the shoes of Ibañez, Gordon and Tejada. He was a lineup regular to start the season, then, when the Cubs brought up top first base prospect Matt Mervis on Friday, it saw him shifted to a less regular playing role. And that was OK with him.
“I think Matty’s a guy that the whole league’s aware about,” Hosmer said of the rookie who put up gaudy numbers in the minor leagues over the last 12 months. “It takes a lot of good communication from [manager David Ross] and Jed [Hoyer] and all those guys. It’s not something that’s just completely out of the dark, it’s something I knew before signing here.
“I understand what my role is and I’m ready to do that and just do whatever I can to help the team win.”
So why sign with the Cubs if he knew that Mervis was on the horizon?
“Cause it’s a good team,” Hosmer said. “I think winning is the ultimate goal … I saw the way the team ended last year. I saw some of the moves they made in the offseason, and I knew about some of the guys coming up, so I felt like it was the best possible chance to win and that’s what I wanna be a part of.”
Helping Mervis adjust to the big leagues started way before Friday.
When Hosmer first arrived in Arizona for Spring Training, he introduced himself to Mervis and told him he was there to help him in any way possible. At the beginning of camp, that meant getting to know Mervis as he prepared to head off to the World Baseball Classic with Team Israel and working on some defensive drills.
When he returned from the WBC, Hosmer was there, again, ready to work with Mervis and continue to help him be ready for whenever he was called up.
“It meant a lot to me,” Mervis said. “And it still does, knowing that I can show up every day and have his support rather than having to look over my shoulder.”
Mervis was eager to pick Hosmer’s brain defensively. Last fall, when he went to Wrigley Field with a group of prospects towards the end of the major league season and after the minor league season, he mentioned the growth he needed to make with his glove.
“Just keep working on my flexibility, on my movement on defense,” Mervis said at the time. “[Alfonso] Rivas when he was down there in Triple-A with us, I learned a lot from him, just watching how he moves around the bag.”
Having the opportunity to learn from a 4-time Gold Glove winner was exciting for Mervis. And quickly, they started working. One day, during drills, Hosmer noticed Mervis something while he was fielding backhanded picks at first.
“And [he] just said, really keep your head down, stay behind the glove cause the better you see the ball, the longer you see the ball, the better chance you have of making it,” Mervis recalled.
Mervis has already had a couple of chances to showcase his growth in that area. He had his first backhand pick on Saturday and then had another on Sunday in extra innings to keep the score tied against the Marlins.
“He’s a guy who’s had a really, really good career in general, but especially defensive career,” Mervis said. “He’s got those accolades and if I can learn anything from him, I’m gonna listen and use it.”
And Hosmer will be there to help Mervis. Because if he does, he knows it can help the Cubs to scratch across a few more wins — and that’s all he’s looking for at this point in his career. Just like Ibañez and Tejada did when he was coming up.
“That’s the best end product you can get in this game,” Hosmer said. “The All-Star Games and Gold Gloves and that type of stuff is cool, but winning and going through that experience is truly the best. I think it’s just about trying to bring that out in your teammates. That’s something I really learned from those guys.”