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‘People just gravitate towards him’: A behind-the-scenes look at Héctor Neris’ impact on the Cubs

1 month agoAndy Martinez

Cubs reliever Héctor Neris can be characterized in a lot of ways.

A winner.

A unifying presence.

A fun guy.

And those attributes rub off on his teammates, making him a leader in the Cubs clubhouse just four months after joining the organization.

When the Cubs walked off the Braves on Tuesday, Nico Hoerner had a “W” flag draped across his chair at his locker in the Cubs clubhouse — the prize given to the player and pitcher of the game, a move started by Neris.

But when Neris had the idea, he didn’t just run with it — he wanted to make sure it was something that would be accepted by the team.

“In order to kinda tell everybody about it, he spoke to me and Dansby [Swanson] and I’m sure [Cody] Belli[nger] and guys like that to say like ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this, what do you guys think?’” Jameson Taillon said.

They were all for it.

“Neris has been an awesome clubhouse guy this year,” Hoerner said after that game. “He’s been part of a lot of great teams and brings a lot of infectious energy and has kinda brought that with him.”

There’s no one specific action or moment that can fully sum up why he’s such a leader. It’s more the whole landscape of who he is when he arrives at the park.

“I see Héctor in the weight room every day,” Taillon said. “I see him warming up the right way and that’s where the conversations happen.”

Neris has an impressive track record in his 11 seasons in the major leagues. Neris was a member of the 2022 Astros team that won the World Series. He’s pitched in 70 or more games in 5 different seasons and racked up 114 holds and 95 saves in 565 career games.

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Having a player with that much credibility putting in the work each day helps young players see what it takes to have success in the majors. And he’s always open to doling out advice or answering questions.

“I just try to be myself and walk the right path and realize that my example could possibly help someone and that they can use that,” Neris said. “I don’t think of myself as anything greater because when you want to be a leader, sometimes you want to try and do things that don’t belong.

“I just try to be myself and hope that my example can show them another path that they might need.”

That’s infectious.

“People just gravitate towards him,” Taillon said. “He’s got a great energy and a vibe about him. But he also goes about it the right way.”

Neris’ interactions with almost everybody are bubbly and fun and he’s quick to quip a joke. After a string of interviews during the Cubs’ last homestand, Neris joked with team interpreter Fredy Quevedo Jr. that he was going to start charging for interviews.

On team charters, Neris is walking around and chatting with everyone from players to coaches and other staff members.

Walking onto the field during pregame or out to the bullpen before a game, he’s always walking with someone new — José Cuas one day, Kyle Hendricks the next, Yency Almonte the day after that.

“For me, also just, it’s pretty rare that you have a guy that can really bridge the gap between the Spanish speakers and English speakers, and he does a great job,” Taillon said. “He talks to everybody. He doesn’t isolate anybody. Really good with young guys. Obviously comfortable around veterans and stuff. He’s been really awesome.”

After the Cubs walked off the Pirates last weekend, Neris held an impromptu team meeting in the Cubs clubhouse. The players wanted to keep the conversation private but coming from Neris, the message carried plenty of weight.

“That was tremendous,” Bellinger said on Saturday. “I mean, even just hearing it, you kinda get goosebumps a little bit because it’s an uncomfortable position to be in.

“It was a good thing for the team, especially.”

When Luis Vázquez was promoted this week, he mentioned chatting with Miguel Amaya and Christopher Morel — two of his longtime friends and players who had come up with him in the minor leagues. But a third name — Neris’ — also was included.

He’s a conduit between everyone. There are no cliques as far as he’s concerned.

“[Vázquez] doesn’t need me to be a position player to learn something from me,” Neris said. “I want them to be better than me. We’re Latinos, too. It’s something — he can get familiar with me more easily and identify with me more easily than other people.”

And on the field, he’s been important, too. When Adbert Alzolay struggled and manager Craig Counsell needed to find a stabilizing presence to close out games, the veteran stepped in and has righted the ship.

Amidst a trying May, the presence of Neris can be impactful for the Cubs. In his time in the big leagues, he’s been in nearly every situation and can offer advice or tips that resonate differently than if a coach or Counsell says it.

“He’s experienced all of it. And when you’ve experienced all of it, people listen,” Counsell said. “From the good and the struggles and he’s experienced it. And that puts you in a place to offer [and] really know a lot about everybody’s situation, right? And that’s a good place to be. And then he’s just got a good way about communicating that.

“There’s a toughness to him, for sure, that’s there. And there’s a softness to him that is helpful sometimes too, right? And that’s what makes a good leader and that’s what makes him connect with a lot of different people.”

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