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Watches, Wines and Outs: Inside the dynamic, fruitful relationship between Cubs’ Marcus Stroman and Tucker Barnhart

1 year agoAndy Martinez

The text thread is littered with watches and wine.

Tucker Barnhart might be sharing a photo or link to a Patek Philippe watch that he likes. Marcus Stroman could be sending back an Audemars Piguet watch that he’s eyeing or a bottle of Rosé that the pair might enjoy.

What you’re not likely to find in their text thread — a game plan against the Pirates, how the Cardinals hitters are faring against sinkers or any other “work talk.”

“I think coming to the field and only talking about baseball or only diving into baseball when you’re having conversations — it gets monotonous and boring, to be honest with you,” Barnhart said.

Instead, the pair spend their time talking about anything other than baseball — especially watches. Stroman began to take an interest in watches in 2021 with the Mets. He and then-teammate Francisco Lindor shared pieces they liked, calling them “investment-type pieces.”

“It’s a little hobby, something I’ve gotten into,” Stroman said. “It’s essentially buying art on your wrist, you know?”

Stroman guesses he has around 30 watches. A bigger collection than Barnhart, but his is no slouch, either — no matter how much the veteran catcher tries to downplay it.

“Oh, he’s got a few dope pieces, man,” Stroman said. “His [collection] is pretty good, don’t let him sleep on it.”

The Cubs’ ace is a hype man — he routinely praises his teammates and with Barnhart, it’s no exception. And pumping up Barnhart is no understatement. Barnhart has caught Stroman 9 times this time and he has a 1.63 ERA with the first-year Cub behind the plate.

Stroman’s success this season has been deservedly praised, but Barnhart’s role shouldn’t be dismissed either. He was behind the plate during Stroman’s most dazzling start of the year — a complete game shutout against the best team in baseball (Tampa Bay Rays) where he allowed just 3 baserunners (a walk, a hit batter and a hit).

And Barnhart has been behind the dish in 5 of his last 7 starts, during his most dominant run. In that time, Stroman is 7-0 with a 1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 36 strikeouts.

“It’s just as much of a testament to him as it is myself,” Stroman said.

Stroman has built up a lot of trust in Barnhart. So much so that Stroman said he’s only shaken off Barnhart “once all year and that was in like one of our first starts.” When Barnhart punches a pitch into the PitchCom device, Stroman knows it’s the right call and that he can execute it just as Barnhart hopes.

“Just gives me more peace of mind and … just allows me to just execute and not have that whole thought process going on in my mind,” Stroman said.

That’s a point of pride for Barnhart. He feels great knowing that his game planning is so strong that Stroman has complete confidence in it. But there’s also a little pressure in that, knowing that he has to be at the top of his game for the pair to have success.

“I feel a need to make sure that I’m completely prepared especially like with what he means to our team and the year that he’s having,” Barnhart said. “It puts a little bit of pressure to make sure that I’m completely invested and on P’s and Q’s in terms of what the other team is doing. But also makes me a better player and also kinda allows me to play the game, you know?”

The Cubs felt like Barnhart could be a good pairing with Stroman early on. Barnhart’s catching profile leans towards the bottom of the zone — he can set up low in the zone and frames pitches in that area well. As a sinker-first pitcher who lives in the bottom of the zone, the union made sense.

“In your mind, if you can steal some strikes at the bottom zone or really present those well and get every one of those borderline pitches — which I think Tucker does a really nice job of — that’s gonna help the confidence of the pitcher,” manager David Ross said. “It’s going to make the opposing hitters chase balls underneath probably at a higher frequency because in theory, you’re trying to raise the floor on a sinker ball. You don’t want to chase him down. You don’t wanna chase him in as a right-handed hitter.

“Being able to dominate those corners and edges is really important.”

The relationship has been fruitful for everyone. Stroman is having the best year of his career and the Cubs can look at games he pitches as “win days.” That all stems from the bond Barnhart and Stroman have built.

“He’s the man, bro. Just on and off the field, he’s just like such a good human being,” Stroman said. “He’s got all the information and allows me to just go out there and be free and easy and just attack and be very confident. Big fan of Tuck, man. He gives me even more confidence on the mound.”

Barnhart will continue to hold up his end. If he does, the duo could be forming batteries in crucial games for the Cubs later in the season.

“I take a ton of pride in it,” Barnhart said. “I think he trusts me, and I trust him as well. It’s one of those things that we just gotta keep building on what we’re doing. It’s been a lot of fun, for sure.”

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