DREAM COME TRUE:
Title droughts at stake, but Cubs, Indians are enjoying reunions
The Indians and Cubs, perennial losers, meet tonight for Game1 of the World Series.
CLEVELAND — After the Cubs earned a World Series berth Saturday night, second baseman Javier Baez sent a text message to childhood friend and Indians All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor.
“Is this a dream?” Baez wrote.
“Yeah, I think it is,” Lindor responded. “Because I haven’t woke up yet.”
The Baez-Lindor reunion isn’t the only one in this World Series, which begins tonight at Progressive Field. Indians reliever Andrew Miller, a former Oriole, and Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman were teammates on the Yankees until trade-deadline deals in late July sent them to the eventual American League and National League champions.
“I don’t think anyone would have guessed it would have happened,” Miller said Monday. “I’m happy for him. Both of us couldn’t have been placed in better places to land.”
Both teams are looking to end lengthy championship droughts; the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, the Indians in 1948. The emergence of Baez, 23, and Lindor, 22, represents a more optimistic forecast for their respective teams after decades of misery.
Baez and Lindor played against each other in youth leagues in their native Puerto Rico before their families moved to the United States. Lindor recalled spending one Thanksgiving at Baez’s home in Florida and
playing pingpong with Baez and his brothers.
They were teammates in the 2010 Aflac All-American game before their senior seasons of high school, with Baez playing third base and Lindor at shortstop. The Indians drafted Lindor eighth in 2011, with the Cubs selecting Baez with the next pick.
“Lindor played above his age at that time,” former Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken recalled. “He was a player under control. You always heard about Lindor being the safest high school pick. He was considered to go anywhere from three to six. It was a shock when he fell to eight.
“Had Lindor fell to nine, we would have taken a timeout and talked it over. The only question was how physical we thought he’d be. The one thing about Javy was that he was a wild colt. Javy was evolving. A man turned into a horse. He was fearless. He had some control.”
Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who played on two U.S. national teams with Lindor, marveled over Lindor’s all-around credentials.
“He was as mature as they come,” Almora recalled. “And everyone knows who he is on the field.”
While Lindor made a steady climb and reached the majors midway through the 2015 season, Baez arrived one season earlier, but a high strikeout rate necessitated a return to the minors.
Baez’s hitting skills are catching up rapidly with his Gold Glovecaliber defense that has gained nationwide attention during the postseason.
“It’s amazing,” Cubs hitting coach John Mallee said of Baez’s reduction in strikeouts. “And his swing is so short and so good, and it’s so fast. A lot of times you see him swing and people think he’s pulling his head and pulling off the ball: ‘Look at that big old swing.’
“He creates so much bat speed and torque to decelerate that. Keeping both hands on the bat is normally impossible.”
Velocity also is the theme for Miller and Chapman, who required a smaller compensation package in terms of talent because of his imminent free agency.
Chapman said Miller was an “excellent teammate. He always looked out for the younger players on the team and always helped them out.”
Miller was just as happy to share the late-inning spotlight with Dellin Betances and Chapman before the trade deadline.
Miller said the Cubs had interest in him before the deadline, according to Cubs players who had played with Miller on the Red Sox, but they instead dealt for Chapman six days before the Indians acquired Miller.
“We both spoke highly of our time in New York,” Miller said. “It wasn’t the ideal situation [to be traded]. But the way it’s worked out, it’s hard for us to complain.”
A member of Cleveland’s grounds crew paints the World Series logo on the field Monday in preparation for Game 1 of the World Series between the Indians and Cubs tonight. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. The Indians’ last World Series win came in 1948.
Cleveland groundskeepers prepare the field Monday for batting practice.