8/17 Hail, Szczur
Matt Szczur’s father was in Des Moines this weekend to help his son pack some of his belongings. Szczur has spent the season at Triple-A Iowa, and with the year winding down, the plan was for his father to make a stop at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday, then load up the car and drive to New Jersey. But plans changed.
“I called him and said, ‘You might want to come back — we’re packing up for a different reason now,'” Szczur said.
On Sunday, Szczur was recalled from the Minor League team and joined the Cubs at Citi Field, where he played once before in a workout for Major League scouts. When he gets in a game, he will be the seventh player to make his Major League debut with the team this season.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think I’d be playing baseball,” said Szczur, who was a star wide receiver at Villanova. “I thought I was going to go to the NFL and play football. It happened my opportunity was better at the time to play baseball.
“I just wanted to work hard and get to the hardest level,” he said. “It’s been a great journey. There have been struggles but there are struggles everywhere and you learn from your struggles.”
Szczur knows first-hand about struggles. He donated blood cells to a leukemia patient who had a 1-in-80,000 chance of finding a match. He missed 10 games in 2010 because of side effects from the medication he had to take.
A fifth round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Szczur has impressed the Cubs organization with his work habits. He doesn’t just stand in the outfield during batting practice, he “power shags” and chases after balls hit as if it’s a game situation.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Szczur said. “What helped get me here is being a defensive help in the outfield.”
Iowa manager Marty Pevey broke the news to Szczur in a light-hearted way. Szczur was called into Pevey’s office before Saturday’s game.
“He asked if I was hitting off the curve ball machine today,” Szczur said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I planned on it.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re not going to hit it with us, you’re going to the big leagues. I was excited, everybody else was excited. They see the hard work I put in and they were happy for me.”
Even if Szczur’s father won’t make it to Citi Field — he’s driving Matt’s car to Chicago — there will be plenty of family in the stands. He grew up in Cape May, N.J., although Szczur admitted he was a Phillies fan as a kid.
Manager Rick Renteria wanted to give Szczur time to get familiar with the outfield before putting him in the lineup but will try to take advantage of his speed. Szczur had 30 stolen bases at Iowa; the Cubs have 49 as a team.
“He did a nice job for us in the spring, he’s a nice defensive player, he had some really good at-bats, runs the bases well,” Renteria said.
He arrived in New York shortly after midnight Saturday. Was he excited about the call-up?
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night, there was no way,” Szczur said. “It’s exciting. You have to realize it’s your job and you have to go out there and work. Once you make it, [the work] doesn’t stop. You have to just keep it up.”
— Carrie Muskat