Note: On behalf of Cubs Den, Tom U would like to thank the Iowa Cubs and Manager of Media Relations Shelby Cravens, along with her interns Alex and Molly, for graciously allowing us to interview several players as part of our ongoing minor league coverage. We would also like to thank broadcasters Randy Wehofer and Deene Ehlis, along with Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register for giving their views. Cubs Den and Tom U would also like to thank South Bend Director of Media and Promotions Chris Hagstrom-Jones for his efforts in arranging for media credentials.
As a professional with a background in social services, one thing was very clear is that no matter how much experience you have, you never stop learning. Such was the case with my first experience in Triple-A ball when I visited the Iowa Cubs recently.
After covering Single-A ball for several years, the way of conducting interviews had developed a pattern. Unless you wanted to speak with one of the coaches, or if one of the players needed an interpreter, you generally grabbed players as they were going between tasks of preparing themselves for the game. For the most part, the players were happy to get the attention and have a chance to provide fans with their stories.
But upon arriving at Principal Park, two interns were assigned to help me navigate the waters as the players went through their pregame preparation.
In waiting for my next subject, a distinct “thwack” was coming from the batting cage. Jeimer Candelario was taking his cuts, first from the right side, and then the left. Each “thwack” was followed by either a thud of the tattooed ball striking the outfield padding, or the clatter of a ball rattling the windows of the skyboxes in left field or the chairs in the party deck in right. Less frequent was the swish of the ball striking the grass before, or the dirt of, the warning track before a loud crack of the ricochet off of the fence.
Finishing his rotation, Candelario took some time to talk about his experiences and current situation.
“(Outfielder) Jason Heyward was coming off the disabled list and the Cubs needed a spot, so they sent me back down” said Candelario about his recent stint in the big leagues. “(Manager) Joe Maddon said I did an awesome job, and that I should be back soon.” Candelario also felt that he “just had to work hard every day and take care of business”.
Taking care of business is just what Candelario has done with the Iowa Cubs. Through Sunday, Candelario has batted .294 with a .999 OPS along with seven home runs and 30 RBI. At third base, Candelario has posted an outstanding .975 fielding percentage.
One veteran observer taking in Candelario’s warm-ups opined “if he was with another organization, we would be talking about a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate”. Some of those same sentiments were shared by broadcaster Randy Wehofer. “Candelario is a disciplined hitter, and I think he is a better third baseman than (current Chicago Cub) Kris Bryant.” Wehofer’s partner Deene Ehlis added “he throws very accurately, all he needs is to see more time in the majors and he will hit”.
Back on the diamond for infield practice, Candelario showed off his skills at third with several backhand plays along with a few laser beam tosses to first base. Going across the field, Candelario drilled with Coach Mariano Duncan making short-hop scoops at first base. Writer Tommy Birch offered a perspective of Candelario defensively. “Candelario does not have a great deal of range at third, but he is solid and reliable”, said Birch. “He also looks very comfortable at first base, and I would like to see him get some reps in the outfield”.
For his part, Candelario seems unconcerned over some of the distant critics’ comments on his defense. “I can’t worry about what others say about anything like defense” stated Candelario, “I don’t have to prove anything, I just need to do a good and keep getting better”.
It is precisely that attitude that will assist Candelario in his quest for a permanent spot in the majors. “He’s a smart guy” reported Wehofer, “Candelario works hard and is very positive”.
His demeanor became evident as he finished the interview. “It was a blessing to be in the majors” said Candelario, “the front office is very supportive”. It was clear that Candelario, even with his experience, does not intend to stop learning.