Michael Cruz: The Heartbeat of the South Bend Cubs

As a reporter standing on the field prior to pregame drills and batting practice, you get a number of reactions as the players come out of the clubhouse. Many just pass by, some nod, and you also get a few “how’s it going’s”. But on opening night for the South Bend Cubs, this reporter experienced something different.

A player stopped, flashed a 100-watt smile, and stuck out his hand saying “Hi, I’m Michael Cruz!” After chatting for a few moments, Cruz was off to work with the pitchers.

The Cubs selected Michael Cruz in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. In a draft that the Cubs lacked a first and second round pick, Cruz was the first position player they chose. The left-handed bat of Cruz was apparent, as he compiled a .370 OBP, 15 RBI, and a 23:20 strikeout to walk ratio in 40 rookie league games.

The stocky, 5’ 11” 210-pound Cruz flashed his power potential the following year. Cruz thumped 9 home runs and 23 total extra base hits in only 194 at bats on his way to an .818 OPS while spending time with both Short Season-A Eugene and Low-A South Bend.

Flash forward a few months.

Standing in the dugout at Four Winds Field watching a few players getting individual batting instruction from the Cubs’ roving minor league hitting coach, I felt a firm clasp on my shoulder and a warm “hey, how are you?” from behind me.

Turning around, I was face-to-face with a beaming Michael Cruz.

After exchanging pleasantries, I let Cruz know that one of my main goals of the day was to interview a Spanish speaking pitching prospect. Cruz graciously agreed to translate, and went off to begin working with the pitchers that were coming out on the field to begin their daily drills.

We conducted the interview following the warm-up session. But when we were done, Cruz did not retreat to the clubhouse. Instead, Cruz turned the tables on me.

Cruz wanted to know what it was like to be in Wrigley Field. As someone who has experienced the Cubs’ home field transition from the smelly, dirty old park of the 1960’s and 70’s, to the fan-friendly environment of the 1980’s, to the palace of baseball it now is, I was able to regale Cruz and a small bunch of players now beginning to listen in.

I spoke of how fans used to roll up scorecards and insert them through the chain link fence that separated them from the catwalk to the visitor’s dugout, in the hopes of getting a few autographs. There were stories of knowing exactly where to get Ron Santo Pizza’s fresh out of the oven, of cleaning up the park after the game and then being allowed by the ushers to run around on the field, and how all players would patiently sign autographs following batting practice.

Cruz absorbed all of it, and was genuinely interested in hearing more before getting about the business of preparing to play a game that night got in the way.

Michael Cruz

Michael Cruz

As a member of the South Bend Cubs in 2018, Cruz started off slowly, batting only .176 in April and .147 in May. In our conversation, the 22-year said that he now had himself “squared away” at the plate. That began to show up in his production with a sizzling .322 batting average an .901 OPS in June.

“Cruz has made huge strides”, commented manager Jimmy Gonzalez; “we like his power and ability to grind through some of the rough spots that players have throughout the season”.

Gonzalez was caught a little off guard when asked whether Cruz had any future beyond playing. “Coaching?” Gonzalez pondered, “Yeah, he’s a very positive influence in the clubhouse, and likes to work with the kids”. Cruz also recognized his position within the team structure. “I’m here to provide leadership” stated Cruz proudly.

But although Cruz said that his “goal was to be in the majors”, something Cruz said when we first met seemed to stand out even more.

“I’m here to help these guys (the Cubs pitching prospects) get to the majors!”

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I'm hoping to catch a game at South bend in the upcoming month. Does anyone have any tips or recommendations?

  • In reply to 2Toes:

    Since South Bend stopped serving "The Porknado", you can't go wrong with the specialty burger stand just to the left of the main entrance.

    Seriously, every seat is pretty much a good seat, so you can't go wrong wherever you are. Order your tickets online, as they can sell out quickly. You may want to check out the indoor training complex just past right field before the game, you may be able to get some swings in the batting cages.

  • In reply to 2Toes:

    2T, I've been there a number of times over the years. I've never had a problem getting a ticket at the gate on game day. I'd recommend, go a little early, take in the ND campus. Right next to the campus (south) is a nice two block area of restaurants and shops.
    And last game I saw, Cruz hit the ball hard a few times.

  • fb_avatar

    Very enlightening interview Tom. It's fascinating to read about these players beyond the mere statistics. Now I'll be watching him with more interest and hoping he'll do well in the future. Thanks.

  • Sounds like a great kid! Thanks Tom.

  • Nice article Tom. Makes you want to root for him!

  • I want to thank everyone at Cubs Den for being so patient this season. I've been on and off the DL with a few injuries. I don't know how much more output I will have this season, but I will try to bring you all more player stories.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    Awesome job, Tom. Thanks for providing a peek into the personality behind the statistics! Cruz certainly seems like one to watch, and his attitude is exactly what you want to manage a pitching staff. Your efforts are appreciated, regardless of how many articles you're able to post. Hope you can put your "DL" issues behind!

  • I've never met Cruz and certainly haven't seen as much of him as Tom, but I can say that whenever you see players interacting or views in the dugout during games, Cruz always seems to have a smile on his face and is usually in the middle of any action taking place.

  • fb_avatar

    Watching Javy and Kyle during the HR contest. Very entertaining. Javy took the first three pitches--might be the first time he took 3 pitches in a row in a while!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Javy's actually started to walk, didn't he have a 2 walk game a couple of weeks ago?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Treebeard:

    Don't recall the specific PAs but I would guess there was at least 1 swing-and-miss in each PA.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I'd have to say you're probably right.......

  • Awesome trip yesterday to South Bend to see the Cubs beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 9 - 2. Cruz had two hits and 1 RBI.

  • Nice write up Tom. Sounds like he’s one of those good character guys for the Cubs MiL org to help handle the young pitching coming through.

    Speaking of young pitching.... With the struggles of Jose Albertos & the big suspension handed down to DLC, & the way Lange has pitched, Lange is probably the #2 Cubs pitching prospect behind Alzolay.

    Just my unbiased homer fan boy opinion, but... That was a pretty good pitching haul in that 2017 draft class. Add A few guys from the 2016 class & it’s looking brighter than it did just a couple yrs ago. I know there’s no clear cut studs jumping out at the moment, but if 1 or 2 of those guys keep going, they just might develop 1. I always liked the Lange pick over Little. But there’s a couple more from that class that just might break through in my opinion. Uelmen being one & Keegan Thompson being possibly another. Rucker from the previous class. Another guy, albeit early, is the IFA Marquez. When he does the same thing he’s been doing at SB & MB, as he is in Eugene, then watch out. He & the other guys could move into the Cubs top 10.

    That doesn’t even account for Hatch, Clifton, Assad, Abbott & Swarmer. Or any of this year’s draft & IFA pitcher signings. While Hatch has been struggling this yr, I think he’ll get it back, sort of how Clifton & to some extent Underwood has this season. Throw in Maples, Steele & Moreno & there’s some legit relievers as well as the guys who don’t make it as starters.

    Guys who are falling in my opinion, are Tseng & Mills. I know Tseng is only 23 but he doesn’t seem or appear to be getting better. Mills is 26 & could be running out of time. At least maybe w/the Cubs. Looking forward to Michael’s article on the pitching. You guys do a great job. Thanks.

Leave a comment