Aug. 12, I moved into my new apartment. To break in the place, I decided to throw on the Cubs radio broadcast –– something I haven’t done in a while. They were losing 3-0 to the Washington Nationals going into the ninth inning, and I’d pretty much given up hope. The offense had gone quiet and didn’t show signs of waking up.
With two outs and the bases loaded, a rookie named David Bote stepped up to the plate as a pinch hitter. As he stepped up, I tweeted he was the player I wanted batting in that situation because he’d been hitting well as of late.
Then, down to his last strike, he hit a pitch out to center field: The kid hit a walk-off grand slam to give the Cubs a 4-3 win.
It wasn’t just any grand slam, though. It was a “golden homer” — a walk-off grand slam with the team down three runs, two strikes and two outs. It had never been done before.
At that moment, Bote (pronounced Bow-tee) was on top of the world. But he didn’t stop there.
Aug. 24, he went up in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Cincinnati Reds with the score tied 2-2. Again, with two strikes, he hit one over the left field bleachers onto Waveland Avenue. The Cubs won 3-2.
He did it again. Twice in two weeks, he hit a walk-off home run. Even Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said he didn’t know who Bote was until he was called up in April.
Bote has become one of the highest-trending Chicago athletes. Not many fans seemed to know who he was until he beat the Nationals with one swing. The MLB.com Cubs team store doesn’t even sell his jersey –– you have to customize it.
So, who is this kid? His story started in 2012, when the Cubs took him in the 18th round of the MLB draft. He spent most of the next five years in the lower levels of the minor leagues. In 2016, after spending most of the season with the Cubs’ high-Class A club, he nearly quit baseball because he couldn’t get out of the minors.
His wife told him to keep going and, after making some adjustments to his swing over the next year and a half, made his major league debut April 21. He played in three games and was sent back down to Triple-A April 28. He was called back up May 8 and was sent back down after five games May 17.
Then, when third baseman Kris Bryant went down with an injury June 26, Bote was called back up. He’s been on the roster ever since.
Although he didn’t become a fan favorite until he hit the walk-off grand slam, he’s put up some solid numbers since he joined the big-league club for good. He’s been the hardest-hitting hitter in baseball this season, boasting an average exit velocity of 97.9 mph, according to MLB.com. That’s 1.79 mph faster than New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, whom I wrote about last year for his ability to crush the ball.
Bote’s one of many great storylines surrounding the 2018 Cubs –– but he’s easily the best. He came out of nowhere and has been a hero for a team dilapidated by injuries.
It’ll be interesting to see how much more of an impact Bote has down the stretch as the Cubs compete for their third straight National League Central division title. Every game matters in September, especially when their lead in the division is just three games over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bote’s story is another reason why baseball’s great. It proves the big-name players don’t always leave the biggest mark on a team.