Baseball: Cubs lend spring home to Wildcats for weekend series


Source: Northwestern Athletics

Joe Schindler sets up for a pitch. The junior pitcher threw five shutout innings to help Northwestern to an opening-day victory over Nevada at the Chicago Cubs’ Spring Training stadium.

Max Gelman, Sports Editor


Playing in the major leagues is an aspiration of many young athletes. This weekend, Northwestern came about as close as one can get, “hosting” Nevada in a four-game series at the Spring Training home of MLB’s Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Arizona.

The Wildcats (2-2) swept Friday’s season-opening doubleheader against Nevada (2-2) but then fell on Saturday and Sunday. Despite the mixed results, the chance to play at Sloan Park was something NU players are not soon to forget.

“The playing surfaces themselves are top-notch,” junior outfielder Matt Hopfner said. “You feel like you’re on a big stage and (in) that dream you dream of when you’re a little kid in a big stadium and playing in a meaningful game. That’s exactly what it felt like.”

Even though the Cats enjoyed their time touring the Cubs’ facilities, the team didn’t get a chance to interact with any of the players, but a few players watched Chicago’s catchers, including phenom Kyle Schwarber, take batting practice, Hopfner said.

On the field itself, junior pitcher Joe Schindler headlined the weekend with his dominant opening day performance. The Eugene, Oregon, native threw five shutout innings in Friday’s first game, allowing just three hits while striking out six and walking none.

“It was awesome that the coaches trusted me enough to give me the opening day start,” Schindler said. “I’m glad I did so well, but I also feel confident enough because I put in a lot of work this fall and winter.”

Schindler, who had only started 10 games in his collegiate career, won the opening day start over senior pitcher Reed Mason. Mason started Friday’s nightcap, facing only nine batters in an inning and one third of work, and threw 2.1 innings in relief Sunday afternoon.

Coach Spencer Allen said the decision to start the less-experienced Schindler over the senior Mason was based on the work Schindler put in during practice.

“Ever since we’ve been on campus here, Joe has dominated every time he’s been on the mound,” Allen said. “We’ve talked about having a blank canvas of guys having the opportunity to to start over, and every time Joe’s stepped on the mound, he’s been great.”

Although Mason got off to a rocky start in Friday’s second game, sophomore pitcher Tommy Bordignon tossed 4.1 innings of no-hit relief. Bordignon helped bridge NU from the senior to the rest of the Cats’ bullpen and was ultimately credited with the win.

On the offensive side of the ball, Hopfner led the way for NU. Hopfner went hitless in his season debut Friday afternoon but rebounded over his next two games, notching five hits in seven at-bats between Friday night and Saturday, and coming a home run short of the cycle in the former.

“It’s always good to start on a good note,” Hopfner said of his near cycle. “I think everyone’s seeing the ball pretty well, everyone’s having pretty decent at-bats so far. We hope to keep it rolling.”

Hopfner said even though the experience in Mesa and starting off hot was great, the Cats winning their first games for their new coach was the biggest takeaway of the weekend. But Allen said he’d never forget meeting one of his idols in Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

Allen said he studied Maddon’s coaching style and related to his ambition as a first-year coach.

“What he talked about, last year when he was named manager, was building trust and building it quickly,” Allen said. “It’s something very similar to what we’re trying to do, and when he talked about the playoffs (at the beginning of the season), a lot of people thought he was crazy. But that guy, he’s magical.”

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