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Former Cub Girardi returns to Wrigley with Yankees
CHICAGO (AP) - When he was just a little kid, Joe Girardi dreamed of playing for the Chicago Cubs. He grew up rooting for the forlorn franchise, often making the trip to Wrigley Field with his father, Jerry.
So, yes, this is more than just another interleague series for the New York Yankees manager.
“My father taught me to be a Cub fan when I was a little boy,” Girardi said hours before the Yankees and Cubs opened a weekend series at Chicago’s iconic ballpark. “I had a chance to play in the playoffs here, had a chance to watch them play in the playoffs here. It’s a great franchise. It has a lot of history, and the fans have always been wonderful.”
Two of baseball’s most popular teams faced off Friday for the first time in six years, and the timing was perfect for Girardi, who was born in Peoria and went to college at nearby Northwestern. The series finale is a nationally televised night game, allowing Girardi to make a quick trip out of town to visit his dad on Father's Day.
“I’m hoping on Sunday morning that 55 (Interstate 55), that there’s no traffic, even though there’s a little construction,” said Girardi, whose father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “Hoping they’re not working on Sunday.”
Girardi played six seasons for Chicago during two stints with the club that drafted him in 1986 _ just one of several strong links between the Yankees and Cubs. There’s a rich history that connects the teams, even while the results have been vastly different on the field.
Chicago famously hasn’t won it all since 1908.
Then there are the smaller connections. The father of Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher played for the Cubs for four seasons. Chicago outfielder Alfonso Soriano played for New York for five seasons and was traded to the Texas Rangers in the 2004 deal that sent Alex Rodriguez to New York.
“I think about back in the day when I used to play for them,” said Soriano, who was one of the Yankees‘ biggest stars during their last trip to Wrigley Field in 2003. “It gives me more motivation because back in the day they opened my doors to the big leagues.”
“It’s different walking into this locker room but it’s good to see the people that I’ve gotten to know here through the years,” Rothschild said.
With Rothschild’s help, the Cubs made it to the NL championship series in 2003 and also won consecutive NL Central titles from 2007-08. He said he still keeps in touch with some of his old players and he reminisced briefly with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry before the series opener.
“I’ve been around some really good pitching coaches _ understand, he’s a friend, not just a pitching coach _ he’s one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said. “I’ve learned a great deal from him. So much that we do in this job involves handling pitching. To have somebody with that kind of experience, both to handle it and to learn from, is huge.”
Girardi was back in uniform at Wrigley Field for the first time since April 26, 2006, when he managed the Florida Marlins to a 7-5 victory in the finale of a three-game series. He went on to win NL Manager of the Year, but was fired anyway after his only season in Miami.
He sure seemed to be enjoying this trip as he sat in the cramped visitor’s dugout while fans found their seats at the ballpark of his childhood.
“There’s something about Wrigley Field,” he said. “It’s just special.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://twitter.com/jcohenap
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