The sound was astonishing: a solid, vicious, life-affirming thwooak! My eyes bulged, my heart leapt, my stomach tingled with excitement. There was no doubt as to the ball’s fate; the distance it would soar the only remaining question.
As the camera panned away from the supremely-chiselled slugger to track the ball he simply pulverised, my astonishment turned to a sense of awakening. This moment, this unfathomable signal of intent, felt like a game-changer in the National League, a true line in the sand.
With menacing intent, the white spheroid screeched majestically over the emerald plains of Great American Ballpark, fizzing with rare exuberance and the ferocious hostility of a missile. It ripped through the air, gathering speed all the while, and came to rest with awesome aplomb four-hundred-and-twenty-three feet from whence it came.
At 12.28am GMT, 6.28pm CT, 7.28pm ET, Jorge Soler crushed a long, auspicious home run with the first swing of his first plate appearance at the Major League level. The attendant celebrations and coronations spread across the globe, with every international enclave of Cubs Nation radiating pride.
Soler Power, indeed.
In truth, I’m not sure any of us knew how to react. We’ve waited so long for such moments, we’ve dreamed so much about hypothetical scenarios of similar magnitude, that conjuring a specific response can be difficult. I waved my arms frantically in the air before finally settling, a warm glow accompanying my suddenly-clearer thoughts. The first notion to enter my mind: wow, nobody in baseball has anything remotely similar to what the Cubs are building!
I drew more confidence from the process of Soler’s first plate appearance than the glorious end result. For me, it was the one on-field moment which most convinced that Theo and Jed are on the right course; the sole moment which made me genuinely confident that this cast of young sluggers can one day dominate the National League. Jorge’s was the most assured first career plate appearance I’ve witnessed in a long time. He stood strong at the plate, no loose parts or frail thoughts; no raw edges or crude uncertainty. Soler looked solid and tutored, a tower of sculpted magnificence waiting to explode. A Major League ballplayer.
Mat Latos, the Reds’ behemoth starter, first delivered a 91-mph fastball in the dirt to Soler, whose unflinching dismissal of the offering was almost comical. After laying off a low off-speed pitch to move ahead 2-0, Jorge looked even more confident, commanding, and in control. Latos found the low inside corner to draw closer at 2-1, before grooving a gopher ball up and out over the plate. Eyeing an opportunity, Soler lurched at the ball in frenzied haste, driving it into a sagging net way beyond the left-centre field wall for a prodigious shot. He wasn’t even fully extended.
Soon after the world returned to some form of normality, the folks at ESPN Stats & Info announced that, with Soler’s blast and that of Javier Baez in Colorado, these 2014 Chicago Cubs became the first team in baseball history to have two players, each aged 22 or younger, hit home runs in their first Major League games in the same season!
In the past year, I’ve read scores of tweets, read countless articles on prospects, and dedicated more time than is surely healthy to daydreaming about the grand rebuild, but this nugget of information simply blew me away. It clarified, in concise terms and historical context, exactly what Epstein & Hoyer are attempting to do, whilst, simultaneously showcasing that it’s working! The Cubs Front Office is building a team of young, powerful, preciously-talented ballplayers which, when combined in some kind of sweet poetry, will be capable of achieving feats previously unseen in baseball.
The events of Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 in Cincinnati will be chronicled as the genesis of an absorbing story about to unfold. Despite the lousy scoreline and the seventy-third defeat of a desolate season, this was the first time we began to see the bigger picture mesh and merge together at the big league level; the first time we saw Baez, Castro, Soler and Alcantara play in the same meaningful game; the first time Jorge went yard, adding another layer intrigue, excitement and purpose to watching Chicago Cubs baseball.
We’ve crossed the Rubicon. Let the future begin.