The Unlikeliest Hero

On a team loaded with former first-round draft picks, rookie David Bote might be the most unlikely hero on the Chicago Cubs.

But there was Bote, the former 18th-round draft pick, stealing the show before a national TV audience on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball when he crushed a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam with two outs in the ninth to cap a dramatic comeback win for the Cubs over the Nationals, 4-3.

When his teammates swarmed him at home plate, ripping off his jersey, one almost expected that there would be an “S” for Superman where that Cubs logo “C” was stitched onto his undershirt.

The 25-year-old, who’d tolled in the minors for six years and had never been ranked among the team’s top 10 prospects, had become only the 29th Major League Baseball player to hit the “ultimate grand slam,” joining the likes of Roberto Clemente, Bobby Thomson and Babe Ruth, and only the seventh to achieve the feat as a pinch-hitter. Bote became the first Cub to hit a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam since Earl Averill did it against the Milwaukee Braves on May 12, 1959.

The stuff of legends. The stuff that young ballplayers dream about from the time they start swinging a bat.

“It’s magical,” said Bote, who’d never before hit a walk-off grand slam and had only two previous grand slams, in high school at Faith Christian Academy, in Arvada, Colorado, and at Class-A Daytona. “It’s incredible. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It couldn’t happen to a better team, a better group of people in that clubhouse. And I’m so blessed and honored to be part of it.”

That it was the unheralded Bote, a temporary fill-in for Kris Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP who has twice been sidelined this season by a left shoulder injury, made it all the more unreal – and special.

“He’s the kind of guy, I’m telling you because I was a scout, who gets overlooked based on his draft status,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He is not talked about much until he really does something spectacular. He’s one of those guys who had to show it for people to believe it. He has worked his way into this situation. Give him credit. His work ethic is spectacular. His skill level is high. And it will keep getting better before it gets worse.”

Even before Sunday’s ultimate grand slam, Bote was quickly becoming a fan favorite with his timely hitting, solid fielding, and hustle on the base paths. In only 91 plate appearances this season, Bote has a .329 BA and .418 OBP with three home runs and 18 RBI. And he’s three-for-three in stolen base attempts.

Bote has shown a flair for the dramatic. On July 26, 2018, he hit his second home run of the season. It was a game-tying, two-run home run with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which was immediately followed by a walk-off solo home run by teammate Anthony Rizzo

CubbiesCrib’s Matthew Aung wrote of his “man crush” on Bote. “To be honest, I don’t know what it is about David Bote that brings me so much joy while I watch him, but if I had to take a guess, I’d say it’s because of his hustle and positive demeanor while on the field,” Aung wrote. “I think the biggest reason is due to his long road to the majors. He wasn’t a very highly rated prospect when he was coming out of school, nor was he rated too hyped within the Cubs’ organization.”

After Sunday, the Bote bandwagon is getting crowded. Indeed,12Up’s Kailey Medzadourian is pushing for the Cubs to give Bote more playing time. “The way he’s been raking, the Cubs should want Bote to stick around for a good while,” Medzadourian wrote. “He seems to know what he’s doing and could really pull the team even further ahead in the NL Central with an eye toward a run at glory.”

There will be more room in the Cubs lineup come September with the expanded rosters. So even with Bryant expected to come back healthy soon, Bote seems assured of role. Just how big of a role that is and whether it extends to the postseason might just hinge on how many superhero capes he has in his locker. For all Cubs fans, let’s hope that he’s more than a one-game wonder.

Randy Richardson is the co-author, along with fellow Wrigleyville Nation contributor Becky Sarwate, of Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team and Their Stories of Pain, Loyalty, Hope and (Finally) Joy