CHICAGO – The paying customers at Wrigley Field probably didn’t realize it on Friday, but they had the privilege of watching the reigning Chicago major league player of the year.
It was none other than George Kontos, a native son by way of Niles West High School in Skokie and Northwestern University in Evanston. He was the recipient of the award, handed out by the Chicago Pitch & Hit club at its 67th annual banquet in January.
“I got an email saying I won it, and I didn’t realize what a big deal it was,” said Kontos, who was feted at a banquet that featured special guests Tony La Russa and Goose Gossage.
Former winners include the Padres' Luke Gregerson and the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson.
“All three of us work out together in the offseason,” Kontos said. “We were sitting around talking about it – we’ve all got one now.”
Kontos grew up going to games at Wrigley Field as an unabashed Cubs fan and his grandfather once ran a hot dog stand not far from the ballpark. He definitely had nerves when he pitched here for the first time last season. He gave up a home run to Anthony Rizzo with almost 60 family members and friends in attendance.
He said one of the neatest moments was playing catch before the game, looking through the mesh screen out to Sheffield Ave., and hearing people he knew calling to him. Some were friends he hadn’t seen in years.
And there he was, in a big league uniform, playing catch.
“It was just kind of feeling like all the hard work paid off,” he said. “It was just the satisfaction of being there as all sorts of random people walked by, congratulating me.”
When he arrived at Wrigley this time, he figured it would be more businesslike, and it was. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning on Friday.
There is one other benefit to being a major league player who grew up a Cubs fan. You’re forced to divest yourself emotionally from a club that will always break your heart.
But Kontos said he thinks the Cubs will win in his lifetime.
“Everybody I talk to from here thinks that way, even my younger brother,” Kontos said. “They think Theo Epstein will turn it around. It’ll be great for the city if they do.
“It’d spark this fan base again. Everybody likes to come to the park and drink and have a good time, but if they start to win, it’ll be like what we have (in San Francisco). Our fans pay attention. They’re involved.
“So I hope they do turn it around here. But obviously, I hope they have to go through us, and we get the best of them.”
Kontos is up for one more award. He and the Orioles' Nick Markakis and Olympic diver Christina Loukas are finalists for the GABBY Award (Greek America's Best and Brightest Stars) in the athletics category. Winners will be announced May 25. Winners will be disqualified if they cannot spell spanakopita.
The Giants have a frustrated Buster.
Posey is 0 for 9 in the series with two walks and two plunkings, both on his left arm on consecutive days. He’s only driven in runs in two of his 11 starts and he hasn’t hit a home run since Game 4 of the World Series. (That includes a homerless spring.)
[Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 3, Cubs 2]
He didn’t look too pleased about getting hit in the sixth inning Saturday.
“Eh, I mean, it’s never fun to get hit,” he said. “It’s part of the game. It’s just going to happen sometimes.”
Last year’s MVP and batting champ is hitting .211 and acknowledged he isn’t staying on pitches like he usually does.
“I think it’s some of that, and some of making sure I get good pitches to hit,” he said. “I think I’m close, but it’s just a combination of things.”
I’m not sure if Posey will get a day at first base in Sunday’s series finale, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Bochy can get Posey a two-day break from catching, given Monday’s off day. And Brandon Belt, aside from his two-run double Friday, hasn’t been tearing it up.
Oh, also … Tim Lincecum is pitching Sunday.
Madison Bumgarner is 3-0 with a 1.77 ERA after three starts
“For the most part all my pitches felt pretty good today,” he said, after taking a shutout into the seventh inning. “It’s definitely a lot better start than usual. But there’s more work to do.”
I’m not sure Bumgarner will ever let go of 2011, when he was 0-6 through his first eight assignments.
Cubs pinch hitter Steve Clevenger, who collapsed and stayed down after striking out to end the game, has a strained oblique. Also, Cubs closer Kyoji Fujikawa hurt his arm Friday and was placed on the DL.
Remember last year, when the Giants “broke” so many opposing players? Looks like it’s happening again.
Good to hear, though, that Clevenger is going to be OK. The way he was down on the ground, some Giants coaches feared he might have dislocated his knee, Dan Runzler style.
Does Pablo Sandoval love making plays like his dive into the stands in the ninth inning, just to show all the detractors who ride him about his weight?
“I don’t care about it,” he said. “Go and play my game. I don’t care what people say. I know the things I can do. It doesn’t matter.”
Said Bumgarner: “He might be a bigger guy, but he’s pretty dang solid at third base. I like having him back there.”
I look forward to his post-playing days when Bumgarner becomes a scout and writes “dang solid” on his reports.