Michael Hermosillo grew up a Chicago Cubs fan: ‘Sammy Sosa was obviously the “GOAT” to me growing up’

·6 min read

Michael Hermosillo never will forget his first hit in a Chicago Cubs uniform.

In his first start for his home-state team, Hermosillo cranked a 441-foot two-run homer to the second deck in left field at Great American Ball Park — a no-doubter the moment it left his bat in the second inning Wednesday.

His home run, one of three the Cubs hit against the Cincinnati Reds, helped power them to a 7-1 victory for their first series win in three weeks. The offensive showing was coupled with a great pitching performance from right-hander Adrian Sampson, making his first big-league appearance in two years, and a bullpen that allowed one hit in the final five innings.

“That was cool, I can’t lie,” Hermosillo said. “It’s one of those as soon as you connect, you know, and then I heard the dugout right away kind of screaming. It was just a great feeling.

“I wish you could replay that 1,000 times in your head and feel that again. It’s awesome.”

The long ball represented Hermosillo’s second major-league home run, the other coming on Sept. 24, 2018 — coincidentally off Sampson. The players never discussed this factoid while they were at Triple-A Iowa or since reuniting this week on the Cubs.

“I may have mentioned it to a couple teammates at Triple A that I was close with, but that wasn’t something I was going to bring up. If he wanted to bring it up, sure, but I was going to leave that one alone,” Hermosillo said, laughing.

“I did not know that until just now,” Sampson said after he allowed one run in four innings. “Herm’s a great guy, a good clubhouse guy, an awesome teammate. ... That (homer) was very cool. He’s going to continue doing that here just like he did in Des Moines.”

Hermosillo, 26, is the latest player the Cubs are giving an opportunity to showcase his talent. It’s a welcome bonus that this chance comes with the team located 90 minutes northeast of Ottawa, Ill., where Hermosillo starred in baseball and football, earning a scholarship in the latter to the University of Illinois.

Hermosillo’s season has been a contrast of consistency on the field for Iowa — from his mindset, approach, the work he put in and production — and inconsistency with injuries. He broke his right hand in late March when a car pulled out in front of him as he left the Cubs complex in Mesa, Ariz., sidelining him until the beginning of June. Then, when he appeared to be on the cusp of a call-up, Hermosillo strained his right hamstring and went on the Triple-A injured list July 23, causing him to miss 17 days.

“I was sitting in the hospital bed (in March), like, what could I have done differently?” Hermosillo told the Tribune on Tuesday. “I was driving the speed limit, everything on my end was right and still something bad happened, so it’s trying to bounce back from that and know that those things are going to happen. Those things are out of your control at the end of the day. The biggest thing was staying positive knowing when I am healthy, I’d hopefully have another chance to show what I can do.”

A week after his return, the Cubs promoted Hermosillo. He earned a trip to the majors after hitting .306 with a .446 on-base percentage, 1.038 OPS, 10 doubles, 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in 43 games with Iowa.

“When I am on the field, I take pride in trying to be available every single day, so that part (the injuries) has been a little frustrating,” he said. “Obviously, getting here is very rewarding.”

Putting on a Cubs uniform the past two days is the culmination of his childhood fandom.

He spent plenty of days watching Cubs games on WGN and going to Wrigley Field. Hermosillo can vividly recall sitting in the stands at Wrigley for an August 2006 doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was 11 years old. He easily rattled off details that remain crisp in his mind: Carlos Marmol started Game 1, and he watched Matt Murton hit four doubles in Game 2 to tie the major-league record.

“I went to a lot of Cubs games — Sammy Sosa was obviously the ‘GOAT’ to me growing up,” Hermosillo said. “I saw so many: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez — oh, my gosh, all of them were like heroes to me.”

Hermosillo never played at Wrigley during parts of three seasons (2018-20) with the Los Angeles Angels, so the thought of stepping onto the historic field wearing the uniform of the team he grew up rooting for is surreal.

“I visited it in 2016 when we had a Low-A All-Star break, and I remember watching the Cubs-Cardinals and I was kind of just thinking, like, ‘If I could just get on this field as an opponent,’ not even crossing my mind I could be a Cub one day,” Hermosillo said. “I feel like I’m just going to let it hit me if that happens.”

At this point it’s a matter of when, not if, that moment arrives — likely sometime this weekend during the Cubs’ three-game home series versus the Kansas City Royals. Hermosillo anticipates having his girlfriend and 2½-year-old daughter at the ballpark, adding to what will be a special experience.

Cubs manager David Ross sees Hermosillo fitting into a platoon role in center field with the left-handed-hitting Rafael Ortega, and Ross can use the versatile defender in either corner spot, too, as he did Wednesday by starting Hermosillo in right field.

Hermosillo is the second-youngest position player on the Cubs’ 26-man roster and the fifth-youngest overall. Despite his age and relative big-league inexperience (32 career starts), he isn’t considered a prospect. He understands that’s how baseball sometimes works, especially when a player is out of minor-league options.

“You kind of lose that prospect status in a sense,” Hermosillo said. “I mean, there’s guys that are 25, 26 just making it and are still labeled prospects. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s just different ways of progressing.

“So looking at it from that perspective, yeah, I feel like at 26, I still have a whole lot of game left, a whole lot of time to show that I can stay here and be productive for a long time. I’m fighting for every opportunity I can just to get here, and then you go from there.”

Hermosillo has stayed level-headed through the ups and downs of grinding to get the majors as a former 28th-round pick. He turned down Illinois’ football scholarship, opting to begin his professional baseball career in 2013. Rather than focus on the doubters, Hermosillo instead appreciates those who supported him over the years.

“It’s something I’ve carried for a while, but more than anything, I’ve just carried the people who do believe in me,” he said Wednesday. “It’s more proving them right than proving the other people wrong. You can get away with proving people wrong for a little bit, but over the long term, you want to prove the people that believe in you right more than anything. It makes it easier to go about every day.”

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