Jordan Bastian, who was the Cleveland Indians beat writer for Indians.com from 2011-18, and previously had the same position in Toronto, was recently hired to be the beat writer for Cubs.com. Jordan was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions I sent him about his growing up a Cubs fan, his time in Cleveland, and a few things looking ahead to the Cubs’ 2019 season.
BCB: Your goodbye to Cleveland was well-written and obviously heartfelt. Tell us a bit about your growing up as a Cubs fan, games that were particularly memorable.
JB: Well, back in my day — he says from his porch rocker, while yelling at kids to get off his lawn — there was not a lot of winning baseball to watch. You had the occasional season of contending (1989 and ‘98 come to mind), but it was more about loving baseball. I was a kid. I didn’t care about payroll or long-term plans or hopping on a social-media account that didn’t exist to yell at someone after a tough loss. Sometimes, the Cubs won. Often, they lost. I just loved watching baseball. It was about family. As I wrote on my blog, my grandpa was a big Cubs fan. Well, my mom was a Sox fan. She grew up blocks from Old Comiskey during the days of the Go-Go White Sox. Minnie Minoso was her favorite player. I actually have a brick from the old ballpark on my desk. I was at Michigan State during the 2003 run. I really thought that was going to be The Year.
There are plenty of games that comes to mind. I was in the stands when Sammy Sosa hit Nos. 50-51, and again for Nos. 61-62 during that 1998 chase. Remember Mark Grace’s walkoff to Sheffield after the Maris-record-breaking game? Pure bedlam. I also made sure I was there for Ryne Sandberg’s last game at Wrigley Field. The rest all blend together. Games with my friends. Games with my parents. Plenty of them solo on Sundays. Games with my girlfriend turned fiancee turned wife. I have a lot of memories in that ballpark from my youth.
And then I obviously had the chance to tack on a few more as a writer over the past few years.
BCB: Any favorite Cubs players from when you were growing up?
JB: Sandberg was always my favorite. When I first played Little League, I told the coach on Day 1 that I played second base. Ryno was the reason. I also loved Grace’s swing and watching Sosa in his prime was incredible. Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are obviously picks. But, then — off the top of my head — there are other players like Kevin Tapani, Rod Beck, Jerome Walton, Lance Johnson, Henry Rodriguez, Glenallen Hill, Mickey Morandini and Geremi Gonzalez who come to mind, too.
BCB: How is your family feeling about the move to Chicago, and is your son feeling better about 2016 yet? As you surely know, Cubs fans know how a long World Series drought feels.
JB: Mixed feelings all the way through our family, but there’s definitely an excitement about heading closer to more of our relatives. No more long drives around the holidays will be a plus. My son, 9, is conflicted. He does not plan on changing his allegiance, but has at least expressed a willingness to adopt the Cubs as his National League team. My daughter, 5, just thinks everything is awesome. She was an easy sell on the move.
BCB: What was it like for you covering the 2016 World Series? You were obviously writing for a Cleveland audience; did you have any conflicting feelings?
JB: I had no conflicting feelings at all. I’ve been a reporter for MLB.com for 14 seasons. I lost my fandom for any singular team a long time ago. I would actually argue that I’m a bigger baseball fan now than I was as a kid. I can watch any team and get enjoyment out of it. I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend that sort of thing as a kid who lived and breathed Chicago Cubs baseball. So, during the 2016 World Series, did I allow myself to think about some sentimental things? No doubt. As I wrote, I took a moment to reflect back on watching games with my grandfather. And I loved what that win for the Cubs meant to so many family and friends. But, selfishly, I wouldn’t have minded if Cleveland had won. First off, that would’ve made my son ecstatic. But, beyond that, I’m in the business of storytelling, and, man, what an awesome story that would’ve been to tell from the other side, too. For baseball, that World Series was a win-win. Two great franchises. Two long droughts. One surreal seven-game classic. I enjoyed every second of it, and would’ve felt the same no matter which team prevailed. That’s just being honest.
BCB: Who was your favorite player to interview in Cleveland? And which Cubs player(s) are you most looking forward to interviewing?
JB: There is a long list of players who I enjoyed writing about and talking baseball with over my eight years here. The first player that comes to mind is Josh Tomlin. He’s insightful and down-to-earth — the kind of player who had to fight for everything he accomplished and never took anything for granted along the way. Trevor Bauer might be the most interesting player in that room to interview, just due to the different manner in which he views and dissects the game. I loved diving deep into pitching with him. Chicago-native Jason Kipnis was a favorite for reporters, too. As he grew in experience, he also became a great voice for getting a pulse of the team with great quotes, not just cliches. Cody Allen and Andrew Miller were very insightful in Q&A’s, too. And Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are just as entertaining in the clubhouse as they are on the field. Watching Corey Kluber every five days was great, too. He reminds me a lot of Roy Halladay, who I covered during my days in Toronto. Really, I could keep going. It’s a great locker room.
As for your second question, it’s hard to say at this point. I’m still familiarizing myself with the roster. I’m definitely looking forward to covering Javier Baez. I always enjoyed the back-and-forth between him and Lindor during games. Cleveland reporters are spoiled covering the Tribe’s rotation, but I’m also looking forward to the group the Cubs have to offer. And it kind of goes without saying that covering Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo should be entertaining. What I’m looking forward to is getting in that clubhouse, getting to know the players and staff and finding the good stories to tell.
BCB: What’s a typical game day like for you in terms of preparation, writing, etc.?
JB: Using a 7 p.m. start time as an example, I’d typically get to a ballpark around 2-2:30ish — sometimes earlier. You spend the pre-clubhouse period doing research or any other prep work that you might have lingering for that night’s game. Then, you have your availability for players and the manager before the game. Following that window, you can either head straight up to the press box to write that day’s news or notebook, or hang around on the field for a bit during batting practice. After night games, there’s the game story and any other news or sidebars to handle. I will often then do an analysis post on my blog in addition to the website’s coverage. If everything goes smoothly, I’m usually out of the ballpark between 12:30-1:30 am.
BCB: Turning to the current Cubs team, what do you think the Cubs need to do in order to have a successful offseason?
JB: To be honest, so far this feels fairly similar to the situation I was covering in Cleveland, with the exception of a much higher payroll. This winter, the Indians have the foundation of a stellar rotation, but are facing financial limitations. So, they likely need to trade away salary in order to add salary. It sounds like Chicago is in a similar boat, but at a much different operating ceiling. Without making a move, the Cubs project to be over the luxury tax threshold of $206 million for 2019. So, maybe some deals need to be made in order to answer some needs in free agency. There were a handful of key players who underperformed in ‘18, so a positive regression in ‘19 would certainly help. It’s definitely a good feeling for a team to know it could retain the same roster and still contend. That said, addressing the bullpen and solving the Addison Russell (and, in turn, the middle infield) situation will help knock down an important domino.
BCB: Predict where the Cubs will finish in 2019.
JB: I’d wait until the smoke’s cleared on this offseason before attempting a prediction, but the Cubs are clearly in a good spot for 2019.
BCB: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to as the new cubs.com beat writer?
JB: I’m looking forward to doing what I’ve been doing, but for a larger audience. And, having the chance to do that while improving my family’s situation is fantastic. For many reasons, this should be a great move for the Bastians. It will be great to be doing what I love back in my old stomping grounds.