Local talent have eyes on making Cubs roster
Their roots are local. Their experiences have made them worldly.
Among the veteran nonroster invitees to Chicago Cubs spring training are four players from the Chicago area looking for an opportunity to hook on with the hometown team, two of them for the second time.
Three of these players have a combined 623 major-league games while the other is still waiting to break into the big time.
Here are their stories.
Native North Sider:
Relief pitcher George Kontos lived near the Chicago intersection of Foster and Kedzie as a kid before moving to Lincolnwood and attending Niles West High School.
He idolized Cubs pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and was in the stands when Sammy Sosa hit home runs 61 and 62 in 1998.
"Growing up a Cubs fan, I went to probably 100 games at Wrigley until I went to college," Kontos said. "I played college ball right down the street at Northwestern. I've been a Chicago guy through and through until I got drafted.
"I have a lot of memories from being at Wrigley and being a Cubs fan growing up so this is definitely something I've looked forward to for a long time."
Kontos, 33, has appeared in 350 big-league games with the Yankees, Giants, Pirates and Indians. Last year he went 2-3 with a 4.39 ERA, making stops with the Pirates, Indians and Yankees. For his career, he has a tidy WHIP of 1.15.
"I pitch a little bit old school," he said: "When your name is called, you take the ball and you leave it all on the mound and you give it what you have that day. I'm looking for the opportunity to come in here and get back to where I've been in my past. Last year was a little bit of an up-and-down, rough, year for me, nothing physically wrong but just kind of a little bit of mechanical stuff that I was dealing with and trying to create and do things that I didn't typically do in my past."
Kontos' father was born in Greece, and in 2001, George represented Greece in the Pan-European baseball tournament in Thessaloniki, Greece.
"Greek was my first language, he said. "My dad came to the States when he was 9, and as he was growing up, he had a lot of friends and acquaintances that owned restaurants. So he went into the restaurant-supply business. He was starting the business when I was very young. He and my mom worked together.
"My grandparents just basically baby-sat me and took care of me all day when my parents came home from work. At that time, they only spoke Greek. I went to kindergarten or Montessori school, and I spoke zero English. They were calling my mom, 'What does this mean? What does that mean?' I can't get this kid to speak English.' Two weeks later, it was all good."
Back older and wiser:
Outfielder Jim Adduci was in Cubs camp in 2010 as a prospect.
Since then, he has logged 149 games, with the Rangers and Tigers. He got into 59 games with the Tigers last year, going .267/.290/.386 with 3 homers and 21 RBI. For his career, he has a line of .235/.286/.340 with 5 homers and 39 RBI.
"Happy to be back here," he said. "I just want to be a part of this winning here. That's the fun of competition. That's the part of being part of an organization. As long as you've got a jersey on at any level, you've got a chance to help out at the big-league level. I've been fortunate enough for the last couple of years to do that."
Adduci, 33, was born in Vancouver when his dad, Jim, was playing in the Brewers organization. The younger Adduci is a graduate of Evergreen Park High School in the south suburbs.
He played the 2015-16 seasons for the Lotte Giants in Korea.
"It's been a journey," he said. "When I was in Korea, it elevated my game. It elevated my mentality. It was weird that it took me there. But I'm thankful I got an opportunity to go over there and play.
"I think it gave me more of an appreciation of guys who come here whether they're from Latin America, Asia, wherever. It's not an easy thing to do. To culturally change, to learn a different language, to just communicate in general, to go get food, just simple things. When I went over there, I made sure that I was open, out every day to the manager, the staff. I tried to learn the correct thank-yous and all that. It helped me as a player and as a person to realize that there's more to the world."
A Sox fan with the Cubs:
Relief pitcher Rob Scahill has never made any secret that he grew up a White Sox fan.
So he definitely heard about it when he signed with the Cubs.
"Yeah, I got a lot more response when I signed with the Cubs than I did with the White Sox from my family," he said.
Scahill, 32, is trying to become a native of the Chicago area (Willowbrook High School) to play for both Chicago teams. He appeared in 6 games for the Sox last year, going 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA.
For his career, with the Sox, Rockies, Pirates and Brewers, he is 5-7 with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP.
"This is a good opportunity," he said. "They're competing for a World Series. Last year with the White Sox, I felt that was a good opportunity out of spring training. But I didn't get the opportunity that I would have liked. Hopefully here, I can help this team win a World Series again."
Scahill said his strength is keeping the ball on the ground. He said he's looking forward to making it on both sides of town.
"That's cool," he said. "Not a lot of people get to say that. That's something that's definitely not lost on me in my career. It's been a journey. I'm looking forward to what this next chapter brings."
Court of second chances:
Infielder Ryan Court was hoping to make it with the Cubs last season, but it didn't happen.
The now 30-year-old native of Elgin and graduate of Dundee-Crown High School got off to a slow start at Class AAA Iowa, and the call never came.
"Of course it was disappointing, but I learned from it," he said. "That was a big thing. I had never gone through anything like that as far as a slump goes, and getting out of it was very challenging. But I was able to turn around my season in some way and have it be somewhat of a respectable year. I think going forward I know how to handle situations like that."
It's not often that nonroster players come back to a team for a second year if they don't make the big club, but Court said he was grateful that the Cubs stuck with him during his struggles at Iowa.
There is also the allure of playing for his hometown team.
"I really wanted to come back to this organization," he said. "Growing up in Chicago, I loved the Cubs. But most importantly, I love how they run things around here, the organization. The communication is very clear, what they expect out of you, what they think about you as a player. It's a great team. It's a World Series-caliber team, and if there's any way I can help contribute to a World Series, that's what I want to be a part of."