CHICAGO – He's finally here, hitting leadoff, playing center field, just like the Chicago Cubs had planned for years. Only it wasn't exactly under these circumstances that they wanted Felix Pie to make his major-league debut.
A hamstring injury expected to sideline the Cubs' $136 million center fielder, Alfonso Soriano, for at least a week necessitated the 10:30 p.m. phone call to Pie on Monday night beckoning him from Triple-A Iowa. Cubs manager Lou Piniella didn't hesitate to stick Pie atop the Cubs' order for his first at-bat, a groundout to second base against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
It wasn't exactly a surprise that the Cubs called on Pie. None of their other four outfielders plays center field, and the 21-year-old Pie was hitting .444 and had scored 16 runs in 11 games. It was somewhat curious that the Cubs chose to option Angel Guzman to Iowa instead of putting Soriano on the disabled list, leaving them with 11 pitchers on a staff that hasn't exactly sparkled in the season's first two weeks.
After a solid spring, Pie went to Triple-A with clear instructions: walk more, strike out less. With a 438-to-164 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his four minor-league seasons, only Pie's impatience kept him from bringing his wiry 6-foot-2 frame to Chicago. In 36 at-bats this year at Iowa, he struck out just five times and walked nine.
Piniella planned on welcoming him to the team, though he wasn't going to do much more.
"I don't have any tranquilizers to give people," Piniella said.
Pie didn't seem as though he needed one. He knew these guys from spring training. He had lodging with Soriano, a fellow native of the Dominican Republic. He shagged batting practice like a pro, hit a few scorchers and stood out with his blue socks tugged nearly to his kneecaps.
"I can't explain how I feel right now," Pie said, and he didn't really have to.
He was at Wrigley Field. He was starting in center field. He was finally here.