He was quickly spotted and had to turn around.
There isn’t a place where Báez, referred to as “Javy” and “El Mago” by his fans, is recognized more than in Chicago, the city where he spent the first eight seasons of his MLB career with the Cubs.
“It felt great for my family,” Báez said Thursday, standing in the visitor’s clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field, about 10 miles south of the Cubs’ Wrigley Field. “We grew up here. My son was born here. It’s very special for my family to be here.”
Báez interacted with some people downtown before returning to his hotel ahead of Thursday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox. The 29-year-old said his family misses life in Chicago, but everyone is adjusting to his new chapter in Detroit.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is that I did it: I made it to play professional baseball,” said Báez, drafted No. 9 overall by the Cubs in 2011. “That was my dream. I stayed in the right lane. I’m just thankful, everything (the Cubs) did for me and my family, and obviously, for the 2016 World Series.”
Although the Tigers aren’t facing Báez’s beloved Cubs, this is his first time in Chicago since last season’s trade deadline. The Cubs, as part of their rebuild, traded Báez to the New York Mets in late July 2021.
For Thursday’s game, Báez expects to see fans wearing his No. 9 Cubs jersey.
“My fans follow me everywhere,” Báez said. “Some of them are going to come out. I had some friends reach out to me about seeing my jersey around. We will see what we see out there, but it’s obviously special to be here.”
At one point, Báez thought he would play for the Cubs in 2022 and beyond.
He reached free agency after completing the 2021 season with the Mets. The Tigers signed him to a six-year, $140 million contract in December 2021, and following a miserable start, he is hitting .271 with four home runs in 18 games since June 16.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of people wanted me to stay,” Báez said. “You can ask the fans around. I still get messaged every day about coming back to Chicago. I did for a moment, but at the same time, there was always the business side there. It’s something that we understand.
“Anybody can go through it, and it just happened. It was kind of hard at the beginning, but after I went through it with my family and everything, it feels great to be where we’re at.”
In 2020, Báez and the Cubs were pursuing a contract extension, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to the Free Press. The two sides, after exchanging an offer and counteroffer, neared an agreement in spring training before the coronvirus pandemic struck in mid-March.
After that, the Cubs never offered again.
“I know we were really close at some point, but then everything happened around the world with the pandemic,” Báez said. “It changed everything for everybody. It’s not judgment for that. I’m happy, and everything happened for a reason.”
In July 2021, Báez’s first organization began its rebuild. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer traded Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the core members of the 2016 World Series team.
Now, he is trying to help the Tigers climb out of their rebuild. Many Tigers, especially the younger players, haven’t experienced the postseason or World Series. The franchise hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2014 and hasn’t posted a winning record since 2016.
“I’m seeing different things in my life,” Báez said. “I’m just learning, more learning. I know there’s a lot of talent here. We struggled a lot in the beginning of the year, but when everything clicks together, everybody’s going to forget about that and see how good we’re doing at the moment.”
Now that Báez has entered a new stage in his career, is there a message he wants to send to Cubs fans?
“That I love them, just the same way they show love to me and other players. They are incredible fans,” Báez said. “It’s really special to be a Cubs fan. This is home for me. I got a tattoo with the Cubs logo. We won (the World Series), and that’s something nobody can take from you. It’s really special to me, to be part of the Cubs organization and the fans.”
• Outfielder Austin Meadows (right and left Achilles strains) began his rehab assignment Wednesday with Triple-A Toledo. He went 0-for-2 with two walks as the designated hitter in Game 1 of the Mud Hens’ doubleheader. The 27-year-old woke up Thursday with minimal soreness and wasn’t initially included in Toledo’s starting lineup Thursday. Before the game, though, he was added as the leadoff hitter and starting right fielder. He could return to the Tigers for Monday’s doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
• Right-handed reliever Wily Peralta (left hamstring strain) has between a Grade 1 and Grade 2 strain. The 33-year-old isn’t going to throw for a week or two, so “he’s going to take a while” to recover, manager A.J. Hinch said. The Tigers aren’t ruling out a July return, but August seems more likely based on the initial diagnosis. He did not travel with the team to Chicago.
• Right-hander Rony Garcia (right shoulder soreness) played catch Thursday from 60 to 90 feet at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Tigers hope the 24-year-old can pitch off the mound at some point this weekend.
• Right-handed reliever José Cisnero (right shoulder strain) will pitch in back-to-back games for Triple-A Toledo this weekend. Having already completed three rehab outings, the 33-year-old is nearing the conclusion of his rehab assignment and should make his season debut before the All-Star break.
• Right-handed starter Matt Manning (right shoulder inflammation) is scheduled for an up-down bullpen Friday, meaning he will pitch, sit down to rest and then pitch again. After that, the 24-year-old could be cleared to begin his rehab assignment with Low-A Lakeland.
• Right-handed reliever Kyle Funkhouser (right shoulder strain) will throw a bullpen Friday.