New Cubs outfielder Scott Hairston is overjoyed to be here — and to wear Sammy Sosa’s No. 21
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com February 13, 2013 10:43PM
Scott Hairston, who signed with the Cubs after a solid 2012 season with the Mets, will be patroling the outfield at Wrigley Field, where he attended many games as a kid living in Naperville. | Al Bell~Getty Images
Updated: March 15, 2013 1:39PM
MESA, Ariz. — Living in Naperville as a kid, Scott Hairston used to go to Wrigley Field regularly to watch Sammy Sosa play, even though his dad, Jerry, played for the White Sox for almost all of a 17-year career in the majors.
“I was a fan of the players on the Cubs,’’ Scott said Wednesday on his first day at Fitch Park, just three days after his two-year, $5-million contract was finalized. “But my dad played for the Sox so I was a Sox fan.
“I used to love coming to Wrigley Field, especially in the late ’90s when Sammy was doing his thing. I sat in the bleachers a few times when he was hitting all those home runs.
“That was a good time to be in Chicago.’’
The only time better? That would be now, as far as Hairston is concerned.
The outfielder who had a breakout year with the New York Mets in 2012 — including a career high 20 home runs and an .803 OPS — is projected to be the right-handed part of a platoon in Sosa’s old spot in right field, along with fellow newcomer Nate Schierholtz.
He could also see time in center and left, and he’s capable of filling in at second if needed.
Whatever the position, the location he seems to appreciate as much as anything is Chicago. “Feels good,’’ he said. “This is the first day I’ve put on a Cubs hat in my life. I know it’s going to be fun here.’’
How fun could depend on how healthy he is. Until avoiding the disabled list last year, Hairston, 32, had spent time on the DL in seven consecutive seasons, for everything from a separated shoulder to an oblique strain.
He said a training focus that increased his flexibility helped him stay off the DL in 2012. Between that and a Mets outfield situation that provided lots of playing time, he flourished.
“If I’m able to get the plate appearances I did last year, I feel I can make a difference on the team,’’ said Hairston, whose brother Jerry Jr. (2005-06) and uncle John (1969) also played for the Cubs.
“I’m just going to be try my best to be ready whenever Dale [Sveum] needs me in whatever role that may be.’’
For now, that figures to mostly include Sosa’s old stomping grounds.
It already includes wearing Sosa’s old No. 21 — a coincidence, he swears.
“That’s what they gave me,’’ said Hairston, whose wife informed him of his uniform number when the team’s website tweeted it out. “I was like, ‘What?’
“I’ll take it. It’s Sammy — who wouldn’t want it?’’
Of course, Sosa, who has been estranged from the team since an ugly finish in 2004, has said publicly the Cubs should retire the number — never mind that noted and/or notorious Cubs Jason Marquis, Milton Bradley and Tyler Colvin have worn the number since Sammy.
“I’ll enjoy it while I can,’’ Hairston said, smiling.
The Cubs probably won’t mind if he takes his time.