Matt Szczur made his presence felt early in his return to the Windy City.
Back in Chicago for the first time since being traded by the Cubs last Monday, Szczur crushed a 431-foot homer to left field off Miguel Gonzalez on the first pitch of Friday’s White Sox-Padres series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and it happened to be the first pitch,” said Szczur, who finished 1-for-5 in San Diego’s 6-3 win to hand the White Sox their sixth straight loss. “I’m aggressive. These guys here push aggressiveness so it’s good for me.”
It’s been an emotional roller coaster ride for Szczur, who admitted to being shocked yet relieved after being dealt to San Diego.
“I didn’t see that coming at all because we had eight pitchers in the bullpen already,” he said prior to Friday’s game. “So I was kind of caught off guard. But I was relieved. Because it was tough, you know, where I was wasn’t helping my career out. So for me it was a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders to be honest with you.”
A loaded Cubs roster prevented Szczur from being anything more than a utility player on a World Series contender. In four seasons with the Cubs, Szczur hit .243 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs in 202 games.
Last weekend, the 27-year-old outfielder was put into limbo when he was designated for assignment days before being traded, which Joe Maddon called “excruciating.” The Cubs had a week to trade him before risking losing him for nothing on waivers.
Drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Szczur said one of the hardest parts about leaving Chicago was leaving his teammates and the bond they had developed throughout his tenure.
“Those are guys that I grew up with throughout the system,” Szczur said. “(Anthony) Rizzo’s been my lockermate for probably five years now. That was the tough part for me, is leaving the guys. For my career, I know I needed to move on and it was just bound to happen.”
Though he won’t be playing in Chicago anymore, Szczur stays in touch with Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jon Jay and Jason Heyward regularly via texts. And that won’t stop.
“Those guys are my family,” Szczur said. “They’re always going to be.”
Departing from Chicago brings up a lot of emotions for Szczur, who spent his first four major league seasons on the North Side.
“I pretty much learned how to play baseball here,” Szczur said. “I came up as a football player. A lot of the coaching staff, a lot of the coaches really helped me and helped me develop a swing, and how to play in the outfield and the knowledge of the game.
“I’ll always have tremendous respect for everyone in the organization.”
Before being traded, Szczur had four hits in 19 at-bats this season with the Cubs. With his new team, he has five hits, including a homer, and two RBIs in 14 at-bats through four games. He has started in three straight – including Friday at center field.
The best part for him is that he’s getting a chance to start on a consistent basis, and he plans to take full advantage of it.
“I mean it’s great,” Szczur said. “I have an opportunity to be in the lineup every day. It’s what I’ve needed my whole career and I’m lucky that I was able to fall in the place because this kind of opportunity doesn’t happen too often.
“It’s definitely a good feeling and these guys have faith in me. It’s a good ball club to be a part of.”