If you were surprised by the sight of some rather large young men firing baseballs at a very alarming speed across the artificial turf soccer fields in North Vancouver this winter, do not fear.
It was just Rowan Wick enlisting various strong-armed friends and family members to throw with him as he prepares for another season in the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs. The North Vancouver native had to get creative this year to stay in game shape while following all of British Columbia’s strict COVID-19 regulations. His fields of choice were William Griffin and Fen Burdett – they’ve got lights so they work well at night – and Wick would find times when the fields were free of soccer players, so he could go out and fire some lasers.
Passersby may not have realized they were watching a budding star of the Chicago Cubs bullpen whipping baseballs around.
That was life for Wick this winter as he prepared for the upcoming season, his fourth in the majors after his debut with the San Diego Padres in 2018. When he wasn’t firing fastballs across soccer fields, he was hitting the weights in the home gym he set up in his parents’ carport.
“I wasn’t really going to any gyms just to avoid the crowds, but I managed to make a few purchases and kind of built my own,” he told the North Shore News last week. “It worked pretty well for me.”
He supplemented those workouts with a very popular North Shore pursuit.
“I bought a road bike,” he said. “I’d ride to Deep Cove or Horseshoe Bay or up Lynn Canyon, the demonstration forest [Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve]. … I’ve got a couple of buddies from high school who are pretty into it, so I’ve got some good riding buddies.”
He’s back in the States now getting ready for Cubs spring training, which will open up in mid-February in Arizona. Wick is looking to add new chapters to an already fascinating baseball story that saw him drafted twice – once in his grad year at Carson Graham Secondary and once out of college – as a power-hitting catcher before ultimately making the giant leap from behind the plate to the top of the mound.
His first ever pitch in any sort of high-level baseball game came in 2015, and three years later he was pitching in the majors. Since joining the Cubs in 2019 he’s become one of the cornerstones of their bullpen, collecting a pair of saves in 2019 and four more in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, which was further shortened for Wick when he missed the last two weeks of the season with an oblique injury.
In two years in Chicago he’s racked up 55 strikeouts in 50.2 innings, posting a 1.22 WHIP and 2.66 ERA. Not bad for someone who didn’t start pitching until he was 22 years old. Now 28, Wick wants to further cement himself as a standout Big League player.
“A big goal of mine would be to potentially become an all-star and get some more saves underneath my belt,” he said, adding that the Cubs will have their sights set on a return trip to the playoffs this year. The roster has changed since last year, notably with the trade of ace Yu Darvish to the Padres for younger prospects – “it’s tough losing a dude like that who can win you a game single-handedly,” said Wick – but much of the heart of the team remains, including Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras, four heavy hitters who have all made multiple all-star teams.
“Those four guys – you learn a lot from them just watching how they go about their business and what kind of dudes they are,” said Wick. “I just try to be like them. … There’s a lot to be excited about in that locker room for sure.”
He’s still working out the kinks of his oblique injury.
“It’s kind of a weird injury, part of your core, rotating muscles. There’s not much you can do to rehab it other than just rest it,” he said. “It’s a lot of tedious work trying to realign your pelvis. Because this game, pitching, it can put a lot of torque and throw you out of line.”
Wick, however, said he expects to be 100 per cent ready to fire when the season starts. When he gets back on the mound, he’ll continue to lean on the two-pitch arsenal he’s developed in a few short years – a four-seam fastball and a curveball. He’s out there to challenge hitters, not fool them, he said.
“I’m going to throw a lot of strikes, and if they hit it, they hit it,” he said. “But most of the time if I throw my pitch in my spot, I’m going to be successful a lot of the time. That’s my goal, and I stick to that.”
COVID plans for the upcoming season are still in the air, but Wick said he’d love to get back on the mound at Wrigley Field with the Chicago faithful in the stands. It’s a great feeling, he said.
“Last year was a little different. But when there’s like 40,000 fans around you, you kind of just ride with that. You don’t think too much about it other than to just compete – do it for the fans, do it for your team.”