Craig Would Like to Stay on with Cubs

Like a lot of minor league players this time of year, Matt Craig is looking for a job for next season. Ideally he'd like to stay with the Cubs, the organization he's been a part of the last six-plus years, but understands the reality of the situation.

Craig, 27, was a third-round Cubs draft pick from the University of Richmond in 2002. This is the first year he has had to concentrate on finding a job for next year, because it's the first time he's been a minor league free agent.

The switch-hitting infielder certainly has a strong enough resume that he shouldn't have to look too long. He has a career batting average of over .280, and this past season between Class AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa, Craig batted .310 with 10 home runs, 15 doubles and 35 RBIs.

He admits it's a bit strange not knowing what organization he'll be a part of next year.

"It's kind of weird being my first year where I don't know where I'm going to go," said Craig. "I have to kind of get over not being a Cub. I've always wanted to be. I've always dreamed about playing at Wrigley Field, putting pinstripes on and playing for the Cubs. It might not happen.

"They haven't offered me anything (final). This is my seventh year, at least four years at Double-A, or above. The ball's in their court," he added.

Craig isn't completely willing to rule out a return to the Cubs next season. He said the club has had talks with his agent and that right now, "it's just kind of in limbo."

But Craig has spent what seems like an eternity in the minors (particularly at Double-A) despite consistently putting up solid numbers and often outperforming other players in his surroundings. That leaves some folks (including the Dallas native) to wonder whose dog Craig ran over.

"It goes through your mind because I go in and work hard and try to make it not only to the big leagues, but Chicago to be a Cub," Craig said. "Truthfully, that's the only thing I've thought about the past six years. I realize it's a business and I'm definitely not mad. I don't want to come across as being bitter."

Craig has tried hard to be noticed by his parent club and this past season, he came out of the gate swinging a hot bat. While he missed some playing time from late April on into early May, he was batting .352 on June 1 -- a span of 25 games.

Just over a month later, Craig received a promotion to Iowa, where he batted a modest .276 in 36 games – many of them off the bench.

And although Craig amassed fewer at-bats this season than in previous years, he finished with more walks -- 46 -- than strikeouts -- 43 -- thanks in part to being able to see the ball better after he was diagnosed by a Knoxville eye doctor with what amounted to near-sightedness.

"We had an exhibition game against a junior college and I had a hard time seeing the outfield wall and the signs there," Craig recalls. "I told our trainer that I needed an eye doctor right away. I'd always ended up seeing my eye doctor here in (Texas). I saw the eye doctor in Knoxville and he said, ‘you're a little near-sighted,' something like that, but, ‘anyway you need contacts; try these on.'"

"I could see clearly then. Over time you really don't realize it looking around everyday."

Craig was originally drafted and brought up as a third baseman, but over time he settled in at first base. His versatility has been on display all throughout his minor league career, as Craig has logged time around the infield at first, third, and on rare occasion shortstop. The Cubs wanted to try him at catcher a couple of years ago and used that as a reason for sending him to Class-A Daytona in 2006. He never suited up behind the plate.

"I think that's just where they wanted to play me," Craig said of his gradual move from third to first. "In Double-A, what (Tennessee manager) Buddy Bailey told me was that I was the best first baseman there, that they had a couple of third basemen. It was the same way in Triple-A.

"It was kind of odd being in Triple-A coming off the bench, pinch-hitting and having one at-bat a night and playing every three days," Craig adds. "That was something I hadn't ever done and it's definitely a different role than playing everyday. You have to have a different mindset coming to the park and preparing yourself. It took me awhile to get used to that, but I feel like I definitely could do that at the major leagues."

And unlike some players, Craig is spending his off-season time right at home -- in Dallas. He'd played winter ball in previous years, but this time it came down to what was best for him financially.

"It might have been different if I'd been on the 40-man roster," Craig said. "I work for a friend of my dad's. I work on the investment side of an oil and gas business. I basically run around and do errands. Sometimes it's cool and I get to set in on meetings. Sometimes I go and get lunch or take documents over to our lawyer's office. But it's good for transitioning in case baseball doesn't work out. It's a good opportunity, and I'm so blessed to have the opportunity to do this."

Whatever Craig's future holds in store, he said he has no regrets about his time with the Cubs if this is indeed his final dance with the girl that brought him.

"What I take out of it is I've learned a lot from some very good coaches about not only how to hit and how to field, but how to play the game and what it takes mentally to make it through the entire year, and how to have fun and compete," Craig said. "I look back at stuff like that more than the negative things (such as) finishing up in Triple-A in 2007, but then starting back in Double-A the next year."

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