Craig Happy to be in Familiar Surroundings

Matt Craig was a happy camper when he learned he'd been traded back to the Chicago Cubs, the organization that drafted him in the third round in 2002 from the University of Richmond.

Craig, 28, spent seven seasons in the Cubs' farm system from 2002-08. At the end of last season, his free agent year, he was signed as a minor league free agent by the Florida Marlins and assigned to Class AAA New Orleans for the start of 2009.

But after just three days in Triple-A, Craig was sent to Double-A Jacksonville for nearly a month before rejoining New Orleans, where he would bat .253 in 31 games.

Following an up and down start to 2009, Craig found himself in some familiar surroundings — at Class AAA Iowa when the Cubs traded for him. (Chicago purchased Craig's contract from the Marlins as a salary only trade.)

After batting all throughout the New Orleans lineup, Craig found a consistent spot in Iowa's lineup right away.

"I had him batting cleanup almost right from the start," Iowa manager Bobby Dickerson said of Craig. "I had him in Double-A a couple of years when I managed there, and I'd seen him as a rover. He's a quality hitter, an RBI guy. You look up his history and he can drive in runs. With him and John-Ford (Griffin) in the middle, Matt Craig is a big addition offensively to us, especially with where we were."

Craig's numbers at Principal Park this season are a testament to his familiarity with the I-Cubs' home park in the Pacific Coast League. He is batting .353 (12-for-34) in 10 games at home versus just .204 (11-54) on the road.

"I think any time you're comfortable with the surroundings and know the coaches and the stadium, it can only help," Craig said of his averages. "You can really focus on playing and what you need to do get better."

The Cubs are as familiar with Craig as he is with them. In seven minor league seasons, Craig batted .284 with 84 home runs and 385 RBI.

He plays mostly first and third base, but has the ability to play a corner outfield spot and even catch games, Dickerson said.

"He can play, if he had to, a corner outfield position," Dickerson said. "He's our third catcher. But he's a bat and can definitely drive in runs for us, no question about it."

Although Craig wasn't gone long, he says he is happy to be back with the Cubs.

"It was different," Craig said of his short stay with the Marlins. "It's like going to a different high school. You have all your coaches that you're familiar with (with the Cubs). It's a good organization (the Marlins) and I liked my time there.

"It's just one of those things where it didn't work out," added Craig. "I'm thankful the Cubs gave me the opportunity to come here and play."

Craig said he knew the Cubs were interested in him before they officially traded for him. During New Orleans' four-game road series in Des Moines prior to the trade, Dickerson approached Craig while he was on the DL and asked if he would be interested in playing for his old team.

"We went up there to play and Bobby saw me," Craig recalled. "I always had a good relationship with him and liked playing for him. He just asked me and we started talking about it. One thing led to another and about a week later, I was off to Des Moines."

Craig played his first game with the Cubs on July 1, going 1-for-5. Two days later, he picked up two hits, including a double, and drove in a pair of runs.

While with New Orleans, Craig spent some time on the "phantom disabled list." That is a phrase players often use to imply that they were not really injured.

"(With New Orleans) I felt like I was swinging the bat well and had things to work on at Triple-A," Craig said. "I hadn't had very many at-bats relative to other people in this league. I realized I had to work on some things and I was able to identify them and have gone about fixing them and correcting them."

He's off to a good start. Prior to going 1-for-13 over his last four games, including a 0-for-4 showing in Iowa's 5-4 loss to Omaha on Friday, Craig was batting .293. He has five doubles, 12 RBI and nine walks to 13 strikeouts in 88 at-bats.

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