By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — A new club with a position to play was a nice place for former Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur to land.
The San Diego Padres stepped up and made a trade for Szczur when he was designated for assignment 10 days ago by the Cubs.
“This has been good,” Szczur said of his new club.
His Friday night certainly started all right: Szczur hit a leadoff home run against the Chicago White Sox.
Szczur admitted it was hard to move on from the Cubs, from whom he was a key pinch-hitter in the 2016 championship run.
“The hardest part for me was leaving the guys,” Szczur said. “I had been a locker next to (Anthony) Rizzo for the better part to of five years. For my career, I needed to move on.”
Szczur was surprised to get designated for assignment.
“I did not see that coming at all,” he said Friday before the Padres faced the White Sox. “I was kind of caught off-guard. We had eight pitchers in the bullpen already. I was surprised. It was tough, but it was time because I knew where I was wasn’t helping my career out. So, for me, it was a lot of weight lifted off of my shoulders.”
Szczur was a career Cub, having been drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 amateur draft. He persevered through the system as the new wave of Cub players came through the draft and trades under the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime.
“They were great about it,” Szczur said about the way he was treated as a Cub. “Both Theo and Jed knew I was a professional and a grinder. They treated me great and tried to help me out. I still text with the guys over there all the time. That is not going to stop. They are my family and that is how it will always be.”
A solid outfielder, he plays all three positions at near-Gold Glove caliber. He was leading off on Friday, playing center field for the Padres.
The adventure of playing almost every day is the new challenge for Szczur.
“I learned how to play baseball in the Cub organization,” he said. “I was more a football guy when they drafted me. I owe a lot to the coaches and development people that taught me how to swing a bat properly and play the outfield.”
Szczur isn’t worried about his former team getting past its early season malaise. The Cubs are behind three teams in the NL Central.
“They will be fine,” he said. “They are all grinders. They will figure something out.”
Szczur is 4-for-9 in his brief Padres career. The Cubs received minor league pitcher Justin Hancock in return for Szczur.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.