Epstein gives Cubs-Red Sox most intrigue

CHICAGO --– The baseball fan in Theo Epstein will sit back this weekend and watch his favorite team invade Wrigley Field.

It doesn’t mean the Cubs president of baseball operations wants the Boston Red Sox to be successful during this weekend’s interleague series, though. He hasn’t exactly fallen off the back of the turnip truck.

“…I am a Red Sox fan,” Epstein told the Boston Globe last week. “I still have an American League team. And they will be it. I’m not going to try to deny that I’m a Red Sox fan. I grew up a Red Sox fan, had a great decade (in Boston) that I really enjoyed, and that will always be a part of me.”

Epstein’s two worlds will clash this weekend, which could be the biggest drawing card for a series between two clubs having their struggles. Both teams started play Thursday in last place, although the Red Sox were in considerably better shape.

The Cubs were at 21-41 and 13 ½ games out of first place in the National League Central, while the Red Sox were 31-32 and 6 ½ games back in the American League East.

Epstein has already made one deal with the Red Sox, sending Marlon Byrd to the East Coast, while getting pitcher Michael Bowden back in return. Both players have since been designated for assignment off their major-league rosters.

And with the non-waiver trade deadline just 6 ½ weeks away, there is a real possibility the teams could become trade partners again.

“I watch them a lot,” Epstein said of the Red Sox. “I guess I have an excuse because maybe they’ll be a buyer later in the summer. But I watch it for personal reasons as well. I care very deeply about so many people who work there. A lot of them are on a short list of the closest friends in my life and I want them to succeed.”

There is more of a connection between the franchises other than Epstein, though. Yes, both play in classic old-time ballparks, but as of a decade ago both were dealing with a perceived championship curse. Epstein changed that in Boston and is trying to do it again within the walls at Wrigley Field.

“The challenge is a primary part of the draw (in coming to the Cubs) and the fact that it was a challenge with great meaning,” Epstein told the paper. “After you work somewhere like the Red Sox, it’s really hard to go – insert generic franchise here. That was one of the coolest parts of working for the Red Sox.

“What we were doing mattered in a very personal way to so many people. Had I gone someplace where that didn’t exist, there would have been a feeling of great loss. Clearly, this is one place where I can replicate that feeling, and it’s a great part of the daily motivation.”

So while the teams aren’t exactly championship-caliber right now there will still be a national audience getting a peek at this series both Saturday and Sunday. Much of that interest is directly related to Epstein’s relationship with both clubs.

He busted one curse. Can he take down another?

“I’ll just say that when we won in Boston, the drought added layers of meaning to the victory that were kind of indescribable,” Epstein said. “Winning a World Series in Boston impacted so many people in such a deep and positive way, in part because we hadn’t won in so long.

“I try to look at it as a positive in Chicago, too. There is a lot of resonance to what we’re doing. There’s so much passion in the fan base for it. Generations are connected by the experience of going to Wrigley Field, but also in part by the frustration of not winning it all. If working hard helps us get closer to giving millions of people satisfaction in that way, then it’s great. Let it serve as inspiration. It will make the champagne taste that much sweeter.”