“There’s magic in the ivy and the old scoreboard.”
That was the line once sang by Eddie Vedder in his ode to Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs, All The Way, and their longstanding quest to win it all.
He may need to release an updated version though. Not only because his beloved Cubs ended their long wait in 2016 but that magic he spoke about has extended to Wrigley’s infield.
It is there that the most exciting player in baseball currently drops jaws on an almost nightly basis.
That man is versatile second baseman Javier Baez, nicknamed El Mago, meaning ‘The Magician’, and you don’t have to watch much of him to understand why that’s the case.
If he had gone to school at Hogwarts instead of in Jacksonville as his wizardry would suggest, you can bet he would have ended up in Gryffindor, given his daring, courage and nerve when on the diamond.
In a sport fuelled by stats, all of that goes out the window when you watch the Puerto Rican star either at the plate, running the bases or in the field defensively.
Wherever he is, he never fails to entertain and there is a serious case to be made he is baseball’s most electrifying performer.
At the plate? He belted a bleachers blast in a 2017 elimination game at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers – while blowing a giant bubblegum bubble in an image that has since been immortalised in bobblehead form.
Running the bases? There are so many to choose from and some of his best moments in blue have been as a baserunner but one of his finest came last season against the Toronto Blue Jays when he beat the tag at home to walk off the win and popped back to his feet with the smoothest slide since Jimmy Page penned In My Time of Dying.
A defensive play? Again, you could list off so many but if there is anyone out there who hasn’t seen his magnificent no-look tag in the World Baseball Classic when he congratulated catcher Yadier Molina‘s perfect throw before he had even applied the touch was just magnificent.
There are fewer players in MLB these days with as exhilarating a highlight reel as the one El Mago possesses.
Every single night he adds something new to it, as evidenced by his swim manoeuvre last week in stealing home and avoiding the tag in doing so (that, by the way, was his second steal of home this season).
That particular steal of a run was all the more daring and perhaps ill-advised given that there were no outs and no need for it but that is what endears ‘Javy’ to fans.
As liable as he is to come in for his team in the clutch and deliver in the big moments, he is also capable of swinging out of his helmet and shoes with an almighty hack, flailing at a pitch that wasn’t even close to the strike zone.
Yet that’s part of the appeal as he is fallible as anyone else. He’s the owner of a more than respectable .327 OBP for the season so far, although he also possesses just 14 walks to his 87 strikeouts.
But Baez is a player who allows you to forget all of that. The number-crunching isn’t something that needs to be factored in when watching someone who plays with such effervescent joy that it rubs off on those around him and allows you to simply revel in the spectacle.
You don’t think about the wild swings at a ball in the dirt when you see him effortlessly catching line drives or swatting out runners who never stood a chance against his quick hands.
However, not all of his stats are as scary as his K rate in any case. He’s fourth in the NL for RBI with 66, fourth for slugging percentage. and is also sixth on stolen bases for the year to date.
The good news is for those who may not yet be on board the Baez bandwagon or who haven’t had the chance to truly watch the wizard work his magic, next week represents the perfect chance.
He has already done it on the biggest stage as his NLCS co-MVP award and crucial World Series Game 7 homer off Corey Kluber but this provides him with a new stage.
Baez was this week selected for his first All Star game and also participated in his maiden Home Run Derby, perfect showcases for him to strut his stuff to audiences who can catch a little of his stardust.
This is a special player who is worthy of the nickname bestowed upon him and it isn’t just fans who are excited as his own teammates have even confessed to being blown away by the brilliant Baez.
“Everybody enjoys playing this game but not everyone is able to show that out there,” is how fellow Cub David Bote put it, addressing it perfectly when speaking to reporters. “He can show it and that’s something fans can relate to.”
Fresh from their series in San Francisco, manager Joe Maddon likened him to a Beatle and perhaps the best thing to come from the comparison was the player’s admission that he wasn’t aware who they were!
So as this article started with lyrics from a rock legend, it shall end in a similar vein and Paul McCartney’s line from Live and Let Die could easily be attributed to Baez and ignoring the detractors who may feel his enthusiasm isn’t in the spirit of the game.
“When you’ve got a job to do, you’ve got to do it well,” he sang. “You’ve got give the other fella hell.”
Hell it may be trying to deal with his brilliance for opposing players but for the public, it has become a daily delight watching him do his job.
And doing it well. Magically well.
*Stats correct as of July 14