It’s 10:15 a.m. on Monday, April 10 and Javier Baez is perched on a chair in a suite on the 21st floor of the Trump Hotel. Around him a team of stylists, groomers and photographers buzz about, testing lighting and steaming suits. By looking at Baez, you’d never know the rush in the room is due to the fact that in just a few short hours, the Cubs’ infielder is set to report to Wrigley Field for the team’s 2017 home opener, arguably one of the most anticipated events in Chicago sports history. He appears completely unfazed by his afternoon agenda.
“I’m not really nervous about the game,” he said. “More excited. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
You could chalk-up his breezy attitude to confidence–the kind that comes with a World Series win and a National League Championship Series Co-MVP title–but after spending even just a few minutes with him, you’d realize he’s just a laid back kind of guy.
“I’m really hyper when I’m on the field, but otherwise I’m pretty quiet,” he said, adding that he’s one of the softer-spoken members of his team. While he loves his fans, in general, he prefers to stay out of the spotlight and keep to himself, something he proved earlier this spring when he dyed his hair blonde in an attempt to disguise himself while in his native Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic. Baez said the strategy actually backfired, and his fans found him even easier to spot. Still, his look convinced the rest of team Puerto Rico to follow suit and the entire roster went blonde for the tournament
It was growing up in Puerto Rico that gave Baez his start in baseball. He began playing with his father and brothers at age three.
“We practiced twice a week and had games on the weekends. Everybody in my family played baseball,” he said. “My mom was always taking us to the fields. It was a big part of our lives.”
The family’s move to Florida in 2005, however, is was what turned a hobby into something much more serious.
“When I moved to the U.S. we practiced or had games almost every day,” he remembered. It was during high school, when he earned All-American honors, he says, that he realized he was pretty good at the sport.
Proof of his talent came soon after graduation in 2011, when Baez found out he’d landed a spot on the Cubs roster while watching the MLB Draft on TV with his family. From the start, though, Jose was ready for the Chicago spotlight.
“I was just really ready to play the game,” he said.
From there, his ascension to the Cubs’ championship lineup last year wasn’t exactly linear. After the Draft, Baez spent three years playing for various minor league teams before getting called up to Chicago towards the end of the 2014 season. It was short-lived and Baez returned to the minors for most of 2015.
“When I first came up it wasn’t my best moment,” he said. “But I took it as motivation to keep working and getting better. I started practicing more and trying to improve every day.”
He attributes his standout 2016 performance–and his first full season with the Cubs–to unwavering persistence and dedication to sharpening his skills.
“I always honestly just try to do my best in every way I can,” he said. “I try to get better at [the game] every day and learn from the guys I play with at each level.”
He also credits the team’s management, including Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein, who recently bested Pope Francis, Melinda Gates and Jeff Bezos to be named first on Fortune’s 2017 World’s Greatest Leaders List.
“They really support us, and the team really trusts them,” he said.
As for this upcoming season, Baez believes his team and he have the potential to to improve upon their historic deliverance of a World Series Championship to Wrigleyville.
“I think I can have an even better year than last year,” he said. “As a team, we have a lot of young talent, and everyone is finally performing at a high level at the same time. Everything is working for us and we’re going to try our best to win [the World Series] again.”
Baez and the Cubs aren’t focused on another World Series yet, though. With such a young team there will undoubtedly be ups and downs, but f they play with the right mentality there is an opportunity to improve each and every day the team takes the field.
“We’re taking it game by game, just like last year,” said Baez. “We weren’t thinking about winning the World Series until we got there. Now, we have to try to stay focused because 2016 will be there forever. If we think about it like ‘Well, we already won the World Series,’ we won’t play as hard as we should. I think that’s a big thing for us, we turned the page and we’re moving on to a new year.”
At the same time, when we ask him if the team’s got a shot at the series this year, Baez doesn’t hesitate.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “We’ve got a big shot. We’ve got the exact same team.”
Calm. Cool. Collected. It seems as though Baez’s baseball journey has taken him to exactly where he belongs.
Photography: Jeff Schear Visuals
Wardrobe Stylist: Michael Favia for Ford Artists
Groomer: Chrisondra Boyd for Ford Artists
Clothing: Neiman Marcus Michigan Avenue