Cubs part with consummate professional
Lee latest in line of goodbyes as Chicago gets younger
CHICAGO -- The Cubs have had to say a lot of goodbyes in the last 2 1/2 weeks.
First, it was Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot, dealt July 31 to the Dodgers. Then, Mike Fontenot walked down the hall from the visiting clubhouse to the home side at AT&T Park last week when he was traded to the Giants. On Wednesday, Derrek Lee hugged his teammates and said farewell, but he'll say hello again on Friday. Lee was traded for three Minor League pitchers to the Braves, who open a three-game series at Wrigley Field then.
"The way I look at it is if I brought my son to the ballpark and I wanted him to look on the field and watch a guy play, I'd tell him to pay attention to Derrek Lee," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "I've been real lucky to be his teammate for 11 1/2 years, and he does everything you can ask out of a teammate.
"He's prepared every day and a tremendous leader. Aside from what he does on the field, he's a better human being than he is a baseball player. The Atlanta Braves are lucky to get a guy like that, and it's unfortunate we have to lose a guy like that."
Dempster, by the way, will start Friday and most likely face Lee in the middle of the Braves' lineup.
"I'll throw it right down the middle and see if he can hit it," Dempster said.
Lee had rejected a proposed deal to the Angels in late July, invoking his 10-and-5 rights. He also had a full no-trade clause in his contract, which ends after this season.
"This one is hard to turn down," Dempster said of the Braves. "You're going from almost last place to first place. He's going to a big opportunity and to play for another good organization and a great manager. ... As we get older, the time gets less and less that we have a chance to win a ring. He's already won one and now he has a chance to win another one."
Wednesday's crowd of 33,267 at Wrigley for the Cubs' 5-1 loss to the Padres was the lowest of the season, and smallest since April 16, 2007, when the Cubs drew 32,126. Four rookies started and six rookie pitchers appeared in the game, the first time in Major League history a team has used a half dozen prior to September callups.
"I think a lot of the fan base understands we have to find out about the people we have before we move forward," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
Micah Hoffpauir will join the team Thursday from Triple-A Iowa. Expect more young players, even before the Sept. 1 callup date. Lee appreciated his time in Chicago.
"I grew as a player, grew as a person," Lee said. "I didn't achieve the ultimate goal. Coming in here, it just seemed like we were going to win a championship, so that part is disappointing. The rest of my experience is nothing but positive. My family enjoyed it here, Wrigley Field was great. It was just a great experience."
Lee now is on a first-place team. That's the good news.
"There hasn't been a lot to cheer about," Dempster said, "but if there's something to cheer about it will be Friday when Derrek Lee takes his first at-bat. I hope everybody in the stadium gives him a standing ovation for everything he's given in the past seven years he's been here. He deserves that at the very least."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.