There’s more to first base than you might think — take it from Patrick Wisdom, Mike Napoli

CINCINNATI – As Patrick Wisdom took reps at first base before a game this weekend at Great American Ballpark, first base coach Mike Napoli stood next to him, watching his footwork as Christopher Morel and Zach McKinstry threw across the diamond.

“I believe in my athletic ability and being able to be put in any spot and do well,” Wisdom told the Sun-Times. “And so I think just trusting that, trusting my baseball awareness to put me in a good position right now, and just keep building on those.”

Wisdom has proven the kind of power he can add to the Cubs’ lineup. He hit his 21st home run of the season in the Cubs’ 8-5 loss to the Reds on Sunday. This is his second straight season with over 20 homers. Now Wisdom’s defensive versatility, and willingness to move positions, hasgiven the Cubs different ways to keep his power bat in the lineup while shuffling theinfield.

The Cubs are using the second half of the season to evaluate some of their younger talent, like outfielder Nelson Velázquez, utility men Christopher Morel and Zach McKinstry, and second baseman Nick Madrigal, and get them more big-league experience. So, Wisdom, who has played mostly third base this season, has started playing in the opposite corner of the infield more regularly.

Wisdom already had some experience at first base, but before this season he’d made a grand total of 24 major-league appearances at first.

“Knowing where you need to be – balls and the gap, cut-off man,” manager David Ross said, listing the challenges of transitioning to regularly playing first base. “Everybody has different movements to the ball; just like pitchers, infielders have the same kind of different actions. And continuing to work on his pick, his footwork over there. There’s going to be some challenging stuff where, at times, it’ll stand out that he’s inexperienced over there. But we’ll work through it, and we’ll take the good with the bad.”

Getting used to all that takes repetition. But at this time of year, especially as the Cubs embark on a stretch of 20 games in 19 days, players have to balance the value of side work with the toll of a long season.

“Making sure they’re quality reps,” Wisdom said when asked the key to navigating this stretch. “Not just kind of going through the motions. Maybe taking five to 10 really good ones, as opposed to 20 rapid-fire.”

Wisdom played third base on Thursday, in the ‘Field of Dreams’ game. So, on Saturday, before sliding over to first base for the rest of the series, he took some of those intentionalreps.

Through the transition, Wisdom has leaned on bench coach Andy Green and assistant coach Jonathan Mota, who work with the infield, and Napoli, a former first baseman. Theirbiggest focus has been footwork.

“Being out there more, he’s going to feel more comfortable and know what he can do over there,” Napoli told the Sun-Times. “A lot of people think you can just stow a big body over there and it’s going to be pretty easy. But there’s a lot of things you’ve got to know about the position.”

First basemen have to keep their eyes on the play in front of them, so finding the base has to be second nature. That, Napoli suspects, a lot of people don’t understand. Then, they have to time their stride with their read of the throw, which isn’t always on target.

“He had a nice pick the other night, and we’d worked on it that day,” Napoli said. “So it’s nice to see your work going into the games.”

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