Aroldis Chapman's dream number sequence is 108 to 28The Cubs' 108-year curse has been replaced by the chase for 28
TAMPA - Aroldis Chapman's 2016 campaign started a little late because of his 30-game season-opening suspension, but once he got in the flow of New York, Chapman was happy to be a Yankee.
"It was definitely a beautiful experience, you know, I had a really good time here in New York," Chapman said through the Yankees' Spanish-language translator, Marlon Abreu. "The fans and the organization were great, and I had an amazing time here. I believe it was a great year for me."
Chapman hated to leave, but after being traded to the Cubs, he did get to reach the pinnacle of the sport, winning the World Series and helping the Cubbies break their 108-year drought.
"It was baseball fever there," he recalls of his time in Chicago. "The city was crazy excited throughout the playoffs and the World Series, and at the end with the celebration, it was just incredible. Personally I'd never seen so many people in one location; I think it was over a million people there (for the Cubs' parade and celebration) so it was definitely an experience."
Of course, throughout the winter, even after he re-signed with the Yankees, there were rumblings of unhappiness with the way Cubs manager Joe Maddon used Chapman down the stretch last year, but the fire-balling lefty believes that his late start to 2016, combined with his offseason work, will nip any chance of an October hangover in the bud.
"One of the things that I worked on this winter is building my strength and stamina," he said. "The way relievers were used across the board last season was a little different than in the past, so I prepared myself to be ready for whatever comes."
Dellin Betances had taken over as the Yankees' closer once Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded, but once the season ended, Chapman knew the pinstripes would likely come calling back to him - and as he signed, he made sure Betances was good with their reunion.
"I knew the Yankees were going to try to sign a closer, and in my mind I always wanted to have the opportunity to come back," he said. "It happened, but Dellin and I were definitely talking before and after I signed. We have a good relationship and maintain a line of communication between us, and I can't wait to pitch with him again."
Betances aside, though, there's also another other subset of Yankees he can't wait to pitch with.
"There are a lot of young guys in the bullpen, and I definitely want to work with them and be able to help them in any way possible," Chapman said. "It's important to do that, because they have a lot of talent, but they're very young; if we can teach them a little bit of what we know from our experience, I think it's going to really help them when they have the opportunity to come up and contribute."
He'll get that chance in earnest now that Opening Day has arrived, and with spring in the rear-view mirror, Chapman has a lot to look forward to in the first year of his five-year deal. One is his own Yankees bobblehead doll - "It's definitely going to be special to have that," he smiled - but he also has a pair of return trips to Chicago, one for a four-game set against the White Sox June 26-29 and the other a three-game set against the Cubs at Wrigley Field May 5-7.
"I don't know how that's going to be," he smiled, "but I'm hoping that I have a warm welcome."
Yankees fans have a lot to look forward to as well, including another season of Chapman firing pitches faster than any other human being on the planet, a phenomenon he still doesn't know how he became part of but works his hardest to stay within.
"When that happened the first time I was surprised, but over the years, I've been working really hard to maintain that velocity," he said. "I work hard to keep my arm healthy and maintain that. Training is very important, and when I go out there on the mound, I want to give the best I have for my teammates and the fans."
And, Yankees fans, you'll often see the lighter side of Chapman on social media, too.
"To me it's important to have that line of communication with the fans, because sometimes people think that we're not humans, you know?" he said. "But I'm a human like anybody else, and social media gives me the opportunity to communicate directly with the fans, and show them that I go work out and do the same things they do."
But what can you expect on the field? According to Chapman, business as usual.
"I just want to perform and have consistent results, and help my team all the way to the end…back-to-back World Series titles has a nice ring to it."