Coghlan made early Cubs connection with Dawson
Young outfielder never forgot first meeting with Hall of Famer while with Marlins
MESA, Ariz. -- Chris Coghlan has wanted to play for the Cubs since meeting Andre Dawson, even though one of the young outfielder's first encounters with the Hall of Famer was when he thought "Hawk" was sleeping.
Coghlan, now a non-roster invitee on the Cubs, was the Marlins' first-round pick in 2006. In '07, he was playing at Class A Greensboro, and Dawson was a special assistant to the general manager on the big league team. Coghlan had met Dawson, but didn't feel comfortable enough to chat with him.
"He can come off intimidating because you're like, 'This is Hawk, a Hall of Famer,'" Coghlan said.
Part of Dawson's duties included watching the Marlins' Minor League teams, and he showed up at a game in Greensboro.
"We're playing and he had his sunglasses on, sitting in the dugout," Coghlan said. "I'm thinking, 'Dang, this guy's asleep.' He didn't move for five innings. He's sitting in the dugout, same spot, for five innings. I swear he's asleep, he's so bored. I was clowning with some of the guys about it."
Later that year, Coghlan found out Dawson was paying close attention.
"I got called up to High A [that year] which was in Jupiter, and Hawk came there, and he was watching batting practice and he pulled me aside," Coghlan said. "He could replay each at-bat I had [at Greensboro].
"He told me, 'Hey, this is really good what you're doing here, and this approach, and keep swinging this way,'" he said. "I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe he was paying attention to me.' It was really humbling."
It wasn't until some time later when Coghlan finally admitted to Dawson that he thought the Hall of Famer was snoozing. They both had a good laugh about it.
Coghlan, 28, is batting .207 in 15 Cactus League games. He's in the mix for one of the final bench spots, in competition with Ryan Kalish, Chris Valaika, Ryan Roberts, and Darnell McDonald. A left-handed hitter, Coghlan had spent his entire career with the Marlins, but signed this offseason as a free agent with the Cubs. The 2009 Rookie of the Year used to talk to his wife, Carrie, about places he'd like to play.
"You knew that [the Marlins], they were notorious that if you get older and more expensive [you'd be gone]," Coghlan said. "We knew that day was coming, but didn't think it would come as soon as it did.
"She was like, 'Where would you love to play?' This was a couple years ago," Coghlan said of the conversation. "Chicago was one of the places. I love it. Any time you play in Wrigley Field, you get a different feeling. It didn't matter where you were but you were like, 'Holy cow, Ryne Sandberg played here, Andre Dawson, Ernie Banks -- this is crazy.' You're on the same field.
"There's just a reverence for the organization and the Cubs," he said. "When [I signed] I forgot I'd told her that. A couple days after I signed, she said, 'Can you believe you're going to a place you wanted to go to the whole time?' I was like, 'Man, I forgot about that.' It's just surreal."
Coghlan didn't tell Dawson that he was looking at the Cubs as his next team. They used to talk all the time about Chicago, either during batting practice while standing in the outfield or in the clubhouse.
"We'd talk about everything -- about his playing career, about when he was in Montreal, about how he was here and handed them a blank check," Coghlan said of when Dawson presented then general manager Dallas Green a blank check in 1989 to be on the Cubs.
"It was fun to listen to all those stories," Coghlan said. "Hawk's the man, a Hall of Famer. My best friend grew up loving Andre Dawson and I grew up loving Cal Ripken. My whole career, I'd worn No. 8 because of Cal Ripken."
That also happens to be the number Dawson wore. And, it's the number Coghlan wore with the Marlins.
"When I finaly got to know [Dawson] tight, I told him that story and he laughed," Coghlan said. "He signed a jersey that said 'The best No. 8' -- he normally doesn't do that because he's a very humble man."
Dawson never hid his love for playing at Wrigley Field.
"He told me about Wrigley and how great the fans were," Coghlan said. "He was like, 'Man, this is the best place to play,' and tell stories. When I was talking to different teams and trying to pick out a team, Chicago called, and I was going to get an opportunity sooner than I thought I would. It was an easy decision to come here."
Dawson didn't know Coghlan was being recruited by the Cubs.
"He was instrumental in my career on how to be a professional and how to take care of yourself and be a great teammate," Coghlan said. "He was awesome."
And when Coghlan did sign with the Cubs, did he hear from the Hawk?
"He said, 'Congratulations,'" Coghlan said of a message Dawson sent. "We keep in touch and he was great. He always took care of me. I learned a lot from him. He was one of the people who impacted me more in my career than a lot of people."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.