Cubs prospect balances rigorous UChicago College education with baseball coaching
This proposal, however, was not a promise from the Cubs. During the draft, teams can change their plans at any time, and there was always the possibility of another team rushing past the Cubs to draft Cunningham.
As the draft stretched into its third and final day on July 13, 2021, Cunningham’s heart was racing. Finally, picking at No. 604 of 612 in the 20th and final round, the Cubs made their selection and called Cunningham.
“We view our deal with Wilson Cunningham as an investment in people while making a long-term investment in the team,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “Throughout the organization we seek to communicate and work with the players to help them grow off the pitch as well as develop on the pitch.
“It was clear that attending the University of Chicago to further his education was of the utmost importance to Wilson and his family. We had the pleasure of working with them and creating an agreement that allows Wilson to achieve his goals. in the classroom while beginning his dream of pursuing Major League Baseball.
One year later
Cunningham’s first year at UChicago was a whirlwind. A typical weekday consisted of a morning practice session at Henry Crown Field House, afternoon lessons, and an intense throwing session immediately after class.
During a typical throwing session during the school year, he begins with a meticulous warm-up routine, then works with resistance bands and weighted balls to strengthen his arms. From there, he follows personalized throwing instructions from the Cubs’ coaching staff, sticking to a plan he calls “quantitative and regulated.” This comprehensive and detailed workout program includes additional daily arm care.
Cunningham said training alone was tough, especially when Chicago’s wintry weather forced him to train indoors for much of the school year. And unlike the vast majority of professional baseball players, he also faced the pressure of taking physics and calculus classes.
“Obviously it was tough, but that’s what I knew beforehand and that’s what I was hoping for,” Cunningham said. “I tend to pursue things that will be rewarding in the long term, no matter how difficult they are in the short term.”
Now that the school year is over, he’s headed to the minor league Arizona Complex League Cubs, where he faces professional hitters for the first time. While the Cubs have given Cunningham the resources to help him prepare for the mental aspects of pitching, he also enjoys training with his fellow minor leaguers.
“There’s something about being on the field with a team that’s essential to being the best pitcher you can be,” he said.
Cunningham plans to graduate in 2025, after which he plans to push his baseball career as far as he can. Later, he hopes to put his UChicago degree to good use, perhaps in a career in finance or teaching at the college level.
For now, with three years at UChicago ahead of him, he remains focused on the unique opportunity before him.
“I’m going to walk down the halls and overhear two friends discussing Aristotle, which is a pretty unique thing to come across on a college campus,” he said. “UChicago has really maintained its reputation as a place with smart students who all bring something different to the table. It was a cool and interesting experience.
—This story was also published on the College of the University of Chicago website.