Cubs: Joc Pederson has a special reason for wearing #24 this season

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) /

New Chicago Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson might not call Los Angeles home any more, but that doesn’t mean he won’t carry the impact of the seven years he spent with the Dodgers with him to the field in 2021.

Pederson, who signed a one-year deal with Chicago after being promised the opportunity to play every day, something he never got with LA is changing things up this year. For almost his entire career, he’s donned number 31 on his jersey. This season, he switched to #24 – a nod to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

Whether or not you’re a Lakers fan – or even a basketball fan – you can appreciate what Bryant meant to the sport. He was a tireless worker who embodied excellence in every way. Pederson, who said he met Bryant a few times, found those interactions ‘eye-opening’ in just about every way imaginable.

Cubs: Joc Pederson honors Kobe Bryant with new jersey number

If Pederson is going to overcome his drastic career splits at the plate this year and earn the right to have his name penciled in on the lineup card, it’s going to take a lot of work and focus. A left-handed hitter, the Dodgers platooned him during his time out west, limiting him mostly to matchups against right-handed pitching.

It’s not hard to see why, either:

  • Pederson v RHP: 2,132 plate appearances – .238/.349/.501 – 23% strikeout rate
  • Pederson v LHP: 385 plate appearances – .191/.266/.310 – 28% strikeout rate

But manager David Ross is going to see if Pederson can work through those struggles and become an everyday player in the lineup. It’s not unprecedented. Remember how bad Anthony Rizzo used to be against southpaws? He got the reps and learned to work through it. Now, he’s one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball.

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Any athlete – or individual, regardless of your craft or profession – can respect the qualities that made Kobe Bryant great. You can bet when Pederson runs out to left field at Wrigley Field this season, he’ll look to channel that iconic Mamba Mentality in every way possible.