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From Africa to hero, Bote's had quite a journey

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- In a matter of weeks, David Bote has gone from an 18th-round Draft pick nobody knew to a Cubs hero, schmoozing with actor Bill Murray after hitting a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam. Maybe now people will pronounce the rookie's last name correctly.

It hasn't been a smooth ascension to the Major Leagues for Bote. To tell his story, you need to start at an airport in Mombasa, Kenya. That's where Bote learned he was selected by the Cubs.

CHICAGO -- In a matter of weeks, David Bote has gone from an 18th-round Draft pick nobody knew to a Cubs hero, schmoozing with actor Bill Murray after hitting a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam. Maybe now people will pronounce the rookie's last name correctly.

It hasn't been a smooth ascension to the Major Leagues for Bote. To tell his story, you need to start at an airport in Mombasa, Kenya. That's where Bote learned he was selected by the Cubs.

Africa

In June 2012, Bote was with his then-girlfriend, Rachel, his older brother, Danny, plus another friend on a two-week mission trip to Kenya and Tanzania for the New Hope Ministries. He was playing for Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kan., and wasn't thinking about the Draft.

Cubs scout Rick Schroeder told Bote that he was going to do whatever he could to sell the team on the versatile infielder.

"I said, 'OK, I'm going on a mission trip,'" Bote said.

The Royals also were interested, but they thought Bote would be gone for at least a year. It felt as if he spent that much time in the Mombasa airport, because their plane was diverted there. The airport was about the size of a baseball infield, with a concrete floor, some chairs, no walls and a roof.

"We saw the sun rise. We saw the sun set there," Bote said of being rerouted because a plane had gone off the runway in Nairobi.

They were able to find an internet hotspot, and Bote's brother sent emails to tell family and friends about their situation.

"At that point, my brother looked up and said, 'Hey, congratulations, you were drafted by the Cubs,'" Bote said. "There was no call or 'Hey, we're going to draft you,' or 'We're looking to draft you in this round.' It was in the airport. I'm like, 'Hey, let's get out of here.'"

Once they got to Nairobi, they set up a sports camp for the kids who lived in the Kibera slum in Kenya.

"We just got them out on green grass and just played with them, loving on them, show them what the love of Jesus is," Bote said. "The amount of joy they have and the smiles on their faces for as little as they have -- they're playing soccer ball with trash bags wrapped up with string and they're loving it, loving life."

Bote's group learned some Swahili and helped the children with their English.

"It was an incredible experience," Bote said. "One of the most eye-opening things was we were invited to dinner by one of the locals there in Tanzania. They provided us with an unbelievable feast. The water there can be tricky to drink, so the family went out and bought sodas for us.

"Someone said, 'Just so you know, the sodas alone was this man's monthly wage,'" Bote said. "We drank it in two minutes. It brought tears to your eyes. For what little they had, they sacrificed a month's wages to make sure we had something to drink. They did it with such a gracious heart. It changes your perspective and how you treat people. It's like, 'Wow, if I had that kind of courage, that kind of gratefulness and sacrificial love and giving' -- it was incredible."

The five-star hotels in big league cities are a long way from what Bote and his group saw in Kibera. He also recognized that's all the Kenyan kids knew.

"To see the joy on their faces is what sticks out," Bote said. "In our view, they have nothing, but they have everything in their eyes. They appreciate what they have and appreciate the love and their family and the whole community they have that supports each other is something you don't see very much. It's eye opening."

The Minor Leagues

Bote did sign with the Cubs, and he batted .232 on the Rookie-level Arizona League team. In 2013, he hit .227. The next year included a brief stop at Triple-A Iowa, but Bote was a combined .235.

In 2016 at Myrtle Beach, Bote batted .337. Sitting in the dugout last week in Kansas City, Bote was asked what turned his career around. He just shook his head.

"So many things, so many things," he said.

It wasn't for lack of trying. Bote wasn't producing, so he wasn't playing. That's the business.

"You're trying not to get frustrated, and I was frustrated many, many times," he said. "Being able to listen to the coaches, listen to the player development [staff], who said, 'Hey, we're going this direction and trust it,' and I got an opportunity to play every day in August '15 and did well. In '16, in the second half, I started playing every day and got into a little groove and a little confidence."

Bote recalls a game at Myrtle Beach in '16. He went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts, and he doesn't remember making contact in any of the at-bats.

"I was pressing as hard as you could possibly press," he said. "That's when I had my first conversation with [then hitting coordinator] Andy Haines. He said, 'I know what you're doing is incredibly tough, but you have to find a way to not press. You have to take one at-bat, one pitch, and not even think about your numbers, not think about getting a hit. Just win that pitch.'"

Haines, now the assistant hitting coach on the Cubs, didn't have a relationship yet with Bote.

"[Haines] was honest -- he said, 'I didn't say anything to you, because I didn't know what to say,'" Bote said. "It came down to, 'I've just got to tell him what I see.' He did, and it helped. It was like a catapult."

The Cubs could easily have walked away from a struggling player who was a low-round Draft pick. They didn't.

"I'm not a high-profile guy, I'm not a high prospect," Bote said. "Andy knew that everybody in the organization matters. He found what he needed to say, and it worked: Be confident in your ability and just go out there."

Mark Johnson, one of Bote's Minor League managers, also gave him a pep talk.

"I said, 'Man, am I ever going to get a chance?'" Bote said of a conversation he had with Johnson, now in his third season at Double-A Tennessee. "He said, 'You are. You have a jersey on your back.' There were times I wanted to put the blame on somebody else, and he put it right back on me. He said, 'You have to take responsibility.'"

Give Myrtle Beach manager Buddy Bailey an assist. Bailey would wear Bote out by hitting ground balls to him at second, third and shortstop, telling the young infielder he needed to be ready for anything.

Wife Rachel deserves credit, too.

"If I didn't have my wife, I'd probably be out of baseball," Bote said in April. "She was the one who said, 'Hey, we didn't stay in Class A ball for four years for you to give up now.'"

The big leagues

Bote's father, Bob, is a baseball coach who won five state championships at Niwot High School in Colorado. Bob Bote was at Coors Field on April 21 when his son made his Major League debut against the Rockies. David hit a double in the second inning in his first at-bat. It's appropriate Bote faced the Rockies. David was born on April 7, 1993, two days before the Rockies played their first game in Denver.

David Bote's walk-off slam earned him a meet-and-greet with Bill Murray

Bote was promoted in April because Ben Zobrist was hurt. Now he's on the Cubs' roster subbing for 2016 MVP Kris Bryant.

"I just like his self confidence," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He does it in a way that's not offensive, it's not like this braggart kind of a thing. It's a humbled confidence. It's really worn well by him. I think it will continue to get better. He's not changing -- I promise it's not going to change. I don't care how much success this guy has, he's not changing, and he's the consumate team player. Plus, he's good."

Where does that come from? Think about what Bote saw in Africa.

"I'll put all my effort into the game, but at the end of the day, I have food on the table, a family that loves me and a place to stay, and that's not always the case for everybody," Bote said. "It's humbling and I don't take it for granted, and want to be as generous as we can."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, David Bote