CHICAGO -- Friday was a dream come true for Richard Bennett of DeKalb, Ill., who finally got to step on the grass at Wrigley Field.
Bennett, 32, was named the Cubs' representative as one of 30 winners of the "Tribute for Heroes" campaign, sponsored by Major League Baseball and PEOPLE magazine. The campaign was a national initiative that recognizes veterans and military service members and builds upon both organizations' commitment to honoring the nation's heroes.
The Cubs honored Bennett in pregame ceremonies Friday, and he was able to stand with the players for the national anthem.
"I love the Cubs," said Bennett, who has attended more than 300 games, mostly sitting in the left-field bleachers. "I try to come here as much as I can."
Bennett returned from Afghanistan 14 months ago, and he is now a student at Northern Illinois University. He served in the Army's 101st Airborne Division, and during a deployment, his unit came under fire on a daily basis. While on an air assault mission to the Korengal Valley, Bennett ran 35 meters through heavy fire and threw himself on the platoon's fallen medic to shield him from further wounds. Bennett received the Silver Star for his heroics.
On Friday, it was all about baseball and being at Wrigley.
"I love it here," he said.
Bennett and the other winners, who each represent one of the 30 MLB clubs, will be included in All-Star Week festivities in New York. They also will be treated to a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a VIP reception on the USS Intrepid, take part in the All-Star Red Carpet Show Presented by Chevrolet, and the Chevrolet Home Run Derby. They will be honored during the pregame ceremony leading up to the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field on Tuesday, which will be on FOX beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Cubs sign two more top-20 Draft picks
CHICAGO -- Besides first-round pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs announced Friday they have signed two more of their top 20 picks in pitcher Trevor Clifton and catcher Will Remillard. The Cubs have signed 24 of their 40 2013 First-Year Player Draft picks, including the first 13, and 22 of the first 25.
"It's obvious what direction we're going and how important a robust farm system is for us," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "It's one thing to talk about it, and another to feel like we're making some headway. I like the people we have in player development and the talent we have.
"One thing that will separate us as a farm system is the numerous potential impact guys we have," Epstein said. "We've had some depth for a while, but now there are a handful of guys we can look at and say, 'If we do a nice job helping them reach their ceiling, they could be potential impact players in the big leagues.' We need those guys to get to where we want to go. It's nice to look at that, but we have a long ways to go."
The Cubs have focused on adding more pitching in the two Drafts since Epstein took over.
"It's starting to come," he said. "There's so much attrition, you have to focus on the volume."
Clifton, a 12th-round selection, played at Heritage High School in Maryville, Tenn., while Remillard, a 19th-round pick, starred at Coastal Carolina. The players will report to the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz.
The hardest part is being patient and letting the players develop.
"We have to stay true to our vision," Epstein said. "If you start trying to take shortcuts and rush prospects through the system, you end up shortchanging their development. We wish we could speed these things up a little bit."
Soriano not concerned about Hall of Fame
CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano ranks 58th all time with 387 career home runs, and he has 280 career stolen bases. But is he Hall of Fame worthy?
Soriano, 37, would prefer to celebrate a World Series in Chicago, not a trip to Cooperstown.
"For me, it's more important to have the ring, especially since I signed as a free agent here, and I tried to get a ring here for the city of Chicago," Soriano said Friday. "The Hall of Fame, maybe when I get retired, I can see my numbers and what I did in the big leagues, and maybe my kids and my family can be proud.
"I never think about being in the Hall of Fame," he said. "It's exclusive being in the Hall of Fame, and there are a lot of good players. I'm just proud of the talent God gave to me and what I've done in the game. The Hall of Fame is not in my mind."
The left fielder was batting .346 with four doubles, eight home runs and 17 RBIs in his last 13 games entering Friday, and he has homered in three of his last six games. Is he aiming for 400 homers?
"If it comes, I'm happy," he said. "If not, I'm happy. I just want to keep working hard and prove to myself I can get better every day."
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.