ST. LOUIS – Ben Zobrist is too diplomatic to completely troll the St. Louis Cardinals – and too honest to pretend that celebrating at Busch Stadium wouldn’t mean something for a Cubs organization that for so long had been Little Brother in this lopsided rivalry.
Zobrist gave the Cardinal clubhouse bulletin-board material – and moved the needle for the St. Louis media – heading into the last week of the regular season when he said: “We intend to clinch there. And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”
First reaction: Wow. Second reaction: Obviously (when the Cubs are about to play a four-game series against their archrivals and the magic number to eliminate both the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers from the division race had dropped to two).
But Zobrist gets it as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. This is a self-made, super-utility player with a World Series ring from the 2015 Kansas City Royals and a 50th anniversary edition convertible Camaro for last year’s World Series MVP performance. Between his age (36) and his natural personality, Zobrist doesn’t treat each interview like a chore and suspiciously view every question as a trap.
“It’s really nothing personal,” Zobrist said Wednesday night amid the champagne-and-beer celebration, just before Jon Lester toasted John Lackey and broke the retirement story. “I would have said that no matter where we were going.
“But I do think it’s extra special to be able to do it here – for a lot of Cubs fans (who) for a long, long time haven’t experienced a lot of winning in this particular city. For those guys that have been in the organization for a long time, too, I know it means a little bit more.
“I’ve only been here for two years, so I can’t quite understand that the way those guys can. But they’ve expressed that to us. And this means something extra special for those people.”
Zobrist is also the type of guy who shook hands, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans who swarmed his North Center home and lined up around the block – hours after the Cubs flew back from Cleveland after beating the Indians in last year’s epic World Series Game 7.
“We know that the fans are even more pumped, I’m sure, about (clinching in St. Louis) than those of us in this room,” Zobrist said. “We appreciate our fans. We know that they’re very loyal and very passionate about this ballclub. Definitely we know that some of them are celebrating just as much as we are today.”
Going for a personal three-peat, Zobrist’s regular season reflected the 2017 Cubs as a whole, from the slow start to the nagging injuries to the strong finish to the enormous sense of confidence heading into October.
“We feel excited for another opportunity to make a push in the postseason and to defend our title,” Zobrist said. “But we’re going to celebrate this. This is a huge accomplishment, a big step. It’s a very, very long season, and we’re going to celebrate this tonight because it needs to be.
“It’s a lot of work just to get to this point. And a lot of teams haven’t been able to do that after winning the previous year. But now it’s just adrenaline, baby. Let’s get it going.”