Cubs

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist drove to work on Sunday morning in his World Series MVP car, a 50th anniversary edition gray convertible Camaro he parked in the players’ lot outside the Under Armour Performance Center. Even on a star-studded Cubs team that clearly enjoyed the spoils of winning, Zobrist popped out as someone who understood what this meant in Chicago and why these opportunities shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“The surreal moments,” Zobrist said, “were obviously being on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ and getting to do about three days worth of Disney World in about six hours – just by zooming around and going in back doors and such – to in December going to a Bulls game and the crowd basically erupting when they put the camera on me.

“Getting to go to the White House and meet President Obama and the first lady at the time. And then a few weeks after that, I got to go to the National Prayer Breakfast events and meet a whole bunch of congressmen and senators and then shake the hand of President Trump and Vice President Pence.

“Being put in arenas that you’re not used to being put in – just because you were able to do something as an athlete – is pretty special. It’s special to know that you were able to do something that made a lot of people happy.”

Not bad for a small-town kid from downstate Illinois who never got drafted out of high school and ranked 16th on Baseball America’s list of the Houston Astros’ top prospects after the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Zobrist then had to spend parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level before really establishing himself with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, waiting until his age-28 season to get more than 200 at-bats.

During the interview, Zobrist asked a group of reporters to move with him away from his locker, so that Albert Almora Jr. could have some space and not deal with the overflow crowd after an abbreviated workout limited by the rain in Mesa. Within the clubhouse, Zobrist is respected for his meticulous preparation, willingness to play all over the field and nerves of steel in the playoffs. That’s why the Cubs gave Zobrist a four-year, $56 million contract after watching him help the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series.

“It doesn’t feel like a three-peat to me,” Zobrist said. “Every year is new. And you’ve got to kind of forget about last year, to a certain degree. I know what happened last year is pretty unforgettable. But at the same time, we’ve got to turn the page and try to do something even more special.

“Everybody was super-hungry to make it happen last year. We have to push each other to realize it’s going to be even harder this year. For us to be able to do something like repeating a championship in Chicago would be even greater than what we were able to do last year.”

Zobrist decided to live close to Wrigley Field to maximize time with his family during the season and experience the city. In another surreal, only-in-Chicago moment, fans swarmed his North Center home after the Cubs returned from Cleveland, lining up around the block to say thanks and get a moment with the World Series MVP.   

“My neighborhood was really respectful,” Zobrist said. “They were awesome all year, just kind of (recognizing) that’s our home (and) being neighbors. And then after we won – the day after we came home – I was playing outside with my kids and some of the neighborhood kids were like: ‘Oh, man, we watched you (on TV). Hey, would you sign something?’

“I’m like: ‘You know what, I didn’t do it all year, I’ll do it.’ So I started signing for a few of them. And the next thing I know, people from surrounding neighborhoods heard and started coming over.

“Just to go on the record: That’s not happening all year long this year.”

Marlon Byrd on PED suspensions: 'You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident'

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NBC Sports Chicago

Marlon Byrd on PED suspensions: 'You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident'

 

Six players on Major League Baseball rosters have been suspended twice for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Marlon Byrd, one of the players in that infamous group, has to live with that for the rest of his career. The 40-year-old talked about that on Baseball Night in Chicago on NBC Sports Chicago.

“Anybody that goes through this, it’s a part of their career,” Byrd said. “That’s it. This is a part of my career. Not testing positive once, but testing positive twice. I will always have to answer the question because it is a part of my 15-year major league career and always will. The easiest way to answer it is to tell the truth that way you can do it over and over and over again. Once you start telling fibs or telling lies you start holding onto something that’s not the truth.”

Byrd signed a 3-year deal with the Cubs ahead of the 2010 season. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in April of 2012. Byrd’s first suspension came on June 25, 2012. He was suspended for 50 games. In 2016, he received his second suspension on June 1 and retired after the suspension.

Byrd was asked about his view on the recent Robinson Cano suspension, which will cost the Mariners’ second baseman 80 games. He spoke from personal experience when explaining what can happen with PED use.

“You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident,” Byrd said. “Some guys make it on accident. Some guys make it on purpose. There’s nobody up here that can talk about this better than I can because I’ve done it twice. One time on purpose, one time on accident. To speak for another man and what he went through is tough. Did Robinson do it or not? Only he knows. Nobody else is going to know, but what you have to do is take your suspension.”

Albert Almora Jr. knows he doesn't need to sell the Cubs to 'cousin' Manny Machado

Albert Almora Jr. knows he doesn't need to sell the Cubs to 'cousin' Manny Machado

Albert Almora Jr. has known Manny Machado all his life.

They're so close, they call each other "cousins", refer to the other's parents as "aunt" and "uncle" and Almora was a groomsman in Machado's wedding.

So with all these rumors about the Cubs potentially being the frontrunner to trade for Machado this summer, should we start referring to Almora-Machado as the better potential bromance in Chicago over Bryant-Harper?

The Cubs would have to acquire Machado in a trade this summer, but they undoubtedly wouldn't do that unless they thought they could sell him on staying here long-term when he reaches free agency after the 2018 season.

But Almora doesn't think he or the Cubs need to sell anything to Machado.

"That's the great thing about this organization," Almora said. "There's nothing that needs to be said. Guys want to play for us because we're the team to be and we have a lot of fun here. We have a great group of guys."

The Cubs have put together a heck of a resume in recent years, to the point where one reporter asked Kris Bryant if they're almost at the New England Patriots level of success.

That's taking things a few steps too far given the Cubs have won just one championship. But they have made it to the National League Championship Series three years in a row, they lead baseball in regular season wins since the start of the 2015 season and they have arguably the best young core in baseball.

It wouldn't have to take much convincing to want to join the same lineup as Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez and others while playing for a manager (Joe Maddon) that has no rules as long as you hustle down the line and a front office that is among the best in baseball at accomodating players' families and off-field lives.

Oh yeah, and then there's the whole Wrigley Field effect and a fanbase that is as national and passionate as they come.

Almora insists he doesn't talk to his "cousin" about coming to the Cubs and maintained he loves the current roster and has said all year they have a special team.

That being said, Almora did concede to how awesome it would be if he and Machado could win the World Series someday on the same team.

They used to dream up that situation in their backyards as kids and when Almora got a ring with the Cubs in 2016, he jokingly rubbed it in Machado's face as they worked out together in Miami.

"We used to play a game," Almora said. "I used to throw him a basketball. He used to hit it with a wood bat and we'd put scenarios in my backyard — World Series and stuff like that. 

"But obviously we never sat down and talked about it seriously as kids. Now that we're adults, that would be special."

Machado is clearly in the discussion as one of the very best players in baseball while Almora is just now earning everyday playing time. But the Cubs centerfielder wouldn't concede to the fact that his bestie was better than him as children.

"Between Manny and myself? He was older than I am," Almora said, smiling. "I don't know, I'm not gonna say he was better than me."