Monday, Feb. 14, 2011Posted: 10:00 PM
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano would often strut around the clubhouse last season wearing his T-shirt from the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. It felt like an old high school quarterback still wearing his varsity jacket years after the Friday nights lights were turned off.
A few teammates watched in amusement on Monday morning as the media gathered around his locker at Fitch Park, three or four deep, waiting to see if Zambrano would grant them an audience.
Zambrano is a great headline. But at this point, even he acknowledges that it doesnt really matter what he tells the cameras. Actions will speak louder.
I want to do more on the field than talk, he said. I dont want to say anything this year. I talk with my numbers.
The Cubs hadnt even begun their first official workout for pitchers and catchers and already it was time to dissect the latest state of Zambrano address, which lasted almost 11 minutes.
Zambrano revealed the most in what he didnt say. There were none of the clichd story lines you read about in spring training. He didnt boast about being in the best shape of his life, or worry about how his family perceives his tantrums, or claim to be a changed man.
Zambrano doesnt want to discuss the past (though he was scheduled to do a sit-down interview with ESPN). Mostly real and sometimes imagined, he can see the negative angles in questions.
Lets talk about this year, he said. I never talk about last year, what happened in the past. I want to talk about the good team that we have. I want to focus on this year and be a better player, a better pitcher. Thats what everybodys looking forward to.
Whether or not 2010 will go down as a turning point in Zambranos career, it will be remembered for the failed bullpen experiment, his confrontation with Derrek Lee, the suspension and anger-management treatment. It nearly overshadowed an 8-0 mark with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts.
Mike Quades musical tastes run toward Led Zeppelin, and the manager doesnt want to completely turn down the volume on Zambrano and shut off his passions. Quade referenced a Rush lyric, freeze this moment, in describing the relative calm that came over the 29-year-old near the end of last season.
I would take that finish for six weeks and take the six months right now, Quade said. Book it who wouldnt? But thats an ongoing thing for Z and his development as an older (pitcher) learning what hes going to have to do body-wise, man-wise, all that stuff. Were all making adjustments. Were all getting older, (but) he looked like a young guy those last six weeks and I believe hes motivated.
Zambrano said he still loves playing in Chicago, which does mean something, because he has a no-trade clause in his 91.5 million contract. He said he isnt going anywhere, but added if I go to another team, Chicago will always be in my heart.
It would be far less interesting without him, because he can still make everyone smile with his one-liners.
Do you have anything to prove?
No, no, no. I leave that for the rookies.
What about the competition for the last two spots in the rotation?
Thats not my problem. Ill be there.
Of course, he said, I want to be the Opening Day starter, but its up to Quade, the man who really has to interpret Zambrano and his moods.
Hes more introspective than people realize, Quade said, especially when hes not toeing the rubber. Reflection is a great thing for all of us. Hes the only one that can address that specifically. Im not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. But you couldnt help appreciate the way he finished. That tells you a lot about somebody.
Thats the guy Im going to remember and thats the guy Im looking for.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.