Cubs

Cubs: Bryant, Rizzo take their All-Star experience in stride

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Cubs: Bryant, Rizzo take their All-Star experience in stride

CINCINNATI - Anthony Rizzo doesn't see how any of this could ever get old.

Even though it was his second straight All-Star Game appearance, it was still a week of firsts for Rizzo and rookie teammate Kris Bryant.

Both sluggers took part in their first Home Run Derby and Rizzo also found his name in the starting lineup as the designated hitter, which made things even more special for the 25-year-old.

"I never would have thought something like this would happen," Rizzo said. "[The All-Star Game] is equally awesome this time around. It's fun. Something that I don't think will ever get old."

Rizzo finished 0-for-2 with a groundout to first base and a fly out to center field as the American League beat the National League 6-3.

Rizzo is in his first pennant chase with the Cubs this season, but he still saw the two-day detour to Cincinnati as a break, even though his schedule was packed to the brim with obligations, appearances, parades and so on.

[SHOP CUBS: Get an Anthony Rizzo All-Star Game jersey right here]

Rizzo spent the week posing for pictures with fans and hanging around every player he could, not necessarily trying to pick up tips, but just taking everything in stride.

From chatting with veteran stars like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to young bucks like Joc Pederson and Bryce Harper, Rizzo was content to just have a good time. Case in point:

 

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"I just like to talk," he said. "Whatever they're talking about, just listening, absorbing, trying to take it all in."

Rizzo and Bryant will both go home with some lifelong memories and souvenirs that include jerseys signed by each player on the NL roster.

On a roster packed with third basemen - hometown slugger Todd Frazier got the start while Colorado's Nolan Arenado relieved him - Bryant's versatility came in handy as NL manager Bruce Bochy put the Cubs rookie out in left field to start the sixth inning.

Bryant walked in his first plate appearance in the seventh inning and then flew out to the warning track in the bottom of the ninth off Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins.

But it didn't really matter what transpired Tuesday, as Bryant's best memory came in the Home Run Derby Monday night, when his dad pitched to him.

[RELATED - Home Run Derby an 'emotional roller coaster' for Bryant family]

"Nothing's gonna top that," Bryant said.

Just like with that Home Run Derby, Bryant said the result of Tuesday's All-Star Game didn't really matter much to him.

"It's more the experience," he said. "I think 20 years from now, I'm not gonna remember what the score was or what I did in this game. I'll just remember that this is my first All-Star Game and I had a blast."

Bryant and Rizzo are in the middle of a heated NL Central battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, but found a way to coexist in the same locker room with the combined 10 All-Stars those two teams sent to Cincinnati.

"It's good. We're all baseball players. We're all human beings," Bryant said. "We're on the field competing against each other and we want to beat 'em, but any time other than that, I think, we're friends.

"We're all in this together, playing this crazy game because we love it and enjoy it. Everybody - from the Pirates to the Cardinals - they're all really good people and very friendly, so I think it's actually pretty cool."

[MORE - Reds fans and Albert Pujols boo the Cardinals during All-Star Game introductions]

Bryant took the same path as Rizzo, spending his first All-Star Game soaking it all up.

"Just looking at guys and how they're preparing for a game, how they take their batting practice round," Bryant said. "I think sometimes, you can learn more from not even talking to them, just watching how they go about it. There's a lot of guys here to watch."

Bryant and Rizzo only have two days off now before the season's unofficial second half resumes Friday, but that's enough time for them.

"It's gonna be nice to go home and chill out for a couple days," Rizzo said. "Reset, recharge the batters and then back in the saddle.

"We're ready to go. We have a lot left to do potential-wise."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.