Cubs

Mooney: The Zen of Carlos Zambrano

Mooney: The Zen of Carlos Zambrano

Tuesday, March 8, 2011Posted: 6:40 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Are you a new man? You are asking the wrong question, Carlos Zambrano says.

Has the anger-management counseling helped? Yes, Zambrano says without much hesitation.

Zambrano sees a fundamental difference between those two ideas. Thats how hes framed the maturity issues that have too often sabotaged the Cubs.

Of course, all this is much easier to say on March 8 during the middle of yet another meaningless exhibition game.

But Zambrano pitched well again in Tuesdays 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Just as important, he virtually ignored the shaky defense behind him at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

I have to do my job, Zambrano said. I dont worry about anybody (else). This year I want to concentrate on what I can do. I dont want to worry about left field, center field, whatever. I want to worry about whats going on at the mound.

Zambrano does not want to change his entire personality. Family is central to his life and he has a good sense of humor, recently joking that he was cured and received approval from the psychologist to be alone by himself.

But Zambrano would like to remake his image. He openly acknowledges that he needs to better control the emotions churning inside. Hes got to the point where he felt comfortable exchanging text messages with Carlos Silva after Mondays brutal start.

The two are good friends, but they had pretty much avoided discussing any similarities between their disputes with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

I told (Silva) to relax and just be the same guy that he was in Minnesota, Zambrano said. Dont let anything affect your preparation for the season.

Whoever needs a little bit of support or tips Ill be there for anybody.

Mike Quade will back Zambrano because he needs another front-line starter. The manager owes a lot to Zambranos 8-0 finish to 2010.

Im aware of everything that happened in 19-whatever with this organization, but none of it applies this time, Quade said. Im here every day living in this moment and looking forward and not looking back. (Hes been) fantastic this spring. He was really good for us and for me last year at the end of the season. So theres no reason for me to look anywhere but at that.

Its not unique to Z. When things come up, you deal with it. But I certainly dont sit around going: Are things going to get crazy? When? No, Im just happy when things are smooth. And when theyre not, we deal with them and move on.

Zambrano, who had mentioned that his right arm felt tired after his last start, said that physically hes back to normal. He lasted three innings, scattered five hits and allowed his first run of the spring.

The Cubs werent charged with any errors on Tuesday, but they again showed that defense will be an ongoing issue. Blake DeWitt had trouble handling two balls at second. Scott Moore had to make two nifty plays at first off wild throws. One ball bounced in front of a charging Tyler Colvin in left.

It wont matter as much when Zambrano throws like this: Carlos Gonzalez got so tangled up on one check swing that he struck out and fell into the dirt, flat on his stomach.

The Rockies slugger hit 34 homers and drove in 117 runs last season, and Zambrano correctly quoted his average (.336) off the top of his head.

We cant give up to big hitters, Zambrano said. I have my best stuff for them.

At the end of the third inning, Zambrano walked off the mound and past Quade, who was sitting on a cooler. They locked hands. Their high-five turned into a kind of extended handshake. At that moment it all looked good in the Cubs dugout.

Changed man? Zambrano said afterward, repeating the question. No, Im the same.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

glanville_oct_21.jpg
USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.