Cubs

Starting over, Zambrano wins for his nephew

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Starting over, Zambrano wins for his nephew

Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
10:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON For all their differences, Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella have this in commonboth are emotional men who value the importance of family.

Zambrano spoke with his brother on Tuesday and left the Cubs that night to travel back home to Venezuela to visit his 11-year-old nephew, who was hospitalized and placed in intensive care with whats believed to be a bacterial infection.

He told me to dedicate that game to his son, Zambrano said. In the first inning I was thinking about him. And I was throwing all the pitches saying: This is for my nephew.

With all that weighing on his mind, Zambrano went out and dominated the Washington Nationals in a 5-4 victory. And in a way the enigmatic pitcher is starting over, playing for a new manager and with a group of new teammates.

Maybe you are struggling with how to pronounce Mike Quades last name, or you cant tell one rookie reliever apart from another.

But there were still two familiar sights on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, Zambrano raising his head and pointing to the sky, and Alfonso Soriano lingering near home plate, admiring his three-run homer as it soared into the left-field seats.

Combined Zambrano and Soriano will make almost 36 million this season, enough to bankroll an entire 25-man roster for a small-market team. They will not fade easily into the background, and not just because they have no-trade clauses and approximately 108 million remaining on their contracts.

Soriano bounces around the clubhouse with a constant smile. Zambrano declined to comment after Piniella announced that Sunday would be his final game in uniform. They are two of the most recognizable faces left in this franchise.

For all the talk about developing young players for 2011, Quade has stressed that he needs the veterans to carry the Cubs (53-74) through to the end of this season. Zambrano is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his four starts since returning to the rotation.

Well take that fresh start and just run with it for the next six weeks, Quade said.

After limiting the Nationals (53-73) to one run across 7 13 innings, Zambrano has the same outlook.

Q (is more) hyper than Lou, Zambrano said. He has more energy, but we need to do our job anyway, either being with Lou or Q or (Alan) Trammell. (We) need to play for our team.

Soriano can get hot and carry a team, and he now has hit at least 20 homers in nine consecutive seasons. Even if hes a flawed player, hes in elite company. Only four other players are on similar runs: Alex Rodriguez (15 seasons); Albert Pujols (10); Adam Dunn (nine); and David Ortiz (nine).

Zambrano (5-6, 4.64) hasnt produced like an elite pitcher, but feels like he is improving each time out, building from one start to the next. Last week against the San Diego Padres he walked six batters and struck out one. This time he finished with eight strikeouts and only one walk.

If Zambrano remains a Cub, whoever the manager is next season will want to cultivate a relationship with him. Piniella reached breaking points with Zambrano, and it helped lead to his suspension and time on the restricted list.

Lou was very special to me. He was honest, Zambrano said. Any time he had to say something to me, he said it. He wasnt afraid.

When he calls somebody into the office, it doesnt matterthat guy could be making 18 million. (He) knows how to speak. He didnt say much, but when he spoke, he knew what to say. He knew how to come to you and say the proper words.

In the same interview, Zambrano can be dismissive and engaging with the media. He began to answer two separate questions Tuesday night with: What do you think? Yes, he thinks hes getting better, and that he would have been in a groove if he remained in the rotation the entire season.

Zambrano described his bullpen experiment this way: We got too desperate too soon. He then reflected on his nephew, and vowed to make his next start, likely Monday at Wrigley Field.

Its pretty sad, Zambrano said. He is in bad condition (and) I will be with my family for a few days and come back to work.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

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USA TODAY

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

Joe Girardi won't be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, perhaps because he has hopes of landing a gig in Chicago.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, Girardi was in the running for the Reds' managerial job (which went to former Cubs third-base coach David Bell this weekend) but pulled himself out, this after interviewing for but not getting the same position with the Texas Rangers. Heyman cites "industry speculation" that Girardi might want to remain a free agent so he can land the job of skipper in Chicago.

Heyman is of course not specific, listing a city with two major league teams, leaving this open for interpretation as either the Cubs or the White Sox.

Obviously Girardi has a history on the North Side. He had two stints there as a player, from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002. Joe Maddon has one year remaining on his contract, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season press conference that the team has not had discussions with Maddon about an extension. After managing the New York Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009, Girardi might again want a crack at managing a big-market contender.

But if Girardi is simply itching to get back to his home state — he was born in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern — perhaps he has the White Sox on his wish list, too. Rick Renteria has one year remaining on his current contract, as well, and should the rebuilding White Sox see all their young talent turn into the contender they've planned, the manager of such a team would be an attractive position to hold.

But just because folks believe Girardi wants to manage in Chicago doesn't mean there'd be mutual interest. Despite Epstein's comments that there have been no extension talks with Maddon, the president of baseball operations also backed his manager in that same press conference, refusing to blame Maddon for the team's "broken" offense down the stretch last month. And Rick Hahn and the rest of White Sox brass heap frequent praise on the job Renteria has done in his two years, describing him as an important part of player development and of establishing a culture hoped to spread throughout the organization.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that Girardi's decade-long tenure in the Bronx came to an end amid suggestion that he was unable to connect with his young players. It's unknown how much of a realistic concern that would be for any team thinking about hiring him. But the recently fired Chili Davis believed that very issue was part of the reason his time as the Cubs' hitting coach came to an end. And there are few teams out there younger than the White Sox.

Again, it's just speculation for now. But if for some reason one or both Chicago teams don't hand out new contracts to their current managers, perhaps Girardi would be interested in an opening on either side of town.

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

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

A few weeks after we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the offseason, 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.