ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ben Zobrist hung out in Disneyland territory, waiting to make his Cubs debut, while the Kansas City Royals raised their World Series flag on Sunday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Zobrist won’t be there on Tuesday when the Royals get their championship rings before another World Series rematch with the New York Mets. Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore told Zobrist that he would personally deliver it when their schedules match up at some point this season.
But Zobrist can still picture the sea of blue at Union Station – how Kansas City Mayor Sly James estimated 800,000 fans turned out for that downtown parade last November – and envision what the scene would be like in Chicago.
“That’s the thing that blows your mind,” Zobrist said. “This being not just the town of Kansas City, but people from all around flooded to double the size of the city, basically, in that parade.
“People were hanging out the windows of downtown buildings just waving and going crazy because we were able to bring that to that city. It’s overwhelming. You realize kind of the scope.”
The Cubs wanted Zobrist’s big-picture perspective and all-around game after playing nine years for Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs needed that veteran experience (37 postseason games) and the clutch hitting that helped elevate the Royals during that playoff run (.880 OPS) and neutralize the power pitching that dominated during New York’s National League Championship Series sweep.
The journey begins again on Monday night at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, with the national media hyping this team and Cubs fans having a legitimate belief that: This. Is. The. Year.
“It’s an entertainment thing,” Zobrist said, “but there’s a scope to it where it really gives people a sense of unity and pride and city excitement.
“It’s really something we get a chance to do that we don’t want to take for granted – and make sure that we know that this means a lot to people. Obviously, it means a lot to us, because it’s our (living).
“But to other people, it does mean a lot, and that should drive us to really give everything we’ve got. And make sure that at the end of the day, we know we’re just not playing for ourselves or our families. We’re playing for this city.”
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That’s why Zobrist, who grew up in downstate Illinois, turned down four-year, $60 million offers from the Mets and San Francisco Giants. Zobrist took the four-year, $56 million contract so he could play for Maddon at Wrigley Field when the Washington Nationals proposed similar money in a three-year deal.
The Cubs can’t sell 1908 forever, but it’s a great recruiting pitch to free agents now. After being a rental player for Kansas City, Zobrist wants to start a collection of World Series rings.
“It just makes me that much more thirsty for going back for more,” Zobrist said. “There are other guys in this clubhouse that have done it, too. But no one’s done it in Chicago. That’s what makes this team hungry for a championship.”