Cubs

Why baseball means even more on Mother's Day

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AP

Why baseball means even more on Mother's Day

I still remember the way my childhood mitt felt on my hand.

It was "signed" by former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy, which makes absolutely no sense for a kid who grew up in suburban Chicago as a Cubs fan. Plus, I was only six when Murphy retired from baseball and almost his entire prime was before my lifetime, so it's not even like I was capable of truly appreciating him as a player.

But I refused to get a new glove. It was far too big for me in Little League, but I insisted on using it and must've looked pretty comical as an undersized kid playing middle infield in T-Pitch with a mitt about three sizes too big.

I loved that glove. Every time I looked at it or put it on, it reminded me of going out in the backyard with my mom to play catch or play "The Inning Game" where I pretended I was all nine fielders desperately trying to get a bunch of invisible runners and hitters out.

My dad spent a lot of time coaching my Little League teams and supporting me even on the teams he didn't coach, but my true passion for the game of baseball originated from my mom.

She was — and still is — a diehard Cubs fan. To the point where I had to talk her off the ledge a bit last week during the Cubs' recent struggles.

Mother's Day is always a baseball barometer of sorts for me each spring. It was the end of my college club seasons and in the years since I've graduated has now been simultaneously a checkpoint in the MLB season and a harbinger to my own summer season about to begin.

Every year, I request off work for Mother's Day — even when the Cubs are in town.

I wasn't at Wrigley Field for Javy Baez's walk-off homer to finish off a sweep of Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals last year. I was sitting on the couch at my mom's house watching her run in from preparing food in the kitchen and do a little fist pump, just a few feet from the pink Mother's Day bat my sisters and I got her years earlier as a gift:

Baseball isn't just another sport to my mom and as a byproduct, it's not just another sport to me.

I've made baseball not only my career, but my life. This summer will mark my first season playing the game as a 30-year-old, one of the goals I set for myself when I was still using that Dale Murphy glove. Next step: Playing at age 40.

My mom just got a new job this month and one of the first things she told me about it was her hours are more flexible and the office is closer to my summer baseball field, so she hopes to be able to make nearly every game as she has every summer since I started playing Little League.

Ms. Andracki serves as "Team Mom," keeping the scorebook on a nightly basis and she even showed up with Mondos last year in the playoffs as a throwback to a simpler time.

It was my mom who taught me how to keep score and helped me understand the game that has grown into the backbone of my life.

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For my extended family, Mother's Day is the day we all get together to pay tribute to the all the moms.

For me, Mother's Day is an opportunity to honor the woman who shaped my career, my hobbies, my life. 

And the best way to honor my mom is with baseball, particularly Cubs baseball.

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.