The time has finally arrived for Ben Zobrist to get back on the baseball field.
The 2016 World Series MVP will DH for Class-A South Bend Friday and should play the whole weekend for the Cubs' low-level minor-league affiliate.
After the weekend, the Cubs will make a determination as to what Zobrist's next steps will be, but it could include moving up levels in the system. It will also include some time off in between game action wherein he continues to practice while also working through his personal situation away from the diamond.
Eventually, the Cubs will want the 38-year-old veteran to get some reps against Triple-A pitching before his return to the big leagues, but he's not expected up in Chicago much before the end of August. If he's activated off the restricted list before the end of the day on Aug. 31, he would be eligible for the postseason roster.
While he goes through his minor-league assignment, Zobrist won't play every day, as the Cubs are treating this as something akin to a spring training. When Zobrist returns, he will be getting regular rest with the Cubs, so he doesn't have to ramp up the same way an everyday position player would.
As for his impact when he returns, the Cubs could certainly use his high-contact skill set and professional approach, whether from the leadoff spot or lower in the lineup. The team is still searching for impactful play from second base, so there's currently a clear avenue to playing time for Zobrist.
But there's also a huge lift he could provide simply by walking back into the clubhouse on an every-day basis for the final month of the season.
"We've all said it before - he's been a big part of this team, a big presence," Kris Bryant said. "A veteran guy, just a smile in the clubhouse - you need that sometimes. We certainly have missed him, not just what he does on the field but what he does in [the clubhouse].
"The conversations I've had with him are ones I always take something from. Just extremely calming. You know that he knows what he's talking about. I always take what he says to me to heart.
"It's gonna be really nice to have him back. I look at his locker every day. It's kind of a bummer that we've missed him for so long."
The Cubs also understand it's not fair to pin all their hopes on him as they continue to struggle to find consistency as a ballclub. Even though Zobrist would undoubtedly provide a lift, he alone can't cure all the Cubs' issues.
But this is also a guy that has come up with so many clutch hits over his 14-year career that his mere presence in the lineup can have a calming effect on the rest of the team.
"He's so mature and professional and sets a great example with his preparation and has a lot of wisdom about the game and life because he's been through a lot," Theo Epstein said. "This will be unique because I think everyone will be so happy to have him back.
"If he can get to a point where he can rejoin the team, I think it will provide a real emotional lift for the guys to see him with a happy ending and for him to go out in a way that is befitting of the great career that he's had. That's what we're all shooting for.
"It could be a nice jolt for him to be able to come back, but there's a lot of work left this month for him to be able to do that."
Nobody knows yet how effective Zobrist can be after missing more than half the season and there's no guarantee he even makes it back, but it's certainly worth a shot from the Cubs' perspective to see if he can be an x-factor down the stretch.
"All I keep falling back on is I trust the person," Epstein said. "He would not be attempting this comeback if he didn't think he could play at a high level. We've talked about this - he and I - and he's well aware of everything it takes physically and mentally to prepare - especially at age 38 - to play at this level. So he's been putting the work in and that process will continue this month and then we'll make a good decision.
"He's not going to come back and embarrass himself. If he can't get to the point where he feels like he can play this game at a high level, we'll go in a different direction.
"But full speed ahead, trusting the person. We believe that if this month goes well, he can get himself in a position to come back and help us."