If this seemed a little scripted, well, Carlos Zambrano did have a camera crew filming his conditioning work in the outfield, and following him around the batting cage and Cubs dugout.
Zambrano chatting with Ryan Dempster on Tuesday at Wrigley Field became the perfect made-for-TV moment. The Franchise the Showtime reality show going behind the scenes with the Miami Marlins wont have trouble finding storylines.
It was Dempster who had spoken for the entire organization last August in Atlanta, after Zambrano had cleaned out his locker at Turner Field, saying it was time to look in the mirror: Hes made his bed. Hes got to sleep in it.
That was the point of no return. As much as Theo Epstein publicly played up the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the Cubs, there was virtually no chance of that actually happening. The new regime at Clark and Addison kicked in more than 15 million to make the problem go away.
There never was like any bad feeling (toward my teammates), Zambrano said. They treat me with respect professionally, and every time I see them I say hi to them. Theres no hard feelings, believe me, and the problem wasnt with them. The problem was not with the Cubs. The problem was Carlos Zambrano. Thats why Carlos Zambrano is now with the Miami Marlins.
If you have to blame somebody, blame me. Things didnt work out the last two yearsI accept it. I am responsible for my acts.
Is this The New Z?
Well, Zambrano had the media right where he wanted, baking in the heat and guessing whether or not he was going to talk. He spoke in the third person and about Gods plan. (Even during bad times, Cubs people didnt doubt his faith or devotion to his family.)
But it probably doesnt matter whether or not Zambrano has actually changed. With the Marlins, he can blend into the background. He doesnt carry the weight of a 91.5 million contract or a franchise that hasnt won a World Series in 100-plus years. He can play for Ozzie Guillen, his old friend from Venezuela.
Its fun, Zambrano said. He says all kind of things that make me laugh. Hes very relaxed. Hes very enjoyable. He is very professional. Hes straight (with me). I like people that say things to you in front of you. I dont like people that say something to you and stab you in the back.
Even if no one really took it all that seriously, Zambrano had talked about possibly retiring when this contract expires. But at the age of 31, he appears to have a new lease on life. He says he wants to pitch again next season and looks forward to finishing his career in Miami.
Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle who had watched from across town all those years with the White Sox is a believer.
Carlos is one of the best teammates Ive ever played with, Buehrle said. For all the stuff youve read and seenyou got to have an open mind.
Hes been awesome. Ive had no complaints. Hes been fun in the dugout, on plane rides, in that clubhouse. (He) hasnt had one rant or one time it looks like hes going to blow up. Hes a huge competitor and he wants to win.
So everything that has been reported and been on TV from his years here with the Cubs hes the complete opposite guy, from what Ive seen.
The Cubs once thought of Derrek Lee as the ideal teammate, and Zambrano had to be restrained from him in the U.S. Cellular Field dugout in 2010. That incident pushed Zambrano into anger-management counseling.
Zambrano didnt like talking about it, but admitted the sessions helped. The thing with him was that it came without warning.
In a weird way, the We stinks! rant was Zambranos way of trying to be a leader in the clubhouse.
Heres Zambranos alternate version of history, the way he views himself: I can be a good teammate, but I also can be a guy that some people dont like. Because when I see things that are not right, I come straight to that guy. If I see people who are lazy or people who dont hustle, people doing things they arent supposed to do, I will come to that guy.
Guillen likes bullfighting and has compared himself to a matador. He wants to see more out of Zambrano (5-7, 4.22 ERA), because he remembers a dominant pitcher with the Cubs (125-81, 3.60 ERA).
Off the field, hes been great, Guillen said. Sometimes I want him to go back to being Zambrano. Sometimes. But hes doing what I predicted. Dont forget about what Zambrano did. That guy almost won the Cy Young award here, (went to the) playoffs. He did a lot of good things here, too. He (also) did a lot of bad things, very entertaining things.
In Miami, the pressure isnt the same, and he doesnt have to live up to the Big Z image. To be honest, hes glad he doesnt have to pitch in this series. Maybe some other time.
Good memories I still love these fans, Zambrano said. The only thing that I wanted to do in Chicago is win. I really apologize to the fans, and to the people here who treated me good. I hope they accept my apologies.