Super-utility star understands incredible effect title had on Cubs fans
By Richard Justice
MESA, Ariz. -- Somewhere amid the celebrations and parades and sheer joy of helping the Chicago Cubs win a World Series for the first time in 108 years, Ben Zobrist was struck by something that may stay with him forever.
"You realize it's not really about us," the World Series Most Valuable Player Award winner said Sunday morning.
Isn't that the bottom line in all of this? Isn't that a huge part of why we love baseball as deeply as we do? We remember the players and the games, but we also remember the people with whom we experienced them.
That's true in spades for a team like the Cubs, where the love of the team has been passed from generation to generation for more than a century. In this way, Zobrist realized how much bigger winning the World Series was for so many people.
"I think the biggest thing that stuck out to me was how that championship really connected families and family members," Zobrist said. "For so many people, it was almost like a reunion of sorts.
"Even loved ones that had gone before, a remembrance of times they'd hoped the Cubs would win. It's about families experiencing life together and enjoying the entertainment of watching Cubs baseball together. For them, it's family time."
As the Cubs began a quest to win again, they hope to push the 2016 season into another part of their hearts and minds and to make this season a separate challenge.
"I know what happened last year is pretty unforgettable," Zobrist said. "At the same time, we've got to turn the page and try to do something even more special. To do something like repeating a championship in Chicago would be even greater than what we were able to do last year."
Now, about those spoils that come with winning a World Series.
"Yeah, sure, I got one sitting out in the parking lot," Zobrist said.
That would be the 50th Anniversary Chevy Camaro that Zobrist received for being the World Series MVP. There was meeting President Obama at the White House and then President Trump and Vice President Pence at the National Prayer Breakfast.
There was an appearance on "The Tonight Show," parades in Zobrist's hometown of Eureka, Ill., and another in Franklin, Tenn., where he lives during the offseason.
Have we forgotten anything?
"Three days worth of Disney World in about six hours," Zobrist said. "Just by zooming around and going in back doors and such. In December, [I went to] a Bulls game and the crowd erupting when they put the camera on me. That was such a special moment."
After helping the Royals win the World Series in 2015, Zobrist didn't fully soak in the accomplishment. Instead, he was focused on his free agency and figuring out the next chapter of his career.
This time, though, Zobrist did a nice World Series victory lap, which is pretty much what he'd hoped for when he signed with the Cubs a year ago and decided to make his home near Wrigley Field.
"I do love the old-school nature of being that close to the ballpark, being able to ride my bike to the field at times," Zobrist said. "Just feeling like you're part of the neighborhood. That is a special thing about playing for the Cubs that you really can't get other places."
Zobrist's 12th season in the Majors will begin like a lot of the others. At 35, he's penciled in to be the starting left fielder, but he probably will end up playing all over the field as Cubs manager Joe Maddon divides up the playing time.
That super-utility role is the one that got Zobrist to the big leagues in 2006 with the Rays. Maddon was his manager then as well. Zobrist had played shortstop in the Minor Leagues, but 11 seasons later, he has 664 starts at second, 378 in the outfield, 196 at shortstop and 39 at first, third and designated hitter.
"For me, it was kind of an evolution of my career that I didn't expect or have planned out," Zobrist said. "It's worked out better than I could have expected it to. For other guys to say they want to be that kind of player that I was or am, that to me is a really huge compliment. You do it out of necessity, and then you realize after the fact how valuable it makes you as an individual."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.