As the saying goes, “What a difference a year makes.” This cannot be more accurate for the Cubs, but especially for Derrek Lee. At this point last year, the Cubs were mired in a losing streak that felt like it would never end. Nothing was working, no one could get on base and Derrek Lee just had to sit and take it. He was powerless in his efforts to help his team as he was rehabbing his broken wrist. Everyone had high hopes for Derrek Lee in 2006. He was coming off an ‘MVP’ caliber season that saw him win his first batting title. He was in the prime of his career and poised to establish himself as one of the premier players in all of baseball. Then there was a ground ball, a mix up and a nasty collision. Derrek Lee’s season was over and in essence so was the Cubs. Eighteen months later he is picking up right where he left off. Many baseball pundits predicted he would never return to his ’05 form. Columnists opined that he would be productive, but called that season a career year. I was never quite sure why so many felt this way especially when I completely disagreed. I started to wonder if my ‘fan goggles’ were getting in the way of my ability to predict performance in an unbiased manner. Five and a half weeks in to the season, it appears I was not hopped up on Cubbie kool-aid in this regards.
Lee is currently hitting .398, with a .479 OBP, he slugging .585, has an astounding 17 doubles and has reached base safely in all 30 of the Cubs games that includes a 15-game hitting streak. It helps that Aramis is hitting well and that Soriano is heating up, but Derrek deserves the bulk of the credit for his numbers. When asked the other day if he was concerned about his lack of power he responded by saying that most of the time homeruns are an accident and that they will come. Here is a superstar in his prime being put against the wall about a lack of power and he responded politely. Plus, given the wind patterns this spring, he has probably hit about 4 or 5 balls that would have been gone any other day of the week.
Derrek Lee is not a normal person; he is an extraordinary athlete with a huge heart. While many other superstars are out endorsing deodorant, cologne or anything else that will bring in the cash, he is marketing cereal and health camps for children. Last fall, as you know, his daughter was diagnosed with an awful disease that causes blindness in one eye. Upon this announcement he then opted to sit out the rest of a lost season to tend to his family, which was the right thing to do. He spent the off-season setting up a charity in her honor named Project 3000, aimed at raising money for research. Along with the help of teammates like Michael Barrett, Project 3000 is off to a great start and will only get better.
2006 is a season Derrek Lee would soon like to forget, and he is doing everything in his power to make that happen in 2007. He is a soft-spoken leader and along with charity-mate Barrett, the unofficial captain of the team. Every time he speaks you see the fire and the desire to win; with every play you see the effort and the will. He is constantly picking up his teammates and providing support. Derrek Lee is the face of this ball club even if you do not see it all that often. The Hendry can spend, Sweet Lou can scream and yell, Alfonso can get the coverage and Carlos can provide the antics, but if you are looking for the heart and the soul of this team, look no further than #25, the Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee.
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Stay Classy Derrek!!