One of the Cubs big off-season additions joined David Kaplan and Dan Dakich last Wednesday on ESPN 1000.
Ben Zobrist is getting ready for his first Spring Training with the Cubs and spent time talking baseball, family, Joe Maddon and his new team on Kap & Company.
On a conversation David Kaplan had about the Cubs with a former General Manager of another team, the GM liked the additions of Jason Heyward and John Lackey, but told Kaplan the biggest move the Cubs made in the off-season was signing Ben Zobrist, what do you feel like you bring to this team outside of just being a good baseball player? Are you already a leader on the team?
“I don’t know. I think leadership is something that you have to earn. You earn that with each different team that you are with. You have to prove it every day. You go and you do your work hard and do whatever you can to make the team better. Sometimes that means being vocal. Sometimes it means just being quiet and going about your business the right way. I think as the team gets together in Spring Training a little bit more and we start feeling the comradere of the ballclub and how it fits well, I think the leadership will come. I’m sure the young guys plan to look up to older guys, but I think it’s more important to fit in well with the team and figure out how everybody fits well together. I will provide some leadership as I can, but got to stay healthy, got to take care of my own business and make sure that I’m taking care of my part because this is going to be a really good team.”
“I think even more than that probably, the opportunity to play for my hometown state. I grew up in Eureka, Illinois down by the Peoria area and I’m just two hours away … my parents still live down there. They are going to be … they are ecstatic about this opportunity to be close to us and get a chance to come to games and see their grandkids. After that though, the chance to win a championship in Chicago is the driving factor. Even if Joe [Maddon] wasn’t there I would still be really drawn to Chicago because I want to help this team do this. But yeah, the fact that Joe is there, the fact that the team is already good, those things to me just make it so comfortable, make it the perfect fit for me right now.”
On Kaplan being around the team and doing pre- and post-game for almost 25 years and the amount of times he’s seen a player not execute the fundamentals of the game, like advancing runners. Can you talk a little about the difference between winning baseball versus statistical baseball?
“Hopefully they go hand in hand, that’s really what you hope as an organization. That’s what they are trying to do is put the numbers together with the product out there. When it comes down to it, it comes down to execution. We know what we have to do on any given day to win. You’ve got to score more runs than the next guy. The point for us is we’ve got to go out there and execute every little aspect of the game. Joe, it’s his job to strategize what moves we need to make at various parts of the game, but it really comes down to the players that are on the field at that moment when something needs to happen during the game. We’ve got to get it done. I think we’ve got a great mix of guys that have done that for a long time in their career already, know how to do that and we’ve got guys that are willing to learn how to do that, learn how to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the team. We’ve certainly got the guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, drive runs in and do a lot of exciting things too. It’s just a great mix I think of what makes a good team. The numbers on paper right now look great, but it’s still going to come down to us executing. There are a lot of little steps that happen before we get to the point we’re going to win.”
On how important is a manager to the success of a team, how many games can a manager affect?
“That’s a good question. I wish I knew that. I bet all of the GMs wish they knew that too because then they could just say how much they want to pay guys based on that. I think the biggest thing that they affect more than anything is the attitude and the perspective of the team. There are just guys like Joe that have this ability when things aren’t going well to stay positive because that’s going to happen. We’re playing the longest season in pro sports, you know, so there’s going to be dips, there’s going to be times when you’re struggling and when you’re having trouble believing who you are as a team. And Joe just has an ability to stay consistent during those times. That consistency is so important to allowing a good team to continue to be good even when they don’t feel good at the moment. I think those kinds of things are not quantifiable but they make a huge difference over the course of a season. You saw it last year with these young guys that come up. Not everybody has confidence right away, but Joe has the ability to instill confidence in young guys and instill confidence and faith in a team when they might not even have it themselves. You have to have that at the leadership standpoint. Even Ned [Yost] with the Kansas City Royals this last year, just watching how he handled our struggles in September as a team and then as we started into the playoffs, his ability to help the team focus and be in the right frame of mind going into the post-season was the key to us being able to play well and win games in the post-season. The manager really does make more of a difference than you can see on paper. It really happens in the chemistry and the comradery and the attitude and perspective of the team.”
On Zobrist never playing in a market and for a fan base like the Cubs … Kaplan shared the story from 2008 when the Cubs started 0-2 and he received phone calls on his show from fans insisting they blow up the team and fire the manger. The Cubs won 97 games, the most in the National League and the division title. The Cubs “have an exceptionally bipolar fan base.” Are you prepared for all of that?
“[Laughs] Oh man, I don’t know. You know what? I think from a player’s perspective we’ve heard it. It may not have been to the same magnitude but you’ve heard the naysayers your whole career, at various times in your career. That’s okay. That’s what a fan is allowed to do. For us, we’re not allowed to do that. We can’t be thinking that way after two games. We have to try and stay focused and always believe that we’re going to turn it around even though it looks terrible. And that’s the only way it can operate and continue to be the kind of player and person you want be in the end. Even if things don’t work out the way you want them to be, in the end you still have to have that singular focus that we’re going to turn this thing around. We’re going to make this thing end up great. I don’t know what to expect, but I hope that they think that we are the greatest thing in the world and there’s only a few hiccups in the middle of the season that make them even doubt that for a second. As far as being the greatest team ever, I hope we play that well at the beginning, the middle and the end to where people aren’t talking about us not being as good as much as they are comparing us to some of the great teams ever.”
On what he did after the World Series and parade
“Well, we had a baby this past year. That’s what we did. [Laughs] …”
David Kaplan: “So when your wife says … did you have a boy or a girl? Little son or a little daughter?”
Ben Zobrist: “Literally two days after the parade, my wife went into labor and we had a baby. If you can plan it out, that’s the best way to do it. We had a daughter and she’s doing great. We have three kids now. You get busy right away with life things. You get back involved in your community wherever you live. You get back involved with your family more since you’re able to be home more. You just take a break. What we do every year is take a break from the whole baseball life. For at least a month I don’t do anything baseball related. I think you have to do that just to take a little breather and catch your breath and then you can get back in to once you start your workouts in the off-season.”
On changing diapers and just being Ben Zobrist
“The guys that are out there we want to be champions but at the end of the day, we want to be champions at home. If you’re not a champion at home then no matter what you did out there on the field, it really doesn’t matter. I think that’s a majority of guys that’s their main goal. We are not perfect. We’re going to struggle at that at times. We are going to struggle on the field at time because we’re human. Certainly that’s the goal when you come home is to be able to serve your family. Take the trash out, whatever you’ve got to do to love your family.”
On Zorilla and the Hit Doctor
“Zorilla and the Hit Doctor? I am not sure about the Hit Doctor part of it, but I know what Zorilla … Zorilla is my nickname that Joe came up with me at Tampa Bay. We talked a little about this at the Convention. A Zorrilla is … we didn’t know this at the time. The guys were calling me Gorilla Zoe, which is a rapper. I was hitting home runs and they were like ‘Gorilla Zoe.’ And then I didn’t even know that but Joe adapted it to ‘Zorilla’ and then I looked it up on Wikipedia. What’s a Zorrilla? And it’s an African skunk that has one of the most powerful stinks in the world apparently. [Laughs] There might be some correlation there. I’m not sure.”
On his wife, Julianna Zobrist being a singer, using one of her songs as his walk-up music, being heavily involved in his church and giving back to his community, where did that all come from and what type of a charitable endeveor do you maybe want to do in Chicago?
“It stems from my faith in Christ, first and foremost. It also stems from my family life growing up. My parents instilled that in us from the time we were young. At the end of the day, like I said, I think you want to be a champion on the field, but what’s the end point? We want to enhance people’s lives. We want to love other people and encourage them, build them up, give them truth and things they can really grab on to and live their life by. Sports is an entertainment, that’s what it is for all of us. It’s fun. It’s a job for those of us that actually play it. It’s a small part of our lives and our lives are made up of much more. I hope that in Chicago we get a chance to really experience some things as fans as well. I know we’re going to experience the city. My kids and wife are really excited about all of the culture, the art, the history, just the beauty of the City of Chicago. But as far as fans, my wife is going to be doing some shows, some concerts around the area. I’ll get a chance to do some signings and speak and things in the area as much as I can. We look forward to that aspect of getting to know the Chicago fan base as well.”