What's So Big About Z?
He said he would meet the press on Wednesday afternoon but word was he jetted back to Chicago instead. Then the plan was to talk with media types after a pitching cameo Thursday night. He pitched a little but didn't talk at all, using the Iowa Cubs media relations people the way bigshot execs use secretaries to dodge phone calls. The enabling continues.
To his credit, Carlos Zambrano took it upon himself to scribble a few marks of Zorro for unaccountably adoring fans before last night's game in Des Moines. The biggest crowd of the year, nearly 13,000, had assembled, but Zambrano wasn't the only attraction. It also happened to be Casey Blake bobblehead night and Casey Blake is big in these parts. He hails from Indianola, a village not too far south of town.
When the game began Zambrano was sequestered back in the team clubhouse behind the leftfield wall and beneath the Cub Club restaurant. He used the diversion of the weenie race to sneak unnoticed into the Iowa bullpen after the bottom of the 3rd, like a kid returning to class from the principal's office. I swear the breeze picked up and a fleet of threatening clouds spread over the ballpark upon his arrival on the field. What might happen?
He started warming up during the bottom of the 6th and was greeted by an immediate and fairly prolonged standing ovation when he made his way from the bullpen to the mound to pitch in the top of the 7th with the game tied at four. Don't ask me why. After a routine grounder to second retired the first hitter he faced, the second laced a single to left. Then Sam Fuld rescued him with a leaping catch as he banged off the wall in left-center. Carlos acknowledged the support with a gesture in Fuld's direction that was more cheerful than many he's directed at teammate fielders in his angry past. The next batter lined one to left that Ty Wright dived for and appeared to catch only to have it pop loose. The play was a test of the new Zambrano's forebearance but he left the brief argument for others to make on his behalf before going back to work and managing to wiggle out of his shift unscored upon.
He pitched no more in competition but did return to the bullpen and throw for a few more minutes during the top of the 8th. Then he took a seat on the bullpen bench until the side was retired, at which point he waved adieu and walked through the fence back to the sanctuary of the clubhouse.
If the fans turned out in droves to see the incredible shrinking 'Z' the press did not. I was one of just a half-dozen or so scribes who were kept waiting on the outfield side of the clubhouse door while Zambrano was supposedly being fetched for a chat. Then came the explanation that he had left the building, preferring to address his Chicago teammates, the last team he beat, before speaking for public consumption. Fair enough. Minutes later, after the disgruntled pack of writers had dispersed, guess who emerged from the clubhouse under police escort to a waiting car?
I hope the clubhouse messenger got a big tip. God and Tom Ricketts know, the pitcher formerly known as "Big Z" can afford it.