Carlos Zambrano still loves Chicago, fans

CHICAGO -- Looking happy and refreshed, former Chicago Cubs controversial pitcher Carlos Zambrano made an appearance at Wrigley Field on Friday, one day before participating in a charity softball event.

"Every time I come to Chicago it's good to be here and feel the atmosphere of baseball," a smiling Zambrano said before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Zambrano was a polarizing figure during his 11 years in Chicago from 2001-2011 as his tenure ended after former general manager Jim Hendry suspended him after a meltdown in Atlanta when he told Cubs coaches he was retiring.

"I don't play anymore," Zambrano joked. "It's not my fault. No one can complain to me."

Zambrano hasn't officially retired, but he's not exactly working his way back into pitching shape.

"I was playing catch the other day after five months," he said. "I felt like I was throwing a rock ... I think I can (still) hit."

Zambrano's time with the Cubs was mixed with success and plenty of controversy. From 2003 to 2008 he won at least 13 games a season but fights with teammates and other volatile moments on and off the field highlighted his tenure. There were a few Gatorade buckets that felt Zambrano's anger. But all that is in the past for him.

"Hundred twenty wins, good ERA, beside a bad episode, I love this town," Zambrano said. "I love the fans and this team."

We're not sure which "bad episode" he's referring to but despite Zambrano's checkered history with the Cubs he seems welcome within the organization. That's not the case for former Cub Sammy Sosa, who lives in the same city as Zambrano.

"Haven't talked to him in a while," Zambrano said. "I know he's in Miami."

There's still not a clear picture as to why Sosa isn't welcomed back. He had controversies as well but never fought teammates as openly as Zambrano did. Owner Tom Ricketts has said in the past that some mending of fences has to be done before there's a Sosa return.

As for Zambrano, he's not exactly following the Cubs but claims he'll be there when they "go to the World Series." He knows of their young talent.

"The other day I saw (Jorge) Soler," Zambrano said. "I saw him take an at-bat against (Jonathan) Broxton in Cincinnati. I liked what I saw, but I'm not a hitting coach."

Zambrano is content to "play golf and raise my kids" in Miami but is glad to be participating in the Larry A. Pogofsky Charity Softball Challenge on Saturday in Schamburg. He says he'll play catcher.

"I don't like to lose, remember," Zambrano declared with a wink.