MESA, Ariz. -- Having just won a World Series in 2015, Illinois native Ben Zobrist believes he can add an intangible to this year's Chicago Cubs -- a team trying to achieve that same goal for the first time in 107 years.
Zobrist returned home on a four-year contract, while being reunited with manager Joe Maddon, after turning down more money elsewhere. Maddon believes Zobrist has a singular thought entering the 2016 season.
“His motivation is simple,” the manager said Monday from spring training. “He just wants to win. That’s it. Period.”
That aligns well with the team’s goals, considering how long it’s been since the Cubs have won a championship and how close they got last year. Zobrist adds a winning piece and the veteran will speak his mind. Maddon says there’s a “matter-of-factness” about the switch hitter.
“Zo will never get caught up in the crowd,” Maddon said. “He won’t come back and agree with you just for the sake of agreeing with you.”
Zobrist walks into a situation very familiar to him as the Royals had a one-for-all mentality just as the Cubs do. Even though the Cubs employ some young players, they’re no longer rookies trying to find their way in the majors. They’re already established.
Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber don’t have to look over their collective shoulders. They’re here to stay, so along with the veterans they can concentrate on the same goals Zobrist achieved last year. This is an important point. The Cubs' young players can focus on the team much more than the individual, which may not have been the case last year simply because it's human nature.
“In K.C., these guys were focused on one thing,” Zobrist said. “Let’s get back to the World Series and win it. It didn’t matter who did it. They got along very well. What I learned, it was a group of different individuals that came together for one purpose.”
The Cubs have a similar feel to them and Maddon is quick to point out the money and glory will come for young players if the team is winning.
“When you get to that point where you feel like you belong here, then you really shift to ‘all I want to do is win,’” Maddon said. “The money is going to be there. They’re smart enough to know that.”
Zobrist espouses that win-first attitude and credits Maddon for teaching him the five stages for a player. Surviving in the big leagues is Stage 1, while caring only about winning is Stage 5. Zobrist thinks the Cubs are already there.
“This team already believes where we’re going to be at the end, but we have to go about our business and give it everything we have now,” he said. “They’re young, have had some success and they want to win. If we all win together, this is going to be good for everyone.”
He sounds like Maddon doesn’t he? And it worked for Zobrist, who parlayed his long climb in the majors into a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs this past offseason. He reached his potential thanks to his manager as Zobrist blossomed under Maddon in Tampa Bay once he gained confidence.
Maddon moved him around the diamond while bringing out more power in Zobrist, turning him into an invaluable player. At 34 years old, the former Olivet Nazarene player from downstate Illinois is hoping to lead the Cubs to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
“It’s storied and I love the history,” Zobrist said about the Cubs. “I’m excited about it.”