Zo: 'It's the big leagues of the big leagues'

Veteran reflective before final home game at Wrigley Field

September 22nd, 2019

CHICAGO -- planned on soaking in every moment that came with Sunday's game at Wrigley Field. The veteran has been a key member of one of the greatest eras of Cubs baseball, and he took the field against the Cardinals knowing it might be his last home game with the historic franchise.

Zobrist -- a free agent this coming winter -- has not taken his time on the North Sider for granted.

"It's the big leagues of the big leagues," Zobrist said on Sunday morning. "That's the way the fans make you feel here, the front office, the organization, the way everything's run. It's the top of the top. It's hard to beat the experience of being a Chicago Cubs player, especially when you walk out on that field."

The question on everyone's mind now is whether Zobrist will step onto a baseball field in 2020.

Prior to Sunday's game, the 38-year-old Zobrist did not want to spend any time discussing his future. The Cubs had a game to win and, hopefully, a playoff spot to chase down. That said, Zobrist did say that the past few weeks have shown him that he is capable of playing next season, if he decides against hanging up his spikes.

"I think I could, yeah," said Zobrist, who was named World Series MVP after the Cubs' 2016 triumph over the Indians. "I think, physically, this month helped me know that physically I'm not behind, necessarily. I feel like I can keep up."

That was an important question to answer for Zobrist, who was away from the team and on MLB's restricted list for four months while tending to a family situation. He returned to the Cubs on Sept. 1 and has been manning second base when in the lineup. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has built in days off or pulled Zobrist early in games to help keep the veteran fresh.

If Zobrist opts to play next season, Maddon said the utility man will need that kind of management to get the most out of him.

"I think the fact that he was off for such a long period of time," Maddon said, "is benefiting us right now with his ability to play as often as he has. But, moving forward, man, the bat's still quick. The bat's quick, he's making some nice plays on defense. I think wherever that might be, if the work's parceled out, he can do it."

Zobrist was asked what factors will drive his decision.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm trying not to think about that right now. I've got a lot of time once the season's over to think about that."

Zobrist backs Maddon

Given that Maddon's contract with the Cubs expires after this season, and Chicago's path to the postseason looking increasingly difficult, Sunday might also have marked his final game managing at Wrigley Field.

Zobrist was asked -- regardless of whether the Cubs extend Maddon or go in a different direction -- if he could speak to the manager's legacy on the North Side.

"No comment," said Zobrist, "because I'd like to see that continue."

Maddon said he felt like his relationships with the players in the Cubs' clubhouse could not be stronger than they are at the moment.

"Good or bad, I want to show up the same way on a daily basis. I think I've always done that," Maddon said. "I think the players respect that. Players need that. They don't need to see the hot and cold. ... Right now, me and this particular group could not be tighter."

Baez returning to field soon?

After Saturday's 9-8 loss, which ended with a surprise pinch-hitting appearance by Javier Báez, the Cubs shortstop said he hopes to rejoin the starting lineup on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Báez is still dealing with a healing hairline fracture in his left thumb, and catching the ball without discomfort remains the last hurdle for him to clear.

"The swing looked kind of normal," Maddon said. "The biggest thing is just closing his glove on defense. So if he's able to do that, and he's making great progress, you may see him. But we won't do that until he's comfortable."

Worth noting

• Prior to Sunday's game, Cubs lefty Cole Hamels (left shoulder fatigue) played catch in left field. It remains undetermined whether Hamels will start on the upcoming six-game road trip through Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Hamels has his start skipped on Friday and was replaced in the rotation by rookie righty Alec Mills.

• The Cubs honored long-time Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy before Sunday's regular-season home finale, presenting him with a No. 33 from the scoreboard in recognition of his 33-year run at the keyboard from 1987-2019. Pressy, working his 2,687th consecutive game, also threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

• Congratulations to long-time Cubs beat reporter Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald on his upcoming semi-retirement. Sunday marked Miles' last home game covering the Cubs, who he has reported on for the past 22 years. He has covered baseball for 31 years overall.