The last time Derrek Lee was at Wrigley Field, it was 2011 as a Pittsburgh Pirate, a year after the Cubs traded him to Atlanta for prospects on the cusp of a rebuilding process that’s still taking place.
Unlike Kerry Wood, who ended his career by walking off the Wrigley mound to a roaring ovation and his son jumping into his arms, Lee’s departure was without even a simple farewell since it occurred midseason. Kind of a raw deal for a player who spent most of his seven seasons in Chicago as the Cubs' best hitter, including an MVP-caliber year in 2005.
“The way Kerry got to go out, not many guys get that,” Lee said before Woody’s Wiffle Ball Classic, a celebrity wiffle ball game that benefitted the Wood Family Foundation Saturday at Wrigley Field. “Obviously I [had] a little bit different circumstance. I don't think we expect anything like that. [But] who wouldn't want that kind of reception?"
[Kerry Wood: Life Changer]
Saturday, Lee got a nice welcome back from the fans in Wrigley’s bleachers, who again chanted “D-Leeeee!” along with the names of a handful of former Cubs who played in the charity event.
Moises Alou, Todd Walker, Michael Barrett, Glendon Rusch, Scott Eyre and Ramon Martinez all returned to Wrigley for what became a mini Cubs reunion. Rusch, a pitcher who hit three home runs in his career, whacked a three-run walk-off homer to give the blue team a 13-12 win against the red team.
The ballplayers weren’t the most famous people on the field. Celebrities at the event included Matthew Perry, George Wendt, Jenny McCarthy and Bill Murray, who hit a home run to lead off the game and waltzed around the bases swaying with his arms in the air.
“It really hasn’t been done,” Wood said about the idea to have a wiffle ball game as a charity event. “You just get to come out and be a kid again on Wrigley Field.”
For Lee, it was also a chance to see old teammates and visit the place where he spent most of his career.
"Florida, winning that World Series, that's what you play for,” Lee said. “But my seven years here in Chicago was really where I felt I kind of came into my own as a player. My family got to experience this city with me. This place has a lot of special memories for me."
[RELATED: As Cubs build 'The Core,' Kris Bryant's making a good first impression]
Now, Lee is living in his home state of California and enjoying time with his family. But he can see himself getting back in the game, possibly in an administrative role.
"Definitely [had] thoughts,” he said. “Maybe a front office, special assistant type position. I'm keeping my options open. I'm not planning on anything right now, but I want to keep doors open."
He admits that he doesn’t follow the Cubs all that closely but says he still pulls for them.
“I'll be so happy when they finally do cross that hurdle [and win the World Series],” he said. “That's why people come here. It's a great city, but guys want to be on that team, to be the first one [since 1908] to win a championship."
Lee didn’t hit any homers in the event’s home run derby -- which Barrett won -- but he found his old form during the game, at one point scalding a ball that took a sharp turn mid-air and nearly found the head of a kid who joined her celebrity parent on the field.
[MORE: Cubs think Samardzija will block out all the noise about contract]
With Lee as their regular first baseman and No.3 hitter, the Cubs had their most successful decade in nearly half a century. When does Lee expect the Cubs to be winning again?
"Honestly, I don't know. That's a tough question,” he said. “I know they're rebuilding right now, putting some money back in their pockets. I'm sure they have some eyes on free agents a couple years out. Theo [Epstein] is a smart guy. He didn't come here not to win. So he has a plan, and he'll turn it around quick."