MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist drove to work on Sunday morning in his World Series MVP car, a 50th anniversary edition gray convertible Camaro he parked in the players’ lot outside the Under Armour Performance Center. Even on a star-studded Cubs team that clearly enjoyed the spoils of winning, Zobrist popped out as someone who understood what this meant in Chicago and why these opportunities shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“The surreal moments,” Zobrist said, “were obviously being on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ and getting to do about three days worth of Disney World in about six hours – just by zooming around and going in back doors and such – to in December going to a Bulls game and the crowd basically erupting when they put the camera on me.
“Getting to go to the White House and meet President Obama and the first lady at the time. And then a few weeks after that, I got to go to the National Prayer Breakfast events and meet a whole bunch of congressmen and senators and then shake the hand of President Trump and Vice President Pence.
“Being put in arenas that you’re not used to being put in – just because you were able to do something as an athlete – is pretty special. It’s special to know that you were able to do something that made a lot of people happy.”
Not bad for a small-town kid from downstate Illinois who never got drafted out of high school and ranked 16th on Baseball America’s list of the Houston Astros’ top prospects after the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Zobrist then had to spend parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level before really establishing himself with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, waiting until his age-28 season to get more than 200 at-bats.
During the interview, Zobrist asked a group of reporters to move with him away from his locker, so that Albert Almora Jr. could have some space and not deal with the overflow crowd after an abbreviated workout limited by the rain in Mesa. Within the clubhouse, Zobrist is respected for his meticulous preparation, willingness to play all over the field and nerves of steel in the playoffs. That’s why the Cubs gave Zobrist a four-year, $56 million contract after watching him help the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series.
“It doesn’t feel like a three-peat to me,” Zobrist said. “Every year is new. And you’ve got to kind of forget about last year, to a certain degree. I know what happened last year is pretty unforgettable. But at the same time, we’ve got to turn the page and try to do something even more special.
“Everybody was super-hungry to make it happen last year. We have to push each other to realize it’s going to be even harder this year. For us to be able to do something like repeating a championship in Chicago would be even greater than what we were able to do last year.”
Zobrist decided to live close to Wrigley Field to maximize time with his family during the season and experience the city. In another surreal, only-in-Chicago moment, fans swarmed his North Center home after the Cubs returned from Cleveland, lining up around the block to say thanks and get a moment with the World Series MVP.
“My neighborhood was really respectful,” Zobrist said. “They were awesome all year, just kind of (recognizing) that’s our home (and) being neighbors. And then after we won – the day after we came home – I was playing outside with my kids and some of the neighborhood kids were like: ‘Oh, man, we watched you (on TV). Hey, would you sign something?’
“I’m like: ‘You know what, I didn’t do it all year, I’ll do it.’ So I started signing for a few of them. And the next thing I know, people from surrounding neighborhoods heard and started coming over.
“Just to go on the record: That’s not happening all year long this year.”
Buckle up, Bulls fans. The trade deadline is four days away and the potential for a blockbuster trade involving the Bulls appears to be on the table.
That's according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, who said on his Woj Report on Saturday night that the league's biggest trade deadline story will be Butler, the Bulls and the Celtics.
"There's no question," he told The Vertical's Chris Mannix, "this trade deadline, the potential of a Boston-Chicago deal for Jimmy Butler, I think it will loom over the entire week.
"These teams have engaged on the potential of this trade. They have not gotten far down the road on it. There still needs to be some alignment within the Bulls organization - from ownership to managament - that they want to make a deicison to enter a full rebuild.
"But the potential of this deal really illustrates, certainly the State Farm Right Combo, because these are two teams who have exactly what the other wants."
The Bulls, of course, have arguably a top-10 player in the NBA and someone who could put the Celtics in position to dethrone LeBron James in the East; James' Heat and Cavaliers have won the East the last six seasons. Butler's having yet another career year, averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 36.6 minutes. Adding him to a backcourt with Isaiah Thomas would certainly shake up the Eastern Conference and make the Celtics a legitimate threat.
The Celtics "have been hoarding young assets" ever since they dealt Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. Boston has the right to swap picks with the league-worst Nets in the 2017 draft, and they have Brooklyn's first-round pick outright in 2018.
They also have young talent in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jae Crowder, who all could be used in any combination as part of the deal.
But as Wojnarowski points out, that Nets pick is the key to the deal, especially in a 2017 class that touts a host of potential franchise point guards.
"I don't think Chicago could get both (2017 and 2018 draft picks), but that is the beginning point of a deal with the Bulls for Jimmy Butler because they can, in this superstar-laden 2017 Draft, potentially get a star point guard to replace Derrick Rose," he said. "And get other assets to start them down the road on a rebuild."