Ben Zobrist is back, sort of. The 38-year-old reported to two different Cubs teams Friday, swinging through Chicago to get a once-over from team medical staff before heading to low-A South Bend. Questions about when and whether he’d return from a leave to deal with his divorce have persisted and his absence has been notable in both the lineup and the clubhouse.
While that void isn’t to blame for the inconsistent brand of baseball being played by the Cubs this season, it’s very possibly a factor. Which is why just being back in any capacity could give the Cubs a boost, though looking to Zobrist as some sort of savior would be a mistake.
The Cubs have seemed off somehow this season, part of which could well be a function of missing one of their leaders. Far from the boisterous rah-rah type, Zobrist is a lead-by-example guy who offers a steadying presence for a team that has been far too mercurial at times.
“We’ve all said it before – he’s been a big part of this team, a big presence,” Kris Bryant told Tony Andracki from Wrigley. “A veteran guy, just a smile in the clubhouse — you need that sometimes. We certainly have missed him, not just what he does on the field but what he does [in the clubhouse].
“The conversations I’ve had with him are ones I always take something from. Just extremely calming. You know that he knows what he’s talking about. I always take what he says to me to heart.”
Being back in the game should be good for Zobrist as well, a way to heal emotionally and perhaps find closure. He certainly seemed to be in good spirits as he spent several minutes signing autographs and taking selfies with fans in South Bend Friday evening. The box score showed 0-for-3 with a strikeout and walk at the end of the game, but the results are of little importance at this point.
Even if Zobrist doesn’t come back around to being the same integral force on the field, he can have a positive impact on the Cubs down the stretch just by being around. That may not seem like much, but they need any edge they can get at this point.