Ben Zobrist adjusting to new normal with Cubs

Tony Andracki
NBC Sports Chicago

It's a brand new world for Ben Zobrist.

At least from where he's sitting.

For the last two years, Zobrist has been a go-to guy in the Cubs locker room for teammates and media members alike. He always kept things real, providing thoughtful answers and advice.

Zobrist predicted how tough the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching would be on the Cubs' young lineup and sure enough, the last two falls provided the proof in consecutive National League Championship Series.

This is the guy who got the biggest hit in Cubs history and won back-to-back World Series in 2015-16.

Yet he still doesn't really think of himself as a leader or the Gandalf of the locker room with all the answers.

"I have played a lot of games in the big leagues, but I have by no means got it all figured out. I don't think anyone ever will," Zobrist said recently in a sit-down interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "This game has a way of continuing to challenge us to grow no matter what your age is.

"So I still have a long ways to go and I really look forward to learning all the things I need to learn this year as a teammate and player on the field from all of the people around me."

Zobrist will be 37 on May 26 and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, where he admitted he didn't truly feel healthy until the last week of the regular season.

Between back and wrist issues, aging and the typical wear-and-tear of playing into November the previous two seasons, 2017 was a constant struggle for Zobrist.

As the Cubs try to become the new MLB team with even-year magic, Zobrist's role on the field for the team is a true unknown.

How much will he play? When he does play, how effective will he be?

The answers will probably be in direct correlation - if he's effective, he'll play more - but that's not the only definition of his true value.

Gone are the days where the Cubs are counting on Zobrist to be a key cog in their offense. And if he does fill that role again, it's probably not good news for the team given the expectations surrounding Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and others lending offensive support to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

But Zobrist's impact on the 2018 Cubs will go far beyond the back of his baseball card.

Even if he doesn't think of himself as this leader or voice of reason, it's clear the Cubs' young position players view him as the baseball version of Dumbledore.

"He's there whenever I have a question," Addison Russell said. "But just seeing him go about his business in the clubhouse, it's a really cool thing to see.

"His work ethic is awesome - it's something I strive to be better with and have a better work routine. He does a few things here or there that I don't see a lot of people doing.

"He's an older player and he's still playing. So definitely picking a brain like that is beneficial for me."

Javy Baez echoed those sentiments.

"I used to go to his locker and talk about his routine," Baez said. "He was doing the same routine the whole year, from spring training. That's really impressive to watch and I know playing a lot of baseball and repititions, it's not easy. We've been talking a lot."

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