Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Ben Zobrist and other Cubs are truly at home at Wrigley Field

RECOMMENDED READING


CHICAGO — It was a step back in time for Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist.

Before a recent game, the former Rays standout hopped on his bike in his uniform, with his glove in hand and wearing black P.F. Flyers, and rode to Wrigley Field.

"I just wanted to get that feeling," he said. "It's that feeling of you're riding to the sandlot like a kid. This place makes you feel like a kid."

Zobrist's ride a few weeks ago became an Internet sensation after his singer-songwriter wife, Julianna, posted video and a picture of him on a bike ready to leave on her Instagram account. It also fit the life-is-fun theme preached by former Rays manager Joe Maddon that has included onesie-wearing plane rides and zoo animal visits for a team that has rolled into the postseason.

Living near the workplace is one of the unique attractions of playing in a vibrant neighborhood like Wrigleyville. For the players and staff who take advantage, it means almost nonexistent commutes, more time with family and a chance to mingle with the surroundings in a way that might not be possible in other cities. For residents, well, you might have a Cub living next door.

In a sense, it puts a different spin on the term "friendly confines." Zobrist, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta all live in the neighborhood. So does president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. And general manager Jed Hoyer is just a few minutes' drive away, in Lincoln Park.

"I think guys love that," Hoyer said. "I think the neighborhood feel is great. The families like it. They can walk with their kids to the ballpark. The lifestyle stuff definitely sells a little bit."

For Zobrist, it was a big selling point when he signed with the Cubs in the offseason. The native of central Illinois and his family live about a mile from Wrigley in a home with a miniature basketball court and play area outside for their three young children.

Zobrist often takes his bike to the ballpark, though that ride in uniform was a first. But the biggest benefit is the extra time at home. When he played in other cities he had to leave around 2 p.m. for a night game. Now? Sometimes as late as 4.

"It's just a special thing," Zobrist said. "They're never going to make another venue like this in professional sports where it's basically in a neighborhood. And because of that, it has such a unique feel. I mean, it's honestly baseball heaven on earth."

For Lester, calling the neighborhood home was not the plan.

He lived near Fenway Park for a few years when he played for the Red Sox before buying a house about a half hour away in Newton. When he signed with the Cubs before the 2015 season, he was seeking some separation from home and work so he looked in the suburbs.

But he balked at the idea of sitting in traffic and eventually found a house about a mile from Wrigley. Sometimes his wife will walk to the ballpark, though he drives.

"I love being closer," Lester said. "It's nice, especially when you get in from late road trips and you're two minutes from home."

Hendricks and his fiancee enjoy hitting the shops and restaurants along the Southport corridor a few blocks from the ballpark. This time last year, he could walk the streets without any recognition. But that's starting to change thanks to a breakout season in which he — like Lester — is in the running for the NL Cy Young Award.

"Most of the time, it's middle-aged people coming up wanting to shake your hand, maybe take a picture," said Hendricks, who lived downtown when he came up to the Cubs in 2014. "Shake your hand and really just talk to you for a second — how well the season's going, how much they're enjoying all this time. That's something that you notice is a little different than other places you go, where you find many more autograph seekers."

The neighborhood around Wrigley Field has experienced its share of ups and downs ever since Charles Weeghman's Chicago Whales of the Federal League moved to the ballpark in 1914. It became known as "Wrigleyville" in the 1980s when real estate agents renamed the area to capitalize on the Cubs' popularity, and it is undergoing another transformation thanks to a multiyear renovation to the ballpark and its surroundings by the Ricketts family.

Video boards, new bleacher sections and a state-of-the-art home clubhouse have already been added. An office building is being constructed outside the ballpark and a hotel is going up across the street.

For all the bars and restaurants and construction and game-day crowds, there still are plenty of quiet tree-lined streets nearby for a small-town feel in a bustling metropolis.

It's something longtime Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster noticed when he joined the team in 2004 and moved into the neighborhood. He could walk home after a game, see people playing cornhole in their yard and stop to have a beer with them.

"There's something really special about being a Chicago Cub and to be in the neighborhood and see the passion behind all the people, from bar owners to a coffee shop to whatever it is — they really support their team and love their team," said Dempster, who works in the front office. "And there's a mutual feeling. I felt the same way about the people in the neighborhood, the businesses. The environment was great."

Comments
Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of n...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

The Rays completed the reorganization of their coaching staff by giving Rocco Baldelli the title of major league field coordinator.In being promoted from first-base coach, Baldelli will implement ideas and information from the staff, while assisting ...
Published: 11/17/17
Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays were banking on pitcher Alex Cobb declining their one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer based on the lure of a longer-term and more lucrative deal elsewhere as a free agent.With that decision official Thursday, now the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

LAKE BUENA VISTA — MLB commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t want to talk Thursday about what might happen if the current effort to build the Rays a new stadium at the Ybor City site falls through."I’m more focused on working with the community to figure o...
Published: 11/16/17
A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

Here is a message from RHP Alex Cobb after he officially left the Rays Thursday in declining their one-year, $17.4-milllion qualifying offer to seek a bigger and longer pact elsewhere:"Getting to this point in my career is truly bittersweet."Twelve y...
Published: 11/16/17
UPDATE: Rays to gain draft pick for loss of free agent pitcher Alex Cobb

UPDATE: Rays to gain draft pick for loss of free agent pitcher Alex Cobb

UPDATE, 5:01: Cobb did not accept the offer by the deadline, as expected.DEVELOPING: Sometime before today's 5 p.m. deadline, the Rays will get official word that their $17.4-million slight gamble on Alex Cobb paid off.The Rays made the free-agent ri...
Published: 11/16/17
As he prepares to leave the Rays, how will you remember Alex Cobb?

As he prepares to leave the Rays, how will you remember Alex Cobb?

Presuming Alex Cobb declines the Rays’ one-year, $17.4-million qualifying offer by 5 p.m. today, he has pitched his last game for Tampa Bay.Cobb has received preliminary interest from "lots of teams" already, agent Dan Horwits said. The Cubs and Twin...
Published: 11/16/17
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says progress must continue on new stadium to keep Rays

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says progress must continue on new stadium to keep Rays

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made clear Thursday that identification of a site for a new Rays stadium is merely the first step for area leaders to show they want to keep the team long-term and that there needs to "consistent forward movement" on the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday that the team is "genuinely excited" about the proposed Ybor City site for a new stadium and more than "cautiously optimistic" the project can be completed. But ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17

Rays journal: No big deals at GM meetings, but possible groundwork laid

By MARC TOPKINLAKE BUENA VISTA — Rays officials left the GM meetings without making any big deals — such as trading Alex Colome or Chris Archer to the Cardinals — but more knowledgeable about the possibilities. "Expectations were to utilize these few...
Published: 11/15/17