Much has been made, both on this site and otherwise, of the Cubs’ pursuit of high-character players through the draft, trades, and free agency. The fruits of those latter two channels were on full display Saturday afternoon as Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Adam Warren, and Rex Brothers took the stage to address their new fans for the first time. It was clear from the start that all five men were impressed with the reception they had received since donning royal blue pinstripes. And judging from the standing-room-only crowd, the fans were just as impressed with their new stars.
It seemed as though each of the players spoke to the devotion of fans who were willing to show up to the Convention in the middle of January, particularly since none of the handful of men had attended such an event with their old teams. Heyward talked about the atmosphere the fans had created at Wrigley during his days as a visiting player and how that had been a big part of what sold him on the Cubs. Zobrist talked about playing for Joe Maddon and about having to be on your toes at all times. Brothers understood the history of the team and the fans and spoke to how awesome it would be to deliver a title. These guys are all obviously prepped for this thing, but I was still impressed by how they carried themselves and how they responded to the various questions.
Speaking of questions, there was a point at which I almost gave up tweeting in order to call PETA, so great was the abuse the fans were inflicting on the dead horse that was the defection of Heyward and Lackey from the Cardinals. Things did get a little weird when one guy asked how the two felt about the back-to-back squeeze plays during the NLDS game, though both said you do what you’ve gotta do to win. It got even more uncomfortable, though, when a guy asked Lackey about yelling at his catcher. To his credit, the maligned hurler said he was yelling at himself, that he’s a competitive guy.
Pressing the issue, the fan continued on about the offering to Javy Baez, saying that everyone in Chicago knew the fastball Baez deposited in the seats was coming. While it wasn’t quite as painfully awkward as the question to Davey Martinez about making nice with Ryno, there were definitely some groans in the crowd. I honestly don’t remember Lackey’s response, but he stayed pretty politically correct and things were diverted elsewhere.
Speaking of starting pitchers, though, Adam Warren is a guy who could have a very interesting future in Chicago. He didn’t really get a chance to address the topic in depth, but he did go on to say that he’d like to be a starter eventually. I had followed the other members of the credentialed media back behind the curtain after the session, but was asked to leave. Ryan Davis, however, was not ushered out (probably because he was smart enough to dress like he belonged there), and was able to pick Warren’s brain a bit more about his outlook on the coming season and beyond.
Ben Zobrist is a guy with whom I’d have liked to have had an extended conversation too. While I’ve always been impressed by him, I came away even more so after hearing him discuss his community activities. He struck me as a very genuine person, someone who is fully aware of the unique situation in which he finds himself and who feels obligated to give back as a result. Zobrist went on to say that he tries to keep most of his charitable work “on the down-low,” but that his main goal is to work with kids to give them the same opportunities he had growing up.
Lackey echoed some of those thoughts, saying that it’s important to get involved in the community. At one point, I almost fell out of my chair laughing at the tweets of some of my Twitter followers, several of whom were recommending some decidedly off-color questions for the former Cardinal. If you know the history of the exaggerated John Lackey jokes many of us share on social media, you can imagine the tone some of the fake questions took. I think I actually missed some of the real questions being asked because I was laughing so hard, but it was definitely worth it.
One question I didn’t miss, however, was about how it felt to be around the real best fans in baseball.
“We chose you,” Heyward responded, drawing a collective awwwwww from the crowd.
Cheesy as it was, I must admit that that was a pretty great response. I mean, sure, these guys are all playing to the crowd a bit, but I don’t think they had to stretch things too far in praising those who showed up to see them. Think about it: if you’ve never really attended an event like that as a player and you walk into a room to see thousands of people packed into a room just to get the chance to ask you a question or hear you talk for a few minutes, that’s got to be a bit of a trip. And again, these guys just seem to get it, to really understand what they’re getting into.
That is a theme that would continue in the Rock Star Rookie panel, which I’ll chronicle next.