By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) No smashing. No yelling. No cursing in Spanglish. No kidnapping a comely blonde bleacher bummette and climbing to the top of the manual scoreboard as military and police aircraft fire upon him.
We won’t witness any of that this week at Wrigley Field while the Miami Marlins are in town.
Excuse me—we won’t witness any of that from Carlos Zambrano. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen may smash, yell, and/or curse. Probably will, really. One of Guillen’s kids might do the scoreboard thing.
But Chicagoans were introduced Tuesday to a different Zambrano, a reformed Big Z. A recovering Zambranoholic.
“I still love these fans,” the former Cubs ace said. “Once again, I apologize for any inconvenience and anything I did. The only thing I wanted to do in Chicago is win and I really apologize to the Cubs fans and the people here who treated me good.’’
That’s nice. Zambrano didn’t have to do that. He could have taken the Ozzie route and stirred the pot the moment a Chicago microphone was near him.
But this is the new Big Z. He’s accepted the things he cannot change, has courage to change the things he can, and has wisdom to know the difference.
‘‘Zambrano has been one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with,’’ said Miami pitcher Mark Buehrle. If there is one Marlins member from whom an endorsement should be sturdy, it’s the former White Sox mound stalwart.
Thing is, though, I ain’t buying it.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe Zambrano when he says he regrets his behavior as a Cub. I believe he has been a good teammate in South Beach.
I also believe a Labrador’s regret when it hides from you after having an accident on the kitchen floor and later slowly approaches you on the couch an puts its head on your lap, looks up at you with those heart-melting eyes, and communicates that typical Labrador “Hey, we’re cool, right?”
I also know that Labrador at some point will run through and destroy the screen door.
This “new” Zambrano is actually nothing new. I’ve heard more Big Z apologies than denials from ladies at last call.
But if history tells me anything, it’s just a matter of time before he loses it. Maybe it’s a media blow up. Maybe an argument with a teammate. Maybe a vision quest inside that home run display at Marlins Park.
“The problem was not with the Cubs,’’ Zambrano said prior to Tuesday’s game. “The problem was Carlos Zambrano. That’s why Carlos Zambrano is now with the Miami Marlins. If you have to blame somebody, blame me.”
Third person references, eh? A tell-tale sign of Carlos Zambrano still being drunk on himself like he’s been for his whole pitching career. When Chicago finally had enough of him and he was shipped to Miami, perhaps that was the wakeup call, or as alcoholics call it “a moment of clarity.”
As a Zambranoholic—probably the only Zambranoholic—he never realized how much he was hurting people while in Chicago, and enabler Jim Hendry giving him second chance after second chance and twelfth chance certainly didn’t help the pitcher’s addiction to himself.
Now he has a Zambranoholism sponsor in Ozzie Guillen, a guy all too familiar with being drunk on oneself. Surely Ozzie has counseled Big Z, let him know that his antics have to all be in the past, and if he’s ever feeling an emotional implosion coming on, call Guillen and he will create a distraction in the media, something Guillen has long been a master at in order to deflect attention away from struggling players.
But a Zambranoholic is never “cured.” There are no “former addicts,” just ones still fighting addiction, no matter how long they’ve been clean. And no matter how long that cleanliness has been, a relapse is always looming an infielder error away.
And what helps bring on a relapse? Hard times. A sub-.500 record and fourth place in the NL East might qualify as such. If a pattern of 11 quality starts but only five wins continues for Zambrano, that will have to eat away at him, right?
Why hasn’t a Big Z meltdown happened in Miami yet? “My relationship with the Lord,” says Zambrano.
I can respect that, and I hope religion makes him a better guy. Every time I hear an otherwise notorious athlete mention his faith, though, I’m reminded of the classic headline from The Onion, “NFL Star Thanks Jesus After Successful Double Homicide.
Most addicts turn to religion to aide in recovery. Most addicts also slip back into their dark ways. How many sky points has Zambrano made walking off the mound in his career?
He said Tuesday that he didn’t want to pitch at Wrigley this year. That would probably be too painful, too real. Boos would be inevitable. If he started giving up hits and then runs, the taunts—the demons—would chip away at the new black, orange, blue, yellow, silver exterior.
The beast would come back out.
A Zambranoholic needs to take it one day at a time. He’ll likely make it through his 2012 trip to Chicago just fine. But the summer days in Miami will only get hotter, stickier, and more oppressive.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.