By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Missing from the Cubs for more than a month, infielder Tommy La Stella returned to Wrigley Field and his teammates on Wednesday.
LaStella refused an assignment to the minor leagues at the end of July. He instead returned home to New Jersey for three weeks, deciding if baseball was what he wanted to do any longer.
One of La Stella’s first moves Wednesday upon being called up from Triple-A Iowa was talk to his teammates. Cubs players, manager Joe Maddon, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were all present.
“I felt it was important they at least had all the information about my side of view and how I got to where I got to,” La Stella said. “These things were personal to me. I felt comfortable relying to them, because those are my guys in there”
The 27-year-old La Stella wasn’t interested in publicly telling his story and what was the motivation was for walking away from the game for a while.
What La Stella did make clear was that his reasons for leaving involved personal feelings toward the game of baseball, confirming there are no issues outside of the lines.
“To be honest with you, that stuff is pretty much between me and them,” La Stella said about the substance of his team talk. “It’s about my injuries and my journey through the game. I understand there will be people out there that will draw their own conclusions. That is fine, because I am not out here to explain anything except to the guys. There are things out there that are personal to me. It’s not like its a cut-and-dried, black-and-white issue.”
The fact that the organization backed La Stella and understood the mental anguish he has felt is noble. La Stella admitted his love for the game was waning — even before the demotion to the minor leagues.
Rather than forcing La Stella into an ultimatum for his career, Epstein opted to let him make a decision and respect it. Epstein admitted that discipline could be the course of action for future situations like this, as it was initially possible for La Stella. However, the Cubs didn’t want to drive him away from the game of baseball for good.
“Theo is obviously a very special guy,” La Stella said. “I was fortunate to have the communication between me and him during this whole process. He understands people, he related to me and treats you like a person. He was talking to me as a guy, not as an employee, which I really appreciated.”
La Stella did say that the Wrigley Field experience was special. He also stated he will understand if some people don’t accept him back on these terms.
“I really don’t know what the perception of all of this is, because I have not listened to or read any comment,” La Stella said. “I know there will be some people who don’t understand or don’t agree. That is fine. As far as the fans go, a couple of difficult personal experiences are not going to outweigh all the incredible stuff I have gotten to see at Wrigley. This is a pretty incredible place and it will take more than a few difficult moments to change that.”
La Stella had to make his own decision and stand by it. Eventually, he returned to the Cubs farm system and got the call-up that was inevitable.
“Yeah it all has changed for me,” La Stella said. “It dates back to last year. For me. it’s not as nearly enjoyable. My at-bats and pursuing for myself all I am doing, I got a taste of that last year. Baseball is a team game played by individuals. For me, that is what kind of detracted my enjoyment of the game in the first place.
“This year for me, it was not about (individual goals). I kind of went back to the way I use to play It in high school or college. When we were going for something collectively as a group, and you can share and enjoy it with your teammates. This year was a lot better for me. Even after the two (injuries).”
In the end, La Stella found peace with his team. He was eager to be back in the Cubs clubhouse as one of the guys after first finding a resolution with the organization.
La Stella gave credit to both Epstein and Maddon for their friendship and support.
“We had nothing but open and honest exchanges,” he said of his bosses. “Things can progress when you aren’t concentrating on just rules, finality and things like that.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.