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World Series MVP Ben Zobrist surprises former teammates as guest ‘coach’ in Cubs camp

Manager David Ross invited the clubhouse favorite to spend a few days at spring training — but not to try out, even though nobody seems quite sure whether Zobrist actually retired.

“He’s here just observing, hanging out with the boys,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Ben Zobrist’s visit to camp.
“He’s here just observing, hanging out with the boys,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Ben Zobrist’s visit to camp.
David Banks/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. — After joking around about it, Cubs manager David Ross decided he’d better make it perfectly clear for anyone listening and for Twitter:

No, Ben Zobrist was not in Cubs camp Tuesday with any intent or even possibility of joining the team again.

“He’s here just observing, hanging out with the boys,” Ross said. “He’s just taking it in here, being around family. It’s nice to have a World Series MVP in the room floating around. That never hurts anybody.”

Zobrist showed up at Ross’ invitation just a few days after another former teammate from the 2016 World Series, John Lackey, hung out with Ross, Jon Lester and some of the other Cubs pitchers.

One big difference: Zobrist doesn’t appear to have officially retired since finishing the final year of his four-year contract with the Cubs last September.

“Maybe he’s trying out,” third baseman Kris Bryant said with a smile after he was surprised to run into Zobrist on Tuesday morning. “He could still play. He’s 100 percent capable. He’s been doing it for so long. I don’t know his plans.”

The popular Zobrist, who spent nearly four months away last year dealing with marital and family issues, didn’t put on a uniform Tuesday (as Lackey did) but is expected to be on the practice fields in uniform as a guest instructor/voice for the rest of the week.

He wasn’t available to reporters Tuesday.

“Just seeing him now and how relaxed he is makes me happy,” Bryant said.

Drop the mic?

Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were instant hits on national TV when they spent Monday’s spring game mic’d up for the ESPN broadcast, joking and chatting with each other, the broadcasters and Angels manager Joe Maddon while they were on the field and in the dugout.

“It was awesome,” Bryant said. “It was the perfect time to do it. Spring training games are a little more laid-back, relaxed.”

What about the regular season?

“Probably not,” he said. “I’m just thinking, like, someone in the infield doing it and they’re talking and they boot a ball and you lose the game. Imagine that.

“As much as it’s awesome and the fans love it, I just don’t know if it would work. Maybe if you had, like, a coach or someone on the bench, or someone that’s not really involved in the game that day.”

But, Bryant added, “It was one of the most fun games I’ve played in baseball.”

Bullpen notes

Closer Craig Kimbrel makes his Cactus League debut Wednesday against the Reds and is expected to get seven or eight appearances before breaking camp.

• Lefty Brad Wieck, who underwent a catheter ablation last week to correct a heart arrhythmia, has resumed light throwing. He is not expected to open the season on time.