CHICAGO -- Just in time for his 35th birthday on Thursday, Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist has found the baseball fountain of youth. Batting at perhaps the best level of his career, the .346 hitter sat down for a question-and-answer session, starting with what he’ll do on his special day, which falls on an off-day. He claims that has never happened before.
What’s the perfect thing to do on your birthday? It’s on an off-day this year.
Ben Zobrist: My favorite day is relaxing at home with family and friends. I don’t know what [Thursday] might look like because my family might have plans I don’t know about. It’s really just a nice breakfast with family, probably with some syrup involved. A little physical activity with my kids, then maybe a bike ride and a chill night at home.
OK, let’s get right to it. You’re as hot as anyone in baseball right now. You have answered this a bunch of times, but what has been the key for you during this run you’ve been on for three or four weeks now? You’ve been on fire.
BZ: I found some mechanical cues that really help me stay on time and see the ball well and help me feel prepared for the day. When I’m at the plate, I’m not thinking about what I’m trying to do with the bat -- I’m thinking about what the pitcher is trying to do with the ball. If you’re free of mechanical thoughts and free of knowing that your body and bat are going to be in the right position at the right time, you can freely focus on the ball. It’s a great feeling.
Any superstitions during this hot stretch?
BZ: Nothing that’s different than the past six or seven years. Everything is the same, except I do wear these W [win] socks after we win, but that might not have to do with my streak. Nothing is different.
What can’t you do at 35 that you could do at 25?
BZ: I can’t take 200 hacks in the cage before the game. Not because I’ll get tired, but because I’ll hurt myself! I can’t do that. I might get injured. I have to regulate my work and know I can only do so much without hurting myself.
You seem to be a student of this game. Assess a guy such as Kris Bryant. He’s hot as well. What makes the Rookie of the Year so special?
BZ: He’s obviously physically gifted and advanced for his age, but I think what sets him apart is his desire and mental ability to pursue the game. They [the young guys] are like sponges. They’re always trying to work and get better and figure out new things.
It’s your first season playing behind Jake Arrieta. You’re at second base. What do you see when he’s at his best?
BZ: I see late movement in the bottom of the zone. Scary. And it’s coming from up top with power. Even when I faced him, I always remembered it having good late movement. I just don’t remember him placing it as well as he has here.
You know Joe Maddon better than anyone. What do you like best about him?
BZ: I like that he doesn’t just accept things the way they are. He’s always trying to improve.
Now that we’re seven weeks into the season, do you have any doubts that the elements are here for a championship?
BZ: Definitely no doubts. We have what it takes, but you have to play good, executed baseball at the right times. When the pressure is on, you have to play your best, and so we haven’t really had a lot of pressure yet. Now is a good time to learn about ourselves, coming off a rough stretch for the last week-and-a-half.
Isn’t this the grind part of the season? The euphoria of the first month and your record has worn off.
BZ: Yeah, the honeymoon is over. The weather has turned, and we’re into the grind. And the other thing we’re finding is pitchers are bringing their best against us because they know who they’re facing. These teams are showing up to play us.
So there’s no doubt in your mind that the Chase Andersons of the world and those guys are all upping whatever it is when they face you?
BZ: No doubt in my mind. They know it’s a greater task then some other starts they’ve had. They have to show up. They’re not taking this lightly, like they might some others.