Lee: Chicago can be tough place to play

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
11:07
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Derrek Lee will take with him mostly fond memories of his time as the Chicago Cubs first baseman.

"Chicago was my home for seven years," said Lee, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves in August and signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles before this season. "It's a little different moving over to the American League. It's all new to me, but I've really enjoyed it and the city of Baltimore."

[+] EnlargeDerrek Lee
Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIREDerrek Lee is batting .245 for the Orioles this season.
Lee, who was a fan favorite for most of his Cubs career, was booed during prolonged slumps in 2009 and 2010 before being traded to the Braves. Unlike many of his teammates, the fans never made it personal with Lee like they did with Sammy Sosa, Jacques Jones and Milton Bradley.

"I know the city and the passion they have for the team," said Lee, who is batting .245 with one home run and 4 RBIs this season. "I thought it was too much on certain guys. I didn't think it was right. But for the most part it was their passion. That's why guys love playing in this city because you know you are going to play in front of great fans."

Having observed other African-American players having gone through rough times, I asked Lee how he avoided some of the extremist fans.

"I never had any [hate mail]," Lee said. "But I saw it. That wasn't all right. If a guy is not playing well, go ahead and boo him but don't make it personal."

Lee said it was difficult to watch his teammates go through having to deal with some of the hate mail and comments that came their way.

"These were men with families and children who were hearing and seeing these things," Lee said. "No one wants to do badly in the field. And especially not to have racial insults or hate mail sent to you because of it. I never got any, and I am somewhat surprised I didn't."

Lee played hurt for a number of years during his Cubs career. In 2010 he had a hand, neck and back injury at different times. He blamed his injuries, not indifference, for not working more with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

"I think everyone is pretty much their own hitting coach," Lee said. "And then you take advice from others. I didn't do much hitting [in practice] because I had some problems. It had nothing to do with Rudy. I never had any problems with Rudy. I'm not a very technical hitter. I go by how I feel. But I always listen to everything all my hitting coaches said and respected all of them and what they do."

  • On June 25, 2010, Lee and Carlos Zambrano had their infamous blowup in the dugout of U.S. Cellular Field. Zambrano was upset because he felt the defense had let him down after he gave up four first-inning runs."It was over the next day," Lee said Friday. "We spoke two days later, and he apologized. It certainly seemed sincere, and I accepted it. Before that day and after that Carlos and I had never had any problems."

    Zambrano and Lee were teammates for all seven of Lee's seasons with the Cubs.

    "It was just one of those incidents," Lee said. "It's just something that happened. We were able to take it out and put it behind us."

    Zambrano was initially suspended for two days and then put on the restricted list. After five weeks of anger management sessions, he returned to the Cubs as a starting pitcher on Aug. 7 and finished the season 8-0 in 11 starts.
  • Bruce Levine | email

    Chicago baseball beat reporter
    Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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