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Thursday, January 14, 2010
Updated: January 15, 12:03 PM ET
My big day with Big Z


A laid back Carlos Zambrano thoughtfully explained that he's changed his ways. The mistakes that he has made are in the past, and he's ready to live up to the expectations that come with being an ace. Zambrano insists the 2010 version of him will be in better shape and he won't sweat the small stuff. It all sounded great, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Carlos Zambrano & Silvy at ESPN 1000
Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano points to the sky with Silvy during a visit to the studio.

All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Big Z. It was the first time I've talked with him at length in person. Many current and former Cubs have sworn that Zambrano is one of the best guys in the clubhouse--on the days he doesn't pitch. There's no doubt he still has that youthful exuberance. His eyes lit up when Waddle and I asked if we could treat him to a Starbucks. Grande cappuccino. Nothing extra.

"Cinnamon is for girls", Zambrano explained. By the way, ABC7 sportscaster Mark Giangreco enjoys a dash of cinnamon on his coffee every day.

Big Z pumped his fist and beamed when he heard highlights of his no-hitter from 2008, he danced to the music of Marcos Witt, and proudly showed us his now in-shape abs. Waddle and I would describe it as a "4-pack," but that's a definite improvement for Big Z. I know, we felt creepy asking.

Off the field, Zambrano has gotten into boxing to get into better shape. His skills have always been good in that area -- just ask Michael Barrett. Big Z loves his Playstation and still follows the Bulls like a rabid fan. He's expecting to see them at the United Center against the Wizards. As he left, Zambrano was happy to take a picture with me as we both pointed to the sky.

Zambrano is hosting a charity event for his foundation this Sunday evening at Fogo de Chao. For more information, go to CarlosZambrano38.com

My time in the offseason could not have been better with Zambrano. Now it's time for a good experience watching him pitch. Being great at times isn't good enough anymore, Z. Time to stay in shape, keep your mind right, and be the ace you're paid to be. Is anyone certain what they'll really get from Zambrano?

  • I cheered when Andre Dawson was signed by the Cubs in 1987. I was bowing with the other Bleacher Bums with every big home run that MVP season. I nearly cried watching him strikeout in several big moments on gimpy knees in the 1989 playoffs.

    "The Hawk" is in the team picture of my favorite Cubs of my lifetime. Am I in the minority when I say that I don't really care what cap he wears on his plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to put the Expos cap on him. It just won't change the way I feel about Dawson as a player or about him finally getting into the hall. It's not like baseball makes him wear an Expos cap wherever he goes. How many of you who are stressed out about this decision will ever go to Cooperstown to see it? Dawson played 11 seasons in Montreal and was a true five-tool player then. Twenty-five home runs a year, 30 stolen bases a season. If the museum decides the Expos cap is the way to go, I won't lose sleep. The cap I want? A Cubs cap with "World Series Champions" written on it. That's all that matters to me.

    What bothers me more about this story is that the Cubs reportedly will only retire Dawson's number if he goes to Cooperstown wearing the Cubs hat. He's either worthy or not. Don't bring politics into the equation. I personally believe Mark Grace deserves to get his number retired more than Dawson. You were awesome, Dawson. Just being in the Hall is enough to please this diehard Cubs fan.

  • Are the Bears conducting their search for coaches wearing clown shoes? Or are they writing their interview requests in crayon? Aren't you glad the McCaskeys chose to keep Ted Phillips, Jerry Angelo, and Lovie Smith? Trust them. Ha!
  • DePaul firing Jerry Wainright barely caused a ripple in the Chicago sports landscape. When I grew up, they were Chicago's basketball team. In the late '70s and early '80s, the best basketball in the city was played at the Rosemont Horizon, not the Chicago Stadium. I pretended I was Terry Cummings, Mark Aguirre, Rod Strickland, and Dallas Comegys when I played basketball. What Chicago kid now shoots hoops and dreams "3-2-1, it's good! Mac Koshwal wins it!"?

    As a proud Southern Illinois alum, I was upset when the Salukis lost Bruce Weber and then Matt Painter. I don't have that same worry with Chris Lowery. I've always been a fan of the current SIU coach. We attended SIU at the same time. I covered him as a player. I've introduced him on recent SIU caravans. I cheered when he was given a big time contract extension. I just wonder how DePaul would sell a coach who hasn't taken his team to the tourney in three years. SIU is currently in another slump and may not even make the NIT. Will DePaul fans want a coach with one NIT appearance and zero NCAA appearances in the last three seasons?

  • I've declared a winner in the Late Night talk show war at NBC- -- David Letterman. I haven't watched Dave or Conan in weeks. I've never watched Leno. The latest controversy had me tuned into CBS for Letterman Wednesday and laughing out loud. He's been handed comedy gold for the next several weeks. For years, I was one of Letterman's biggest fans. Ironically, NBC has me rediscovering what makes him so good. Is this Dave's "Hugh Grant"? HBO has got to be happy too. Another "Late Shift" movie in the making. Can't wait to see who they pick to play Conan's hair.