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Serenity Now: The Ballad of Big Z

By: Dominic Ronzani

Note: This was written as a submission for this blog after Zambrano's Opening Day start in Atlanta. Since then he's recorded a quality start and win in Cincinnati over Aaron Harang and the Reds.

Carlos Zambrano's ninth full season as a Chicago Cub dubiously began on Monday afternoon in Atlanta. And despite his remarkably good career numbers (105-69, 3.55), the prevailing perspective of fans and media alike is that "Big Z" has been something of a disappointment. And they're not wrong. When you're talking about a 6'5", 260 pound beast whose fastball regularly reaches the upper-90's, you're talking about a Cy Young pedigree, not just a "good" pitcher. The consensus always seems to be that Zambrano has underachieved for one reason and one reason alone: The dude is a crazy person.

As I've watched Zambrano romp and stomp his way through the oughts, breaking bats, abusing umpires, punching teammates, and smashing gatorade coolers, I've continuously thought it'd be wise for the Cubs brass to invest in a sports psychologist. That maybe if Zambrano could quell his unbridled rage ever so slightly he might find himself amongst the elite- the kind of guy who could dominate two or three games in a playoff series. Instead, year after year we've seen a guy as capable of imploding as he is of dominating. It's for this reason that I was intrigued and cautiously delighted to hear reports of a newer, fitter, and most of all calmer Zambrano reporting to camp this spring.

Well the initial returns are in. His fresh demeanor was put to the test early on. With a three run advantage going into the bottom of the 1st, Zambrano walks lead-off man Melky Cabrera. Next, Martin Prado hits a little slap single to right, followed by a Chipper Jones bloop single and a Brian McCann broken bat base hit. Then, after a Troy Glaus strike out and a seeing eye single by Yunel Escobar, the highly touted rookie Jason Heyward hits a 3 run home run in his first major league plate appearance.

While I know better than to make proclamations based on the tiniest of sample sizes, I couldn't help but find myself perplexed by Zambrano's behavior on Monday afternoon. After a disastrous inning which included bad luck, some bad pitches, and a pint-sized Derryl Cousins strike zone, anyone in Zambrano's shoes would at the very least feel dejected, if not angry. And ordinarily Big Z would be fuming. But on Monday, Zambrano was pictured laughing in the dugout. I'll repeat. The same man who has punched his catcher in the face and broken countless bats over his knee was laughing after allowing 6 runs in one inning.

I, for one, remain shocked. I mean, no one would fault the guy for being disappointed. We just don't want him to harm himself, or others, or the defenseless gatorade cooler. But the dude was downright breezy. It was bizarre. And while I suspect he's likely a couple 3 run homers away from returning to his demonstrative ways, this initial chapter for "the new Carlos Zambrano" has definitely roped me in. I cannot wait for chapter two in Cincinnati on Sunday.


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