Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cubs' Capers Continue: Carlos Zambrano, Michael Barrett ... and Tom Zbikowski at the Ol' Brawl Game

Were Chicago Cubs' "battery" mates Michael Barrett and Carlos Zambrano trying to make Notre Dame defensive back—and professional boxer—Tom Zbikowski feel at home when they staged a boxing match in the dugout during yesterday's Cubs-Braves slug fest/blowout?

Zbikowski was on hand to throw out the honorary first punch, I mean, PITCH as well as to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during Friday's seventh round ... er ... inning stretch. "I didn't get to see it," said Zbikowski of the fifth inning skirmish, which low-lighted the Cubs' fifth loss in a row and eleventh in their last fifteen, "but I remember Barrett from the fight [when Michael punched White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski] last year. Barrett has a nice right hand," added 'Tommy Z' (his boxing nickname) getting into the spirit. "He just had to turn his hips into it a little more and Pierzynski would have been down. If he ever needs lessons, he should let me know."

As it turns out Barrett probably could have used Zbikowski in his corner. Here's how the dispute unraveled into battle. Henry Blanco, Zambrano's usual catcher (and like Carlos, a native Venezuelan) was out with a neck injury which left Barrett behind the plate. In the top of the fifth, their signals got crossed as Michael, expecting a fastball, got a curve from Carlos instead. Barrett failed to block the ball and the runner on second raced for third. Unfortunately the Cub catcher then compounded the error by throwing the ball wildly past third into left field and the Brave runner than raced home to score.

After the half inning was over, the cameras caught Zambrano confronting Barrett, Carlos pointing to his own brain as if telling Michael to "use your head."

Not to be out done, Barrett then pointed to the scoreboard as if telling his ill-tempered pitcher that you were the one who gave up thirteen hits and seven runs; "six of which were earned." At that "point" all heck broke loose, with both players unloading enough punches to cinch the lead-in story for Sportscenter before teammates broke it up. But apparently the bout wasn't over, as sources confirmed the fight continued in the clubhouse with Barrett getting the worst of it, as the 6'5" 255 lb. pitcher landed his teammate in the hospital with a punch that rocked his jaw and split open his lip.

Many Fighting Irish fans will no doubt note the irony of the fact that the boxer Zbikowski was the Cubs' special guest yesterday, and the more astute will add the coincidence that Tom's roommate of the past two seasons, former ND All-American wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, is now a pitcher in the Cubs organization. But few will realize that Tom was singing the national pastime's theme song in honor of Harry Caray, long time Cubs announcer and devout Catholic. Caray's daily renditions of the song so endeared him to the Cub fans that his singing tradition (also commemorated by a statue outside of Wrigley Field) is continued at each home game by a bevy of celebrities. Caray loved the fans, didn't like losing, but especially hated bad baseball, and despite his die-hard rooting for the home team he wasn't afraid to criticize the Cubbies when they acted like babies either.

Meanwhile, back at Notre Dame, Charlie Weis has gotten diverse personalities such as the long-haired and free-spirited Samardzija and the ultra-intense mohawk-cut Zbikowski to not only play together as teammates but respect each other as persons. The difference is that (at least during eras of devout coaches) Notre Dame, unlike the Cubs, were united under the banner of one Woman, Our Lady. Perhaps, then, the Cubs' perpetual futility (which will hit one hundred years if they fail to win the World Series this season) is not a coincidence. When they get close to that goal as they did in 2003, they crumble and then blame fans (remember Bartman?) or fate rather than trust in teammates and faith. And this was in stark contrast to the champions of that season, the miracle Florida Marlins, who were led by daily mass Catholic manager Jack McKeon and, after their victory, declared St. Therese of Lisieux the team's Most Valuable Player.

So once again, the seemingly talented Cubbies have hit the skids, and all around Chicago fans both young and old are crying out for change. It may be a bit premature to bring the compatible and competitive Samardzija up from the minors to replace the competent but combustible Zambrano because of Jeff's youth. But at very least we could replace the theme song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with a Golden Domer singing a rousing rendition of "Notre Dame, Our Mother." I see a vision of the Bleacher Bums swaying in unison as Harry Caray, once again the Cubs' chief intercessor, is waving his microphone in heaven. And, once that catches on, can the Cubbies taking the field to the tune of the "Notre Dame Fight Song" be far behind?

Maybe then we don't have to "wait 'til next year" (or even the football season) after all ...

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