A select number of World Series participants from Illinois on both the Cubs and Cleveland Indians have had to shift longtime allegiances due to their present employers.
Foremost among this group is the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist, who maintains an every-game lineup slot — sometimes at cleanup — due to his switch-hitting talents and longtime relationship with manager Joe Maddon back to their Tampa Bay Rays days.
Zobrist is a fortunate man, indeed, being in the right place at the right time. Traded from the Rays to the Kansas City Royals at mid-season 2015, he earned a World Series ring the following October. Now he’s playing in yet another Fall Classic.
The only change in Zobrist’s routine from the Cubs regular season is outfield duty. He was shifted off second base to left or right field by the spectacular all-around play of third-year second baseman Javy Baez, named co-most valuable player of the National League Championship Series.
Zobrist hails from Eureka, east of Peoria off I-74. The second baseman-outfielder is famed for being part of a large family of St. Louis Cardinals fans growing up. Father Tom Zobrist has an archive of his children attending games at old Busch Stadium.
However, when Zobrist signed with Chicago as a free agent prior to the 2016 season, the family underwent a mass conversion into the Cubs Universe. Their shifting of loyalties was immediately rewarded. Ben Zobrist’s hot early season was a key factor in the Cubs’ 103-victory regular season, ensuring a prime playoff spot.
And, of course, tickets to both the NLCS and the Fall Classic for the family. Tom Zobrist had an entrée to the clinching Game 6 off the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Interviewed late that night, Zobrist knew he had to sleep fast along with traveling nearly three hours home. He is pastor of Liberty Bible Church in Eurerka. Sunday-morning services were held as scheduled.
The other major regular-player contributor to the Series from local environs is Northbrook native Jason Kipnis. The steady, sometimes spectacular second baseman for the Indians the past half-decade, Kipnis also had to shift loyalties. He grew up an avid Cubs fan attending Glenbrook North High School. Kipnis told USA Today he was a little conflicted when the Cubs booked their World Series date to Progressive Field last week.
Kipnis also revealed how much, and how recently, he suffered with the Cubs.
He revealed to USA Today he grew up down the street in Northbrook from Steve Bartman. Kipnis recalled the near-horror of watching police cars guard Bartman’s home the day after he tipped a foul ball away from the clutches of Cubs left fielder Moises Alou in Game 6 of the NLCS on Oct. 14, 2003. Bartman unfairly ended up the top scapegoat in Cubs history even though he should have been off the books as a culprit in the ensuring eight-run meltdown that thwarted that season’s World Series bid.
Receiving little publicity for his youthful Cubs allegiances and local connections is Cubs hitting coach John Mallee. A veteran of the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros before his hiring by the Cubs in 2014, Mallee grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side, attending Mount Carmel High School. Moving as a pro coach across the state line to Schererville, Ind., Mallee established a notable off-season hitting school that attracted youths from both states.
The third player from Illinois is Indians reliever Zach McAllister. An original New York Yankees draftee out of Illinois Valley Central High School in Chillocothe, McAllister, 28, was traded to the Indians in Aug. 2010. He was in the team’s starting rotation from 2011-14.
But he has found a home in manager Terry Francona’s well-used bullpen ever since. McAllister appeared in 114 regular-season games in 2015-16 with a composite 7-6 record.
One other World Series participant is very familiar with northwest Cook County even though he did not grow up in the area.
Cubs bench coach Davey Martinez, Maddon’s longtime right-hand man dating back to his Rays days, married wife Lisa, a Hanover Park native, during his mid-1980s days as a young Cubs outfielder. Martinez resided in Hanover Park and made the long commute to Wrigley Field at the time. He also briefly served a second Cubs tour of duty in 2000 before going into coaching.
A tip of the hat to the Cubs World Series
— Indians, Cubs players have many local Illinois connections —