By: Christina E. Rodriguez
“There are some things you don’t forget,” Carlos Zambrano says with a laugh, “like your first kiss.”
For the 28-year-old Chicago Cubs pitcher, it was his first game eight years ago against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
“I remember the first batter, the first pitch. I was nervous from the dugout to the mound. I had some butterflies in my stomach,” Zambrano remembers, sitting in street clothes in the stands of Wrigley Field – a sight people rarely see.
When Zambrano is in uniform, he has a job to do. He has to go up to the mound, stare down the batters and strike them out. That is, without making mistakes, because if there’s one thing that Zambrano can’t stand it’s making mistakes.
Cub fans know that all too well.
From taking out his anger on his teammate to taking a bat to the Gatorade dispenser in the dugout, the 6’5” Venezuelan is quite the emotional pitcher. “Sometimes I try to control it, but there are things that I have to put in God’s hands so He can do the miracle or He can do His job of changing my emotional side,” he says thoughtfully. “I think I put an effort from my side; I can change.”
Zambrano claims that he ignores the media’s criticisms to his field performance. “At least they don’t come after my family or my personal life, so we’re OK,” he explains with a nod. “They have the right to write whatever they want. It’s their job.”
When Zambrano leaves Wrigley Field, he leaves behind the anger and the problems and remembers that he is a father, a son, a husband and a friend. “As soon as I cross the line, it’s over. Thank God I know how to separate my baseball life and my personal life,” he says. “I’ve been doing a good job with that since I came to the big leagues.”
Zambrano joined the Chicago Cubs in 2001. He came to the United States when he was 16 with the opportunity to make it big, something that he had been hoping for since he was a 14-year-old living in Venezuela.
“When I was a little kid, I saw Wrigley Field on TV or any other ballpark like US Cellular or Fenway Park and, you know, all those ballparks [that] as a child you admire. And now you’re here and you see those ballparks in person, and you say, ‘Wow!’ It’s a blessing, it’s a blessing from God,” he says as his eyebrows raise in amazement.
A ROLE MODEL
When he’s at home, he spends time with his daughters Carlise, 9, Catherine, 6, and Carla, 4.
“It’s funny because my oldest daughter is the one that will talk about things. Just a month ago, she told me, just like this, ‘Daddy, I need my credit card because I need to buy my own stuff.’ I said, ‘You little girl, you get out of here, you’re too little for that,’” he explains with a laugh. “Sometimes she tells me things and I just laugh because if [this is now that] she’s just 9 years old, how about when she’ll be 18 or 19? I’ll be in trouble.”
Zambrano has also come to realize that he is a role model for his girls, explaining that to get to where he is they must work as hard as he did. “[Carlise] says things like, ‘I want to be famous like you.’ I said, ‘Well, you have to practice any sport or play any instrument. Who knows, you can be the next best piano player,’” a hobby that Zambrano is working on himself.
Zambrano was a soccer player before he found baseball. He was told that for his size, he would make a better baseball player, but he still loves the sport. Real Madrid is his favorite team.
On the off-season, Zambrano travels around the world with his family. He’s been to Italy, France and Spain, among other places. This year, he says, he’ll stay in America. “I’m going to Mexico this year. I’ve never been to Mexico.”
The last time he was in Venezuela, where the majority of his family lives, including his parents, was in January. He says he has a good relationship with his parents and seven brothers, two of whom live in the United States with their families.
“You never see my mom mad. My mom is always laughing. You can say something and she’ll laugh,” he says. “My dad is the opposite. He’s a little stricter.”
“Like a father and son, I have a lot of problems with my dad [because] we have the same character. We have problems, we struggle sometimes,” he says. “At the end of the day, he’s the man that brought me into the world and I love him, I just don’t like the way he is sometimes. He taught me how to respect people. If you learn to respect people, you get respect.”
Along with being connected to his family, Zambrano is a deeply spiritual man, always speaking in terms of God’s plan for him and his life ahead. He practices his Christian faith at The Carpenter’s House, a church on Chicago’s North Side.
Before every game Zambrano pitches, you can find him kneeling and praying for protection from any kind of accident on the field, whether it is a line drive back to the mound or a pulled hamstring while running. Zambrano doesn’t take the gift that he was given for granted.
“Every time I come to the club house and I think of being here, there are so many people that want to be here,” he says. “The idea is to sit at the table to keep drinking your coffee and spending a lot of time in the big leagues with the ability that God gives you and that’s the most important thing for me.”
Zambrano also believes in charity and is devoting time to at least two organizations: the Carlos Zambrano Foundation in Venezuela – which takes care of former drug addicts and gives away scholarships to 25 students – and the Big Z Foundation in Chicago, now under development.
When Zambrano signed with the Cubs, he was secure in his belief that this would be his first and only contract. After baseball, Zambrano hopes to fulfill his dream of being a minister.
“That was my whole passion since I was little. I wanted to preach the Word of God. I never dreamed of baseball until I was 13 or 14, but I dreamed to be a man of God since I was 7, 8,” he explains. “God thinks differently than how human beings think, so He probably prepared a platform for me in baseball and I believe in that.”