Izturis eager to show the 'real' Cesar
Shortstop hopeful health will allow him to regain All-Star form
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs shortstop Cesar Izturis grins when he recalls the time his face was plastered all over billboards across Los Angeles and laughs when he's told that in a city known for stars and sports figures, he was at one time one of its most recognizable.
Back then, Izturis the Dodger was Cesar the Great, the little big man in a big city, with happiness, wealth and health to spare. He was a rising star with unlimited potential and a million-dollar smile to boot.
The Cubs mark a new team and a new city, but Izturis says little has changed outside of the uniform. Nothing has changed inside of the uniform, either.
"I'm the same guy, but honestly, I do not think the [Chicago] fans have seen me for what I am," he said. "I know who the real Cesar Izturis is. Cesar Izturis is a player that played with the Dodgers, a Gold Glove winner, an All-Star. That's who Cesar Izturis is. This year, I will stay healthy and they will see that."
It's hard to blame the Chicago faithful for neglecting to embrace the player who once captured the hearts of Dodgers fans across Southern California. Acquired July 31 from the Los Angeles for Greg Maddux, Izturis played in only 22 games for the Cubs in 2006 before his season was cut short by a hamstring injury. He hit .233 in just 73 at-bats with Chicago.
You could argue he was on his way to being unrecognizable even to the Dodgers fans in 2006. Before the trade to Chicago, Izturis played in 32 games for Los Angeles and spent the first part of the season recovering from Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his right elbow.
He played in 106 games in 2005, but two trips to the disabled list eventually led to a season-ending operation during the final month of the season. The campaign marked quite a change. In his previous two seasons with the Dodgers, Izturis averaged 159 games played, including a breakout season in 2004 that saw him hit .288 and rack up 193 hits. He was named to the National League All-Star team that season.
"Last year was different from any year in my career. It was my year to recuperate physically," Izturis said. "My mentality was to get back to the field as soon as I could and be healthy. I wanted to get out there fast. I do not feel bad because I did what I had to do. I just hurt my hamstring."
Humble by nature, Izturis is low on regrets and high on gratitude. He says he could feel his time with the Dodgers was coming to an end when the club signed Rafael Furcal to play shortstop, but he holds no ill feelings. He tried to play other positions in the infield for the Dodgers when he returned from the disabled list, but knew a switch from his natural spot at shortstop was not going to work.
Something had to change for Izturis. And it did.
"I will always be thankful to the Dodgers for the opportunity they gave me, the chance to show I could be a big-league player, so I have nothing bad to say about them," Izturis said. "At this level, I understand the situation, the business part. But if I say the trade didn't affect me, that would be a lie, because it did. That was my team and where I had the most success. But with the days, the weeks, and the months after, that feeling passed. All that stuff is in the past now. I just wanted to go to a team that needed me, and I have that here."
The Cubs definitely need him. Itzuris will be counted on to solidify the double-play combination with second baseman Mark DeRosa. Primarily a utility player for his entire career, DeRosa has never played a full season at one position.
"[Izturis] just looks like a shortstop and obviously, he has great hands," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Shortstop is a position where you have to be really consistent in catching and he can do that, plus a few years ago he almost had a 200-hit season with the Dodgers. We have to keep him healthy and keep him playing and he'll do a nice job for us at shortstop."
Doing a good job for the Cubs is all Izturis really cares about now. Yes, the spotlight in L.A. was fun and the billboards were a nice ego stroke, but that's really not his style or what he is all about anyway.
It never was.
Izturis is about baseball, he says, and he's going to use this season to remind those old fans who have forgotten that fact or enlighten the new ones who simply do not know.
"The trade benefited me and I know that," he said. "When you reach a certain level in this game, you know a bunch of the players in the league, so I am already comfortable in the clubhouse. The baseball is always the same -- you go out and play the game and you play to win. It does not matter where you are."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.