Miami's newest starting pitcher was joined by teammates like Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez and John Buck on the golf course on Thursday's stop for the Marlins Ayudan Caravan for the Community. Other Marlins, such as Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio, attended but did not play in the charity golf tournament.
Zambrano, the former Cubs ace, had a rough exit from Chicago. He cleaned out his locker and announced he was retiring after getting roughed up by the Braves for eight runs over 4 1/3 innings last Aug. 12. When he thought better of it, he said he wanted to return, but the Cubs would not have him back.
After spending most of the winter wondering where he would play baseball in 2012, Zambrano was happy to learn that he was acquired by Miami.
"I was very happy when I found out about it," Zambrano said. "I think it was time for a change, and, obviously, this trade benefitted me."
While Zambrano believes he could have returned to Chicago and not had any issues, he also admits that parting ways was probably best for him and the Cubs.
"I don't think it would have been difficult," Zambrano said of a potential return to the Cubs. "I've changed my mentality, and God has helped me change a lot of things about how I am. It all depended on the work I was going to put in and the mentality I would bring back to them."
Despite some tumultuous times in a Cubs uniform, Zambrano has nothing against the organization that developed him and helped him become a star in the big leagues.
"I never had any ill will toward them," Zambrano said. "I've always had a lot of respect for the people of Chicago. From the fans to the front office, I want to thank them for treating me like a professional for the past 11 years. All I have for Chicago is gratitude and respect."
Zambrano is also grateful for what his new manager did for him. Marlins skipper Ozzie Guillen lobbied for the acquisition of Zambrano, and the right-hander is excited to play for a team managed by his good friend.
"I'm very thankful that Ozzie pushed to bring me here to the Marlins," Zambrano said. "He's a manager that is dynamic. I am a big supporter of his mentality as a manager, and I am very happy to have the opportunity to play for him on this team."
Guillen and Zambrano have known each other for many years. They are both Venezuelans who had a lot of success in Chicago. Even though Zambrano was with the Cubs and Guillen was managing the White Sox, their close proximity to each other helped strengthen their relationship.
"We were both in Chicago and he was always giving me good advice," Zambrano said. "Every time we would see each other, he always had something good to say to me. He's a mentor to me. He's someone that when you play hard for him and do things the right way, he's someone who will be behind you. He's someone who knows a lot about baseball, and those are people who should be respected. You need to listen to people like that."
Johnson and free-agent signee Mark Buehrle are proven commodities at the top of the Marlins' rotation, while talented right-handers Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco give the group depth. Guillen believes Zambrano could be the arm that helps push Miami's starting rotation from good to great.
"He will definitely bounce back," Guillen said. "It's hard to predict how many wins and losses he's going to have, but I think he's definitely going to bounce back and show people how good he is."
Zambrano believes he is on his way to regaining the form that saw him have so much success with the Cubs over most of his 11 seasons in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has been working hard to prepare himself for the upcoming season, and he has already seen some impressive results.
"I feel real good and strong. My arm feels great and I am throwing well," Zambrano said. "I hit 97 mph this winter, and that's something that I hadn't done in a while. I think that is a result of all the hard work that I have put in. I am very happy with the results of the work I have put in, and I will continue to do it to get ready for this year."
While many believe Zambrano needs to prove himself as a frontline starter again, the 30-year-old feels it is more important to prove he has matured as a person and will be able to avoid the outbursts that have plagued his career.
"The only thing that I have to prove is that I can keep myself under control," Zambrano said. "Anything else will take care of itself."
While many are anticipating Zambrano and Guillen's fiery personalities to clash, both men believe they will get along great and help each other as they head toward a common goal: winning baseball games.
"To me, it's a privilege to manage him," Guillen said. "I've always wanted to manage him, because I saw him pitch a lot in Chicago and I know what he can do. Hopefully he stays healthy, because if he does, then he is going to be good for us."