No pun intended, but Mark Grace never left the good graces of Cubs fans.
Enemy of the state for a time? Perhaps. But enemy of the people? Never.
It has been almost 12 years since Grace left the Cubs for the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent following a bitter breakup with then-Cubs president and general manager Andy MacPhail.
But diplomatic relations thawed, and even late in MacPhail's tenure, Grace was invited to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
He did so for the fifth time over the weekend, to warm applause from the Wrigley Field crowd.
"It's always nerve-racking," Grace said of singing. "I'd rather be hitting with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning than doing that. It's tough."
Grace, now 48, put up impressive numbers as the Cubs' first baseman from 1988-2000. Of his 2,445 lifetime hits, 2,201 came while with the Cubs.
He was major-league baseball's leader in hits during the 1990s, and he ranks among the Cubs' top 10 in games played, at-bats, on-base percentage, runs, hits, total bases, singles, doubles, extra-base hits, RBI and walks.
He now works as a color analyst on Diamondbacks telecasts. Over the weekend, I had a chance to spend the better part of a half-hour with Grace in the TV booth before a game.
I covered several topics, including current Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Grace's own legacy with the Cubs and his plans for the future.
Q: How does it feel to be so welcome by Cubs fans?
A: It's always nice to be welcome. I never had a problem with the fans. I never had a problem with any of the players. I never had a problem with anybody but the people in charge at the time.
But they've got that right. They were in charge. It's their team. They can do whatever they want.
I look at it this way: When I was a minor-leaguer with the Cubs, they sent us to Mesa, Ariz. It was 110 degrees. Our supervisors would come in and say, "Start running." We'd run for a half-hour in that 110-degree heat.
I didn't want to do it, but I did it because they were the bosses. If I didn't, I was gone. They have the right to do whatever they want to do. They made their choices. I'm fine with it."
Q. Are you able to follow the Cubs?
A. Once Kerry Wood left, I didn't know anybody. There are no coaches other than Lester Strode. I still love him.
Most of the people are all gone, even the people back here in the front office. They're all gone. Ryno's (Ryne Sandberg) doing what he's doing in Philly now. Andre (Dawson) is down in Miami.
Q. As a former first baseman, what are your early impressions of Anthony Rizzo?
A. The games I've watched, he looks pretty solid to me. I've heard he's pretty slick. Honestly, there have been a few pretty good Cubs first basemen.
Since I left, Derrek Lee was really good. (Carlos) Pena, very good. I've watched (Rizzo) take some groundballs. He looks like his feet are good. His hands are soft.
He's big son of a gun. He's going to hit some home runs. The Cubs have hitched their wagon to him. He's going to be a cornerstone for the next, at least, five, six, even more years.
Q. The other day, they made an announcement in the press box that Alfonso Soriano passed you on the Cubs' all-time home run list. How proud of you of your accomplishments here?
A. Over 2,000 hits here. Four Gold Gloves here. Three All-Star Games here. It's hard to make an all-star team at first baseman. There are a lot of good ones.
I'm very proud of the things I accomplished here. Unfortunately, I was only on (four) teams that were over .500, and (two) went to the playoffs. I lost more games than I would have liked to. I think we were fun to watch because we scored a lot of runs and gave up a lot of runs.
I would have loved a little more success in the 13 years that I had. Gosh, I'll never forget some of the most wonderful friendships I ever made: Rick Sutcliffe and Brian McRae and Steve Buechele and the list goes on. That part of it, I'll never forget.
Q. You had a reputation as a guy who played the game right. What do you think your legacy is?
A. My thing was I had a lot of pride in what I did. I wanted to beat you. I think if you look at my numbers, my numbers with the bases loaded, my numbers with runners in scoring position.
If you look at my numbers in close games late, you'll see that if you gave me an opportunity to beat you, I'd beat you. Not every time, but, yeah, I came to work every day, even on some teams that were overmatched.
With the guys that I came up with, Scott Sanderson, Ryno, Andre, Jody Davis, those guys taught me a lot that carried on after they were gone.
I watched Ryno and Andre, two Hall of Famers. They never missed a day of infield, never missed a day of BP (batting practice). If we were getting blown out, they didn't want to be substituted for. There were a lot of valuable lessons I learned from those guys.
If people say that about me, great. If there's one thing I'd be honored for people to say, it would be, "He was a good teammate. He cared about winning, and he cared about his teammates."
Q. What was your favorite Cubs team or favorite Cubs memory?
A. I would say probably the '98 team. We weren't supposed to be very good. I think we were supposed to be .500 at best.
That whole season is one really great memory. Rod Beck coming in and leading the league in saves. Obviously, the three big stories that year were Sammy (Sosa), Kerry Wood and the Cubs being in the postseason.
It's good for baseball to have a Cubs team in the hunt. It just is. Give these people something to get excited about, and it makes the whole game of baseball exciting.
In '89, that was probably my coming-out party as far as that (playoff) series against the Giants. But that '98 team was probably my favorite team.
Q. What are you going to do in the future?
A. I don't know. I haven't decided yet. I'm going to stay in Arizona until my kids leave the house. I've got an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old. They need their dad around.
I'm not going to go anywhere until they're all right. And then, I'm not sure. Who knows if the Diamondbacks will still want me?
I can't look that far into the future. Right now my goal is to stay in Arizona and be the best father I can be.