Feature on Cubs outfielder Cliff Floyd, a native of the Chicago area.

For the first two months of his professional return to his hometown team, Cliff Floyd had the comfort of having his parents, Cornelius and Olivia, show up, along with various family members and friends, to most of Floyd’s home games with the Cubs at Wrigley Field.   If he got a key hit or home run, Floyd could glance at his family and friends — seated behind the third-base dugout — and flash a smile in their direction. If he struck out or heard some boos — as he did in the Cubs’ home opener — he knew there were at least seven fans on hand who were still in his corner.   That’s the type of comfort money can’t buy.   However, things changed quite a bit earlier this month. Cornelius Floyd went to the hospital on June 8, suffering from a kidney ailment. It’s been Cliff who’s been providing plenty of comfort to his family during these trying times.   And, because Floyd is at home and still able to play baseball, he’s also able to get some comfort from his second family, his Cubs teammates.   Floyd, a Markham native who starred at Thornwood High School, broke into the majors in 1993 with Montreal. Now 34, he’s happy to be playing at home.   “I wanted to come home,” said Floyd, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Cubs during the offseason. “It’s been great to see my family. But I never knew my dad would be sick in bed like this.”   Make no mistake. If he signed to play with a team outside of Chicago, Floyd still would have been there for his father for the first week or so when the prognosis for Cornelius was grim. However, Cliff would have been away from baseball.   As it was, Cliff missed three games in Atlanta (June 8-10) and the Cubs’ June 11 home game against Houston, but has played the rest of the way. He had a hectic schedule during the Cubs’ last homestand, playing at Wrigley Field and visiting his father at the hospital. Floyd was still able to balance family time with his career.   Because the elder Floyd is improving, Cliff was able to make this week’s trip to Texas. He returns home today when the Cubs open a three-game series against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.   “If I wasn’t playing with the Cubs I would have still definitely been home the whole time,” Floyd said. “You never want to miss time with your team, but I think that the family comes first. Everything else takes a back seat. And my teammates understand that.”   Having baseball break up some of the pressure is also valuable.   “For Cliff, this is a time away from things,” said teammate Derrek Lee, who has gone through a family tragedy of his own the past two seasons after his daughter suffered loss of vision in one eye. “Obviously, it will still be on his mind. But he can joke around with the guys and play baseball and take his mind away from it a little bit. It’s good for him.   “Obviously it’s his father and it’s going to be on his mind, but he does a great job being upbeat around us. The key is that the normalcy of being around here will help. What he’s going through is no fun but he has to deal with it. I think it’s good for him to come here to the park and have a normal routine.”   Before his family’s troubles, Floyd had a system for avoiding the “hometown hero” trap since joining the Cubs. Cornelius and Olivia took care of all of the ticket demands. They usually took two tickets each game, leaving five tickets remaining. Friends and family members went through his parents for tickets while Floyd was able to concentrate on baseball.   “It worked tremendously. I wish I could have done that early on in my career,” he said. “It’s awesome, it really is. It’s a situation where you can’t really complain about. You give them the tickets and they take care of it.”   The hometown player also has to play diplomat just about every game. For Floyd, it usually means chatting with someone he hasn’t seen in ages. Sometimes it means yelling “hello” back to someone he sort of recognizes but just can’t place. Sometimes it could mean a quick brush-off if he has to go to the batting cage to work or to head back to the clubhouse.   “I always feel like I’m welcomed back,” Floyd said, “but sometimes it gets old. It’s not that it’s anything annoying, but it’s like I need to get going back to the clubhouse and relax before the game starts. It’s always good to see old friends. It’s never bad. But once in a while, it catches you off guard.”   Speaking of being caught off guard ... a former Thornwood teammate, Mark Nardi, stunned Floyd earlier this year when the former showed up at Wrigley Field.   “This guy would kill about his hair back in high school,” Floyd said. “I saw him the other day and he was bald-headed. It threw me for a loop. It’s pretty cool to see some guys and to see how they changed.”   And there are those in the crowd who yell, “Hey, Floyd, I struck you out in ... (fill in the time frame or level of play)!”   “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, shoot, I could probably retire right now,” Floyd said. “But it’s cool. Everybody wants to have that claim to fame.”   And while other hometown players have had rough goes of it — Todd Hundley with the Cubs and Eddy Curry with the Bulls come immediately to mind — Floyd is doing well, considering he’s playing on a part-time basis. He entered this week hitting .312 with three home runs and 25 RBI in 125 at-bats. He’s been moved from his familiar left field to right, and has batted second, fourth, fifth and sixth in the order this season.   “The good thing about playing at home is that I’ve got great family and they really don’t talk about baseball outside of the lines,” Floyd said. “You can just enjoy them. I don’t have any pressure. I feel like I’m doing OK, but I don’t have a lot of home runs. Some people ask me, ‘Why don’t you have a lot of home runs?’ But for the most part, I don’t feel like there’s a lot of pressure.   “Everybody at home is happy to see me.”   And in recent weeks, it’s been important that he’s close to home.   More Cubs coverage is online at www.dailysouthtown.com/sports.