Stewart knew he'd have to spend most of the offseason rehabbing following surgery in July on his left wrist, which limited him to 55 games in his first season with the Cubs. But the third baseman realized he also needed more time to hit, and took off for the West Coast for two-week stretches.
Stewart got the go-ahead in late November to resume baseball activities. He could've stayed home in Asheville, N.C., and hit in a cage. But he met with Rod Carew in California, and began intense workout sessions with the Hall of Famer.
Rather than stay home to be with his wife and two young daughters, Stewart got the OK from Susan to fly out west for two weeks, then return to Asheville for a week, then head back to be with Carew.
"I have to give my wife a lot of credit," Stewart said.
Susan probably understood better than most wives. Her father, Joe Mikulik, was Ian's manager at Class A Asheville, where the two met.
This season, Stewart hopes to show Cubs fans what he can do.
"I think definitely they've seen me as good [defensively] as I can be the last few years, but hitting-wise it's been a few years," said Stewart, who belted 25 home runs in 2009 with the Rockies. "The last time I was really fully healthy was 2010, and even then I missed the last month with an oblique injury.
"The last few years there have been lingering wrist issues and I really believe I've gotten that taken care of, and a lot of credit goes to the Cubs," he said. "They've stuck with me. They could've easily done the non-tender and moved on, but they've done a great job of keeping up with me through the injury. They've totally supported me 100 percent through the surgery, and they continued dialogue the whole time."
The Cubs did non-tender Stewart in November, then signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract on Dec. 12, which includes $500,000 in incentives. The money is non-guaranteed, so if he isn't healthy, the Cubs are not obligated to pay.
"They could've easily brought me back for less, or tried to bring me back for a lot less," Stewart said. "It just shows the first class kind of people we have running the organization here with Jed [Hoyer, the general manager] and Theo [Epstein] and the whole Ricketts family that's involved. I've got nothing but good things to say about them."
Stewart talked to Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, often during the offseason. Epstein made it clear the Cubs wanted him back.
"I couldn't thank them enough for how well they've treated me," Stewart said.
The Cubs need more production from Stewart. Last season, Cubs third basemen combined to hit 12 home runs and drive in 55 runs. There weren't many options available on the free-agent market, and other teams did inquire about Stewart this offseason.
"I'm not going to lie, there was interest there," Stewart said. "It's such a unique situation that I'm in. It was very nerve wracking because there was a time I didn't have a job. My wife doesn't work other than taking care of the kids. There was a time I was jobless and that was a scary feeling.
"It wasn't that I was coming off a great year and a free agent, but I was injured and a free agent," he said. "I'm just so appreciative of what the organization did for me. That part of being jobless didn't last very long.
"Once the Cubs expressed what they thought of me, and what they thought I could still do for this organization, it was really a no-brainer."
He couldn't wait to get to Arizona to rejoin his teammates. The rehab has gone well, although Stewart did admit to being a little hesitant in the beginning.
"It took me a few sessions to really trust it right away," he said. "There was never a time when I had pain. It's pretty much felt good since I started."
And that's what the Cubs want to hear.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less