Listen to the music. Many players have their own theme song when they approach the batter's box. Ben Zobrist's is more personal, and surely more meaningful, than most.
07/16/2010 1:53 PM ET
Family fuels Ben Zobrist
Rays "super-utility" player say wife, son are a team
By Bruce Lowitt / MLBPLAYERS.com
Tampa Bay teammates have songs, like Tantric's Down and Out (Evan Longoria), and Lil Wayne's On Fire (BJ Upton).
Ben Zobrist's is The Tree by Julianna Zobrist.
Yes, his wife's. She wrote it and sings it. It's Christian Alternative music and the title song of her debut CD. She's the daughter of a pastor in Iowa City, Iowa, and, she says, was born with a love of music, writing poetry and songs, playing the piano and receiving classical training as a child.
As he walks to home plate at Rays home games, Ben said, he listens to the small portion of Julianna's song. "I'm so proud of her. The lyrics, they're really powerful," he said. "It's about how death couldn't hold Christ and because of that we can be saved from death as well.
"It's definitely something I want to keep doing. It's a good reminder -- the truths in the song are a good reminder for me as I'm heading to the plate. It's also a way that we can show people that we're a team," Ben said.
The team includes their 1 1/2-year-old son, Zion. Julianna and the baby are often at Tropicana Field (she has sung the National Anthem at Rays home game) and accompany him to at least one of the team's stops on each road trip, "so we don't spend that much time apart as a family," he said. "Family comes ahead of our careers ... and she definitely makes a lot of sacrifices for us to be together."
Zobrist also is the ultimate team player. He's Rays manager Joe Maddon's favorite kind of guy, one who can fill multiple roles. He calls Zobrist a super-utility player, one who can handle not just a few positions but virtually all of them.
"As a kid, you don't decide where you play," Zobrist said. "You try out for the team, and they put you where they think you should be."
When Ben will head to the plate and what position he'll be playing in any given game can be anybody's guess. This season he has batted in all spots in the order except eighth. In his Major League career he has been a desginated hitter and played every position except pitcher and catcher. "And I pitched in college, so I definitely would love to pitch at some point," he said.
"But catching? I've never done that so it's not something I would look forward to 'cause I know the kind of beating those guys take."
He never expected to play baseball at any position beyond high school; not one college recruiter or pro scout even glanced at him. He was going to go to bible college and follow his father and older sister into the ministry.
But a summer tryout camp in Peoria, Ill., earned him a scholarship offer from Olivet Nazarene University. There, and as a senior at Dallas Baptist University, he played well enough to be drafted in the sixth round by the Astros in 2004.
On July 12, 2006, Houston traded him to Tampa Bay and on Aug. 1, with just 18 games at Triple-A under his belt, he was called up the day after Rays shortstop Julio Lugo was traded to the Dodgers.
A poor start in 2007 got him sent down to Triple-A Durham on May 11, but by July 29 he was back. After the season Zobrist said Maddon "wanted me to bring my different gloves to Spring Training. I thought 'OK, I'll try it. I'll do it.' I didn't think it would be extremely difficult. I knew it was going to be an adjustment, but I was up for it, for sure."
Said Maddon: "I was just trying to get him involved. We were OK at all the other positions, and here was a guy who had the ability to play those different spots. I thought it was his best way of getting here. Turned out that it was."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.