Zobrist's wife, Julianna, sings anthem at Trop
Posted October 14, 2013
ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time Julianna Zobrist sang the national anthem at Tropicana Field her husband, Ben, took center stage, blasting a walk-off two-run homer in the 11th inning. Could Tampa Bay, down 0-2 to Boston in the American League Division Series, perhaps get a repeat?
"I have quite the bit to live up to I guess don't I?," Julianna said shortly after singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to Monday's Game 3. "No, these guys, they have it. They don't need luck. I'm just glad I get to be on the field with him. How cool is that? How many wives get to accompany their husbands onto their work space?"
A Christian alternative recording artist, Julianna was last on the Rays' home field on Sept. 7, 2012, and she got a big hug from Ben -- who uses her music as his walk-up song -- after stepping off the field on Monday night.
"The anthem in and of itself is powerful enough, but to have my husband out there and to sing it and hear all these voices was just phenomenal," she said. "I'm really blessed. Really glad they asked me."
Julianna came back out to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Rays senior advisor Dick Crippen delivered the ceremonial first pitch to a boisterous crowd at Tropicana Field. Crippen is a 49-year veteran of broadcasting Tampa Bay sports and joined the Rays in December 1999.
Leadership comes 'chrome' free
Posted October 7, 2013
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist lacks chrome.
That assessment has been issued by Rays manager Joe Maddon on countless occasions since Zobrist began his ascension toward becoming one of the team's best and most revered players. Turns out, lacking chrome is the ultimate baseball compliment. Translated: Zobrist will never be called a hot dog. He just gets the job done, year in and year out.
Accordingly, Zobrist's lack of chrome is accompanied by a lack of recognition. He remains one of the best kept secrets in the Major Leagues, save for one select group.
"If you ask any manager in the league, they'd be like, 'This is a guy I want on my team,'" Maddon said.
Maddon allowed that underrating Zobrist's talents was understandable if one saw him play only on occasion.
"To be with him daily, you get to see it all and all the little things that he does, and beyond that, all the team things that he does," Maddon said. "This guy is all about winning. That's it. That's it. He doesn't care about his batting average. He does only in the sense that if he's not hitting well, that means he's not helping the team."
During his eight seasons with Tampa Bay, Zobrist has played every position except for pitcher and catcher. He draws the line at any discussion about playing catcher but has allowed on occasion that he might be persuaded to get behind the plate in exchange for a turn on the mound. In addition to his versatility, Zobrist can put up quality offensive numbers and has evolved into a team leader.
Zobrist's Christian faith is a major part of who he is, and no doubt that faith has helped him through many of the tough times familiar to a Major Leaguer. He is happy to share his faith with teammates seeking a deeper understanding of his religion, but he is not one to force his beliefs on others. Zobrist is well-respected for the player he is -- and the person he is every day.
"He's awesome," rookie Wil Myers said. "Especially for me, he's the guy I hang out with more than anyone here. He's more of a quiet leader than Evan [Longoria] is in the clubhouse. I think he just has everyone's respect here. I think he's a great guy. We have a lot of the same beliefs and backgrounds, so he's one of the guys I try to hang around a lot and get to know better."
Matt Joyce notes that Zobrist is "definitely one of those guys who leads by example."
"[Ben is] somebody you really rely on and somebody you almost come to expect to be out there every day and give you everything he has," Joyce said. "He's obviously a leader off the field as well as on. As far as his beliefs and his morals and his values, I think they go a long way with providing some guidance to the younger guys. He's a great teammate."
Zobrist addressed the idea of his being a leader, though clearly he does not enjoy talking about himself.
"I think the more you kind of move up the grid as far as age compared to guys younger than you, or experienced-wise if you have more experience, it's kind of an unsaid thing," Zobrist said. "If you want to help guys, you try and kind of teach them some of the things you've learned about the game, about this environment, about your business here, things that have worked and things that haven't worked.
"I think just sharing your experiences and trying to guide younger guys and help them try to avoid some of the mistakes that you've made can be helpful. They're going to have their own pathway, but I think that's just part of if you want to be a leader and one of the veteran guys that's helpful."
Zobrist acknowledged that some veteran players would prefer to not say anything and that not everybody would want to be a leader. Ultimately, he simply wants to be available.
"I want to be a guy if somebody does want to talk, I'm willing to share what I've learned," Zobrist said. "And I haven't learned everything. And I'm still learning every day. But I certainly can try and help avoid some of the struggles that I've had in the game here and also some of the things that have worked. Try and help them see the things that have worked for me."
Zobrist came to the Rays in 2006 (then the Devil Rays) in the deal that sent Aubrey Huff to the Astros. After a brief period in the Tampa Bay farm system, he arrived to the Major Leagues in time to play 52 games at shortstop and earn the nod as the starter heading into the '07 season.
Then the struggles began. Zobrist got sent to Triple-A Durham after hitting just .148 in April. Though he did return to the Majors that season, he hit just .155 over 31 games.
Zobrist, 32, remembered not exactly being all ears around veteran players when he was younger.
"I think there were probably more guys when I first got into the league who wanted to say things to me and did say things to me, but I wasn't paying attention, because you kind of think you have it all figured out," Zobrist said. "You realize later on that you should have been paying more attention to some of those things."
Fortunately for Zobrist and Tampa Bay, his fortunes began to turn around the next season, which coincided with the arrival of two veterans to the newly minted Rays -- Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd.
"Both of them were part-time players," Zobrist said. "They went out of their way that year to help me to prepare to get in the game and be ready. And another [veteran] guy who comes to mind is Gabe Kapler. He was with us for a few years. He had spent a lot of time in the league. And he was definitely one of those guys willing to share his expertise about the things that worked and didn't work."
Even though Zobrist played in just 62 games in 2008, he hit 12 home runs. He had never been much of a power threat prior to that season, but a switch seemed to flip, and the power continued. Playing time followed.
"I gained a lot of confidence after 2008, but it wasn't a cocky confidence," Zobrist said. "It wasn't like, 'I'm going to do that better next year'; it was more resigned to the fact that I don't know what kind of opportunities I'm going to get in 2009, after 2008.
"Certainly I felt like I was going to be on the big league club. But I knew that the way the game works, it's a 'What have you done for me lately?' game. So I knew that every at-bat, every start, every time I got a chance to be on the field, it was important for me to stay focused and really be at my best."
Zobrist has never forgotten what failure felt like. If another player were to ask him advice about playing in the Major Leagues, Zobrist's No. 1 suggestion would be to strive to stay in a present state of mind.
"When you're struggling, you get out of sync very easily," Zobrist said. "Your rhythm isn't there; your patience isn't there. You feel uncomfortable. You feel out of place. When you feel that way, you feel out of place. You're in your own head, and everything else is flying by so quickly that you can't decide even one thing to do, let alone being able to do more than one thing.
"Everybody gets there at times where the game is moving so quickly you can't catch up or you can't grab a hold of the one thing you can control. But when you're in the zone, I think it's more of a feeling like you can control anything you want to control in the game and decide to make that play this way, that way, however you want to do it. You feel like you have a lot more control."
Zobrist has gained more control and wisdom over the years. And he now passes that knowledge on to those seeking it. Just don't go to Zobrist seeking chrome.
"He's all about team and he's really unique, and I don't even know where we would be without him," Maddon said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Zobrist named reserve to AL All-Star squad
Posted July 8, 2013
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist will be the Rays' lone representative at the 2013 All-Star Game.
And Rays manager Joe Maddon fully endorsed the pick.
"I love the selection from the perspective that a complete game matters, it's not just about batting average," Maddon said. "Ben personifies the complete baseball player and has done so year in and year out. It's great to see him recognized for it."
The announcement came during Saturday's MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell on FOX. Zobrist found out the news earlier when he went into Maddon's office to meet with the Rays manager and Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations.
"I didn't know what they wanted to talk about to be honest," Zobrist said. "I thought there was going to be other people coming into the meeting, too. Whenever that happens, there's usually a few other guys that come into the room and we talk about whatever, various things about the team or whatever. I was just shocked. I didn't really expect it.
"I was really puzzled as to why I was coming into the principal's office before the game. When they showed me the envelope and said that -American League manager Jim- Leyland had selected me as one of the guys to come off the bench possibly -- it's a huge honor."
Surprised, maybe, but Zobrist also remained confident of his ability.
"I don't feel like I've necessarily played the way I'm capable of playing up to this point, but obviously I still feel like I can help the club win," Zobrist said. "And hopefully if we win that game, we could possibly make it to the World Series and that would give us home-field advantage. It's an important game still. I look forward to being there and seeing what I can do."
The Rays' "Super Utility Man" -- as Maddon long ago tabbed Zobrist -- joined the team as one of Leyland's picks.
"I think Ben Zobrist is a very, very good player, and he happens to be able to play everywhere," Leyland said. "He's a switch-hitter that plays everywhere."
Ironically, Zobrist got drilled by a pitch from Tigers starter Rick Porcello on Sunday at Tropicana Field, ostensibly at the command of Leyland. Zobrist smiled when asked if he could find some humor in the situation of being picked by Leyland less than a week after the incident that prompted Porcello to receive a six game suspension.
"I find a lot of humor in the selection based on that," Zobrist said. "I can't wait to talk to Mr. Leyland to thank him for a couple of different things. No, it's really just going to be an honor to be in the same clubhouse as so many great players. And just to be a part of that game is really special for any player."
Zobrist's announcement ended the speculation about who might be this year's Rays representative, or representatives, as several players are having good seasons.
Other Rays who appeared to have a good shot included Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, James Loney and Matt Moore.
Based on the emphasis now placed on winning the Midsummer Classic, Zobrist, who played in the 2009 All-Star Game, is a perfect pick for a manager hoping to add to the flexibility of his team.
Zobrist can play myriad positions, most notably shortstop, second base and right field. He played in a career-high 157 games in 2012 and distinguished himself as the first player to start at least 45 games at three different positions in the field.
"I just assume it will be similar to some of the things that I do here," Zobrist said. "Only this way it will be coming into the game late in the game if I get an opportunity. And maybe possibly playing a position I haven't played recently. … I'll just have to kind of be flexible and be willing to do whatever they ask me to do. I look forward to the opportunity."
Zobrist had plans for the All-Star break prior to learning about his selection to the team.
"I was just going to go home, relax in Nashville with family and friends," Zobrist said. "This will be a fun little trip in between that time. I really am shocked and excited for the opportunity."
From Saturday, July 6 to Thursday, July 11, be sure to return to MLB.com and cast your 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by freecreditscore.com for the final player for each League's All-Star roster.
And the voting doesn't end there. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 16. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Unfortunately for Longoria, he will wear the label as the Rays' most deserving player to not make the squad. But he plays third base, a position headed by Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.
Meanwhile, Moore is having an All-Star-caliber year. He improved to 12-3 with a 3.42 ERA following 6 1/3 shutout innings in the Rays' 3-0 victory over the White Sox on Saturday night.
Moore did not sound as if felt like he had been on the receiving end of a snub.
"No, I mean I think that those decisions were all subject to people's opinions and things like that," Moore said. "By no means do I feel right taking away from anybody who did make the team. I'm very happy for Zobrist. He's a great player to take from this team as far as winning one game. He can make a difference. Very versatile. Can do a lot of different things. I'm extremely happy for Ben and hope that we can a win in the All-Star Game and that will help set us up nice for the playoffs."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Ben Zobrist: Top 100 Players in MLB Today
Posted March 6, 2013
Ben Zobrist is the poster boy for underrated ballplayers in MLB today.
By FanGraphs' reckoning, the only two players in baseball with better WARs than Zobrist since 2009 are Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Baseball-Reference.com's version of the stat has Zobrist as the best player in baseball since 2009.
It actually makes perfect sense. Zobrist owns a solid .361 wOBA over the last four seasons, and he's hit 77 homers and stole 74 bases. It was business as usual for him in 2012, as he finished with a .365 wOBA, 20 homers and 14 steals.
Zobrist is also capable of providing defensive value at several different positions. Due to that and his ability to hit and run the bases, Zobrist is a perfect utility man and an extremely valuable all-around player.
Interview - Julianna Zobrist: Crazy? Hardly. Fearless? Definitely.
Posted August 20, 2013
As the bass kicks up, the synthesised techno-pop sounds pile on and the echoing, electronically masked background vocals slide in, the last thing you'd ever expect the music to be is contemporary Christian. The club-mix sound is only part of the unique output of Julianna Zobrist (wife to Tampa Bay Rays' rightfielder Ben Zobrist, for those who follow sports more than music), and the message is unapologetically Christian, appealing to the younger market with a mainstream sound. Having taken some time off for a new baby daughter, the Zobrists' second child, Julianna is back in the studio, with a new EP in the offing, "Say It Now," with a post-modern sound and rare and honest introspection.
Say It Now is a very divergent sound from what one would normally attribute to Contemporary Christian Music. It's got a very synth-pop dance-mix thing going for it.
Who are your musical influences, because I can't imagine they're within CCM.
I was actually trained classically, growing up -- classical music and opera, which is hilarious. But I always listened to Michael Jackson and Gloria Estefan and people who would make me dance. The Ting Tings. My taste in music now and through college has always been very eclectic. I love The Black Keys. I love the musical sounds of Lady Gaga. Musically, these people inspire me.
I feel like there's an opportunity in Christian music to have a fun new sound out there. It's definitely out there in the mainstream market, and it needs to be out there in the Christian world too.
You mentioned you were trained operatically. That makes sense, because as I'm listening to "Safe" I was thinking there was a very Amy Lee / Evanescence sound going on with this song, a very goth kind of sound -- which is something else you don't hear in the CCM market.
Yeah, definitely! A lot of my music that I write, I write on keyboard first. I've played classical piano for twenty years now, so usually my musical influence is stemming from piano. So a lot of the time when I write, I tend to write in more of a poetic format, or a classical format, and then I have to revamp my songs to be "Verse, Chorus. Verse, Chorus. Verse, Chorus, Chorus." (laughs)
The title track, "Say It Now"... What I get out of that is a very "girl empowerment" message. Is that what you were aiming for with that? It seems almost obvious.
Yes. And no. In a way, yes, because there is, I think, a lot of pressure that women put on each other today -- unnecessary pressure -- to fit into a mold if they're a Christian. If you're a Christian girl, you look a certain way and you act a certain way. You get married young, you have children -- and you home-school your children if you're really godly -- and you definitely don't dye your hair pink. It's like we've made good things that God has given us that we've made idols, essentially, instead of embracing the gifts that God has given us. We need to use those gifts as platforms to bring people to the gospel. Being beautiful and a godly woman, that's not the end of the story. The end of the story is sharing Christ with people who don't know him.
So I wanted girls to feel less empowered to embrace who they are -- a lot of the Christian market today is pushing "You're beautiful, you're beautiful, because God made you that way" -- and that's true, but if that's the end of the story, then we're left with just ourselves. And it can't be that way. It needs to end with God's commission to us -- Jesus' commission to us to go out and teach the gospel and tell other people about Him. That, in the end, is what we need to be bold about. And to be able to do that, we have to be able to share our weaknesses with each other. We can't pretend to be so perfect.
I seemed to hear more of these same themes in "Only You" -- the whole "wrong direction, image-conscious" thing.
I didn't really write that song with that in mind. I actually wrote that song when we were on the road. We were playing the Yankees and I was laying on our hotel bed and looking out at everything, and thinking, What if this all ended tomorrow? What if baseball was no more? What would I have, and would I really be able to say that God is all that I wanted in the first place? And the answer at that time was, no, it was going to be heartbreaking for me. God was graciously reminding me of another idol I had in my life. He's so patient with me, and was revealing to me that I'm holding on to the world too tightly. "This is Mine. I've given you this to be a platform for My Name. Don't hold onto this, hold onto Me."
Probably the song I've listened to the most from the upcoming EP, after "Say It Now," is "Crazy/Fearless," which really addresses the calling, and to "be bold so the world can hear us." Hasn't the world heard it, and isn't there already a wall of resistance up against it?
In the wrong way, yes. There's a lot of dogmatic people out there that are not emphasizing the true gospel. The true gospel has nothing to do with how great we are, and that's what drives a wedge between us and non-believers. I think people look at Christians and think, "Oh, she's so perfect, and she's got it all together. She has the perfect this..." And we're not portraying ourselves correctly, especially if you're honest with yourself. When I'm honest with myself about my heart, I'm seeing God the way that He is and the fact that He reached down and pulled me out of the darkness and into His light. There is nothing about my own strength that made that happen. We need that humility. I think society is aching for that humility. They're not fooled. We're kind of saying that we've earned it in some way. Even though our words may not say that, we live that way. And they shouldn't see hypocrisy. They should see a humble woman that knows her seat before the Lord and that knows that there's not an ounce of me that deserves him. There's not an ounce of me that is good or that has pleased God in some way -- it was purely his mercy and graciousness that plucked me out, to save me and to rescue me. I think if we lived with that gospel on our mouths, the world would see us a lot differently.
You've been exposed to a lot of different ideas, and a lot of different options. With that in mind, today, why are you a Christian?
Why am I a Christian? For many of the reasons I just said. I do not claim one tiny bit of my salvation. I know that it's not from me, because even on my best of days I still don't love the Lord the way that He deserves to be loved, and I don't want Him the way that He should be wanted, and I don't depend on Him the way that He deserves to be depended on. On our best of days, we're far from holy; we're far from being pleasing in God's eyes. It's not until He has chosen us, and saved us. It's not until that moment that he covered me with His Grace and with His Son's blood that now He sees me as His child. It makes me want to cry every time I talk about it. It just blows my mind.
So why am I a Christian? I guess you'd have to ask the Lord that. I don't know why He's given me this. I don't. But I'm so thankful that He did.
With baseball season in full swing, keeping Ben's schedule full, are you going to be able to break away and do any touring to promote the new music?
Yes, I am. I'm working out a lot to get myself in shape after having a baby -- (laughs) -- and get my voice back in shape. we book our shows as much as we can with the baseball schedule. I do a lot of shows in Florida and in the city. But we hold family in very high priority, way above career, so we try to coordinate those as best as we can.
Review: Julianna Zobrist - Say It Now EP
Posted July 25, 2012
Every once in a while, an album, in whatever genre, hits at you from left field, and your preconceptions and stereotypes are changed. Julianna Zobrist, wife of baseball player Ben Zobrist, released her latest album Say It Now EP to digital outlets earlier this year; and her upbeat and inspiring dance tracks and slower meditative piano based ballads filled with biblical truth and topics about the human heart have certainly shaped my thinking in more ways than one. With her style of music likened to Plumb, Beckah Shae and Superchick; Say It Now EP will give Julianna more accolades that she will ever know! As said by Julianna on her website: ‘…We were created for the divine purpose of living our lives out loud. No matter our personality or life situation, we are on earth to be a testament and witness of Christ and His power…’. Life is meant to be celebrated simple because God gave us breath, and these six offerings are just the place to get up out of your seat and rock on for Jesus.
Starting off with the groovy “Behind Me”, with layers of electronic synth and passionate vocals; Julianna delves into the fact that as Christians we are made a new creation in Jesus- hence we should not live in the ways of the world anymore, they are to be put behind us ‘…can somebody tell me how to move on with this life an truly be free, I’m going crazy, trying to find my way again, I gotta leave it all behind me…’ Jesus wipes our slates clean and it’s a fantastic notion! What a great thing to celebrate! One of my favourite tracks on this short but sweet EP, this electric start gives me chills, and has me commending Julianna for this boldness in musical diversity!
The title track “Say It Now” is next, and utilises music as if it was an Owl City track, including plenty of synth and remix effects. It’s fun to move and dance to, however the subject matter is anything but light! With an inspiring message attached encouraging young people, especially young girls, to speak their minds and be themselves, because they are beautiful and God loves them; Julianna’s song will no doubt propel her into the world of being a role model. As Julianna delves into the heart behind the song ‘…“Say It Now” is a “fist pumper” that will get you moving, but it also addresses something about which I am passionate – PURPOSE – your purpose as a God created human being. We are not here just to exist. We are not just parents, spouses, or beautiful people with careers. You have something to say, so Say it Now…’; we are met with an honest and moving description and prophecy of what God thinks about and sees in us. He encourages us to be ‘…more than beautiful…you’ve got something to say…be more than typical…’. We were made to do more than just exist, and this song is a welcome reminder!
“Safe” is a song sung directly to God, and Julianna exposes her vulnerability against a reverbing keyboard, and a haunting melody, where she sings out that ‘…I am safe with You…’ referring to Jesus. ‘…I’ve been bought at a price…’ is also a powerful lyric, and one that stood out to me while I was soaking in the lyrics; as while we were still sinners Christ died for us, and we did not deserve it; however He died out of love. That is true sacrifice and Julianna brings out our gratitude. Vocally at her peak stepping into Tiffany Arbuckle Lee-like territory; the piano ballad “Safe” is anything but. It’s confrontational, uncomfortable, yet refreshing and invigorating as well!
After the half way point, Julianna speaks about love in “It’s Love”. From the perspective of a couple who are working on their relationship; this song is about going back to the basics. Love is all that matters when everything is taken away. With parallels to God’s relationship with the church; Julianna reminds us that everyone wants to be loved, and Jesus is the One who loves us unconditionally ‘…when you look in my eyes, it’s love…’. As a track that could be played on the dance floor, Julianna’s confronting lyrics about love and how it can affect a couple, and how the act of loving someone takes a toll on the person spiritually, emotionally and physically; is something that is essential to think about. Whether we know it or not, we all love someone or something. This song is an ideal song between a man and his wife.
“Crazy Fearless” is the boldest track on the album, musically and lyrically. With a lot of imagery present in Julianna’s captivating storytelling; the listener is encouraged to stand up for what you believe in, even if you will be ridiculed. The message of ‘…be brave until the world can hear us, I dare us to be courageous, let’s get crazy; crazy fearless…’ is one of stepping out in faith. Julianna then explores the dichotomy of serving two masters, and which one will we serve when they are both at our disposal. A reference to serving God and money, “Crazy Fearless” is crazy in its musical direction (in a good way!), yet also crazy in its lyrical direction in the sense that the topic of fearlessly spreading God’s love and the gospel is scary, yet exciting as well! After all, the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 16-20 was a crazy idea to the disciples- but as God’s plan is, it was crazily good!
The album closer is “Only You”, and is a perfect finish to an energetic and fun EP. Dealing with the themes of chasing after material things and the fact that only God makes us happy and fulfills us, Juliana cries out ‘…I want You and only You, and nothing else would ever do…’. Jesus is our cornerstone, and this electronic guitar based ballad gives the listener and me that God is our reason for living. Without Him, life does not make sense. We should all be thankful for the sacrifice that was made over 2000 years ago; and give Him praise and adoration for it!
With sublime musical experimentation as well as honest ballads, full of electronic effects as well; Julianna Zobrist has compiled a different album that is sure to grab the attention of many. Say It Now EP is very unique, and I am sold on the gorgeous vocals, guitar hooks and vulnerable lyrical content. A full album later in the future will definitely be interesting, particularly if Julianna stays close to her dance roots. Until then, though, do yourself a favour and pick this one up from iTunes. You will not go wrong!
- Behind Me
- Say It Now
- It’s Love
- Crazy Fearless
- Only You
Favourite Tracks: Behind Me, Say It Now, Safe, Only You
Where should Ben Zobrist play in 2013?
Posted January 4, 2013
TAMPA (FBW)—Shortstop? Outfield? Ben Zobrist can play anywhere, which gives the Rays extra flexibility this offseason.
Among the many questions facing the Rays this offseason is one that's unique to them: what position is their most valuable position player in three of the last four seasons going to play in 2013? That the question even exists is a testament to Ben Zobrist, who led Rays hitters in Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement in each of the last two seasons as well as 2009 and is viable anywhere outside of the battery. However, his ultimate destination has less to do with Zobrist than with the Rays' options elsewhere on the diamond, specifically at shortstop, second base, and in the outfield corners.
The proper approach with any player with defensive flexibility is to push them as far to the right on the defensive spectrum as possible without significantly undermining your team's ability to turn balls in play into outs. For Zobrist, that would mean playing him at shortstop. Rays manager Joe Maddon did exactly that starting in early August of this past season when injuries and underperformance effectively eliminated the Rays' other options at the position.
Prior to August, Zobrist hadn't started more than six games at shortstop since 2008, hadn't played it at all since 2009, and generally graded out as a poor defender at the position, the only one he played in his first three major league seasons. However, he acquitted himself well in his return to the position over the final two months of the 2012 season, and has matured to such a degree on both sides of the ball in the intervening four years that he is not only viable at the position, but could very well be the best all-around shortstop in the majors should he spend all of 2013 at the position.
That would make it seem like keeping Zobrist at shortstop is a no-brainer, but it's actually a bit more complicated than that. Zobrist looked good to the eye and the advanced stats in his 47 starts at shortstop over the final two months of the 2012 season, but there's no guarantee that, in his age-31 season, he'd be above average in the field over a full season at a position at which he has made exactly 162 major league starts spread over five seasons. He has, however, established himself as an elite defender at second base and in right field. So, even if Zobrist's performance at the plate wouldn't be effected by a full-time move to shortstop (he hit .303/.381/.527 after making the switch in August), it seems fair to assume that his ability to convert balls in play into outs in the field would be diminished, thus diminishing his overall value in raw numbers.
Normally, that decrease in fielding performance would come out in the wash with the value added by moving a superior bat to a weaker-hitting position, but capitalizing on position scarcity is a two-step process. Step One is finding a player like Zobrist who can provide above-average performance on the right side of the defensive spectrum. Step Two is finding other players who can provide average-or-better performance to his left on the spectrum. It's Step Two that could prove challenging to the Rays, such that it may not be worth sacrificing those extra outs Zobrist can convert at second base.
Put it this way: Are the Rays' options to replace Zobrist at second base any better than their options to replace him at shortstop? Every other infielder on the Rays' 40-man roster is not only capable of playing shortstop on an everyday basis, but most of them derive the bulk of their value from that ability.
Taking each one in turn, Reid Brignac is a slick fielder, but will be 27 in January and is a career .227/.268/.317 hitter in the major leagues. Sean Rodriguez, who turns 28 in April, has been better at the plate but his .229/.306/.361 line as a Ray would have been no better than average at shortstop in 2012 and below average at any other infield position. Elliot Johnson is solid in the field, but his career-best batting line in 2012 was shy of Rodriguez's line above and he'll be 29 in March. Using Clay Davenport's Davenport Translations, which attempt to project minor league performance to the major league level, former number-one pick Tim Beckham's performance at Triple-A in 2012 would have been roughly on par with Johnson's in the majors (Beckham's translation: .246/.305/.346). Hak-Ju Lee, who came over in the Matt Garza trade and just turned 22 earlier this month, might be an outstanding fielder, but that didn't translate to his defensive metrics in 2012 and Davenport translates his production at Double-A this past season to .242/.296/.335 in the major leagues.
It would make no sense to keep Zobrist at shortstop only to play some combination of those five men at second base when the reverse would be the superior defensive alignment, as much because of Zobrist's superior play at the keystone as his double-play partners' work at short. Playing Zobrist at short would only make sense if the team could upgrade on that quintet at the keystone, and the only viable free agents on the market right now who can play second but not short are Jeff Keppinger, who is due for some correction in his batting average after hitting .332 on balls in play in 2012, roughly forty points above his career rate, and Kelly Johnson.
Those two might make decent low-cost platoon at the keystone, but neither on his own is particularly compelling -- certainly not as compelling as luring Marco Scutaro away from a reunion with the Giants or even taking a chance on Stephen Drew, either of whom would keep Zobrist at second base.
What's more, if you take financial concerns into consideration, the Rays might actually benefit most from putting Zobrist in right field. Because of the relative depth of production and the free agent market at their respective positions, it wouldn't be hard for the Rays to land a right fielder who could out-hit Scutaro, Drew, Keppinger, or Johnson, but it would likely be more expensive to sign that player, or, to trade for someone such as the Indians' Shin-Soo Choo, the Twins' Josh Willingham, or even top Royals prospect Wil Myers (each of whom would cost quality players in addition to the salaries of the first two) than it would be to ink the aforementioned middle infielders, who at the very least would serve as upgrades on the five in-house infielders listed above.
The only extreme groundball pitcher in the Rays' rotation is Alex Cobb. David Price and James Shields both had above-average groundball rates in 2012, but those were inconsistent with their previous career rates, where were fairly neutral. That suggests that having Zobrist's above-average range in right could be more valuable to the Rays than his similarly excellent play at second base.
Deciding where to play Zobrist in 2013 is thus likely to be one of the last that the Rays make this offseason. Knowing that Zobrist can slot in just about anywhere, they can explore a full range of options for the middle infield and outfield corners and simply slot Zobrist into the hardest position to fill, which might be shortstop, but it also might not be.
Cliff Corcoran is one of SBN's Designated Columnists. His work also appears at SI.com. Follow him at @cliffcorcoran.
Tampa Bay Rays player, recording artist wife balance busy careers with family
Posted September 28, 2012
TAMPA (FBW)—Ben Zobrist has spent most of his career bouncing around from one position to another on the baseball field.
A utility player for the Tampa Bay Rays, Zobrist has established himself as one of the game's most versatile players, starting every position except for pitcher and catcher during his seven years with the team. From one game to the next, Zobrist has seldom known where he was going to play—only that his team needed him to fill that role.
"It may not be the most comfortable thing at the moment to be moving around, but obviously for my career and for our team in general, it's great,"
Zobrist told Florida Baptist Witness in an Aug. 23 interview. "You'll take a little bit of discomfort in the moment if you know that in the end it's going to work out better."
That philosophy spills over into Zobrist's family life as well.
As parents to two young children, Ben and his wife Julianna often lead a harried life. During the offseason, the family lives in Nashville, Tenn. During the baseball season, they stay in Tampa most of the time, unless they're traveling while Ben is on the road. Julianna and the kids, Zion (age 3) and Kruse (11 months), spend countless hours in hotels and airports.
They know the lifestyle involves sacrifices. But they're also willing to make those sacrifices to be together as a family as much as possible.
"Kids are very flexible. I guess God made them that way," Ben said. "They just adapt to whatever their environment makes for them. We take them all over the place, and they've kind of gotten used to traveling."
Ben's not the only one with the busy work schedule. A Christian recording artist, Julianna released her extended play "Say It Now" earlier this summer. She's performing concerts, promoting her music, and writing a lot to complete her full album.
On a typical day when the Rays are in Tampa, Julianna wakes up about 8 a.m. to do a radio interview. The kids get up around 9 and eat breakfast with mom and dad. The Zobrists spend the morning together doing typical parent-child activities. One recent morning, Ben spent the day teaching Zion how to ride a bike without training wheels.
Ben heads to the ballpark in the afternoon, when it's naptime for the kids. Julianna then takes the children to Ben's game in the evening, and the family waits for him in the hallway outside the clubhouse when the game ends. They head home together and repeat the cycle the next day.
When the Rays are on the road, things get a bit more hectic. That's when the family has to make the most sacrifices in order to be together.
"The main thing was deciding that we wouldn't be apart from each other for longer than six days ever," Julianna told the Witness.
That means the family usually travels to one city per road trip to be with Ben.
"Jules flies with them by herself usually, which takes a lot of effort on her part just to get them through the airport," Ben said.
Julianna said the kids might have better sleep schedules and better eating habits if they stayed home all the time, but they wouldn't see their dad as much, and that's the greater priority for them.
One challenge for the family during the baseball season is being away from their home church, Community Bible Church in Nashville. Though Julianna and the kids make it back there a few times during the season, Ben seldom does.
"We love getting to go back there whenever we can," Julianna said. "It's always such a blessing whenever the kids and I get to go home, be able to go in and see familiar faces and hear our pastor. Quite a few people have gotten to visit us during the season as well."
The Zobrists said church members excel at keeping in touch with them during the season, encouraging them through text messages and e-mails and even making trips to Tampa to visit. Ben and Julianna—both children of pastors—also stay connected as much as possible by listening to online sermons from their pastor, Byron Yawn.
"It's hard enough, as much travel as we do, just to listen to the podcasts on a regular basis," Ben said. "But it takes effort. Anything worthwhile takes a little bit of effort."
That effort extends to the playing field as well, and plenty of baseball experts have noticed. Because of his flexibility and his combination of skills, Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Lemire recently labeled Ben as "one of the most valuable players in baseball."
The work he puts into his game and the way he strives to excel are reflections of his faith in Christ, Ben said.
"Like anybody else that goes and does their job, there's a way to do your job with excellence," he said. "You want to represent Christ well with doing your job, first and foremost, because that's what you're there to do."
Visit with Zobrist makes young girl's day
Posted September 10, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG -- The star of Friday's game was back at Tropicana Field early Saturday afternoon, making Maya Ares the envy of Rays fans everywhere.
Who wouldn't want to hang for an hour or so with the guy whose 11th inning home run beat the Rangers the previous night?
Ben Zobrist arrived to work a few hours early to have lunch with 10-year-old Maya and her dad, Chris, who made the drive from their Brandon home.
"He's amaaaaazing," Maya said. "And dreamy."
They had sandwiches and cookies at a picnic table behind the Rays bullpen. Zobrist's wife Julianna came by with the kids, Zion and Kruse.
Maya and Zobrist raced in the tunnel outside the Rays clubhouse. Maya won.
"She's really fast," Zobrist said. "But I wasn't loose yet."
Maya took some swings in the outfield with Rays strength and conditioning coach Kevin Barr and Barr's son Christopher. Zobrist showed her how to use the bullpen phone.
They stood near the Rays dugout during batting practice and had tickets to the game.
"This was a good experience," Chris Ares said. "It was fun. It was very nice of Ben and Julianna to do this."
Maya lost her mom in August 2011. Kristin Ares passed away from ovarian cancer in San Francisco during what was one of the last legs of a cross country trip.
"We bought a camper and hit the road," Chris said. "We tried to enjoy whatever life she had left. We were making our journey home when she took a turn for the worse."
They visited Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis. Went tubing in Missouri. They visited the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. They watched the Rays play the Mariners in Seattle and rode dune buggies in Oregon.
The Rays were a big part of family life for the Ares. They attended games at the Trop, Kristin wearing her Carlos Peña jersey, Chris wearing his Evan Longoria jersey. Maya had an Akinori Iwamura jersey until he was traded. Then Zobrist became her favorite Ray. She wore her Ben Zobrist jersey Saturday.
Every year Maya tries to win the Take Ben Zobrist to School contest so she can meet her favorite Ray.
Maya received that wish Saturday thanks to Rays TV play-by-play man Dewayne Staats, who knows Chris, knows of what Maya has been through this past year and thought Zobrist could help brighten a little girl's day.
It was Zobrist who suggest they all do lunch. Why say hello when you can get to know someone and maybe bring a little joy to a dad and his daughter in what has been a pretty rough year?
"We touch each other's lives in various ways. That's the gift that baseball brings us," Zobrist said. "We can't spend time with everybody, but when we do we try to bring a smile to somebody's face, help them enjoy the game, help them enjoy life a little bit more. I think we all have opportunities to do that in our lives. And the other thing is it's rewarding for us. At the end of the day it's good to know that you tried to help somebody, tried to encourage somebody that day instead of living for yourself."
Maya was allowed to stay up late Friday night and watch all 11 innings of the Rays/Rangers game. She was still awake when Zobrist launched a ball into the right field seats.
Maya jumped up and yelled, "It's gone."
Then it was off to bed. She had a lunch date to keep.
Zobrist's blast gives Rays walk-off win in extra innings
Posted September 8, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG -- Julianna Zobrist started the game off by singing the National Anthem with Brother Norwood. Almost four hours later, Julianna's husband, Ben, finished off the game with a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th.
Zobrist's blast gave the Rays a 3-1 win over the Rangers on Friday night before a crowd of 19,545 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays (76-62) have won five of their last six games and 20 of their last 30, remaining two games behind the American League East-leading Yankees and one back of the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.
Mark Lowe entered the series opener for the Rangers to pitch the bottom of the 11th. B.J. Upton led off the inning and fell behind, 0-2, in the count before fighting back to draw a walk.
Going "0-2 to 4-2 is a concept that I love when we do it offensively, and I hate it when it happens against us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a great at-bat by B.J. to start us off."
Maddon actually told Zobrist not to bunt prior to his at-bat.
"He said, 'If B.J. gets on, do not bunt," Zobrist said. "He said, 'swing away'."
Actually, the thought of not swinging away never entered Zobrist's mind.
"I wasn't thinking about bunting," Zobrist said. "I was thinking about what to do with a pitch."
Zobrist got ahead in the count, 2-0, when he connected on a fastball for his 16th home run of the season.
"He threw me two sliders, so I just had to be ready for the fastball if he threw it in a place I could hit it," Zobrist said. "I am just thankful that I was able to get enough of it to get out."
Zobrist's walk-off hit was the third of his career, but the first on a homer in career -- and his life, which explained Zobrist's emotional display rounding first when his right hand shot up in the air.
"That's the first time I've ever done it, never had a walk-off homer in my life," Zobrist said. "So regardless of whether it was Little League, high school, or college. I never did it.
Today was a fun day. I've thought about it, if it's ever going to happen. You know when you're in the moment, you're just trying to have a good quality at-bat, and I just feel very blessed we were able to win the game tonight."
Zobrist's bat ended what had been a highlight reel for the quality of pitching for both teams.
"It was a pitchers' duel out there all night," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "[The Rays] got the last blow. You never want to lose. It was a real good game. They had the last opportunity out and they got it done."
Derek Holland started for the Rangers and held the Rays hitless through 3 2/3 innings. But he fell behind, 3-1, to Evan Longoria with two outs in the fourth and the Rays' slugger ripped a 94-mph sinker deep into the left-field stands for his 11th home run of the season. That would be all the Rays could muster against Holland, who struck out a career-high 11 in eight innings while surrendering one run.
Meanwhile, Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson tossed four scoreless frames, before Michael Young connected on a 2-2 changeup, depositing the ball into the left-field stands for his seventh home run of the season to tie the score at 1.
Hellickson recorded his 17th quality start of the season -- holding the Rangers to one run on four hits in six innings in a no-decision.
Both bullpens were solid, particularly Tampa Bay's, as Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney, and Wade Davis covered five scoreless innings, while allowing just one hit with eight strikeouts.
"They all had great stuff, not good stuff, great stuff across the board," Maddon said.
Davis, who earned the win, struck out the side in the 10th.
"That first inning out of Wade was about as electric as you're going to see out of any pitcher," Maddon said.
Davis then returned to pitch the 11th, allowing a leadoff single to David Murphy before striking out the next two hitters. Jose Molina then threw out Murphy attempting to steal second to end the inning.
"I think I was a little stiff from the long inning before," said Davis of the 11th. "I think they went through one or two pitchers, so it took me a little bit to get going, but we got it."
Since the All-Star break, the Rays' bullpen owns a Major League-best 1.39 ERA.
"We've got a lot of competitors down there," Davis said. "We've got a lot of guys who don't give in, ever. You're going to have success when you have guys like that. They're not having bad days every day, and if they are, they're going to come out and they're going to compete. It's pretty fun to watch."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Zobrist's 14th inning double gives rays 4-3 win over Mariners
Posted July 25, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Carlos Pena isn't the fastest runner, but after squandering several opportunities he represented Tampa Bay's best chance to end a long night against the Seattle Mariners.
Pena scored from first base on Ben Zobrist's 14th inning double down the right field line, sliding across home plate just ahead of Ichiro Suzuki's throw to give the Rays a 4-3 victory Friday.
"With the ball being where it was and with Ichiro out there, I didn't think we had much of a chance," Zobrist said.
But Suzuki's throw was off line and missed the cutoff man, forcing catcher Jesus Montero to field the ball on the first base side of the plate.
Montero scrambled to get into position to make the tag, but Pena just got in under it.
"Missing the cutoff permitted that to happen," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We got very fortuitous that particular moment."
The Rays went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded the potential tying runs in those situations in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings.
B.J. Upton homered and drove two runs for Tampa Bay.
Pena singled off Tom Wilhelmsen with one out in the 14th, and Zobrist followed with his third hit of the game.
"It's kind of a relief when you win a game like that," said Zobrist, who walked twice and was hit by a pitch.
Zobrist reaches kids through Sandlot Club
Posted july 25, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG -- If there was one player on the Rays that knows fundamentals, it's Ben Zobrist.
The utility man who can play all around the field and bat from both sides of the plate helped pitcher David Price retire the first four batters in Thursday's 6-0 win over the Indians. Afterward, Zobrist met up with children from his Sandlot Club to teach them fundamentals of the game.
"You can learn some things from watching their innocence and just the way they do things -- there's just not a whole lot of complication about it," Zobrist said. "For me, it's kind of an energizing thing."
The day started with a tour through the clubhouse and training rooms, where jerseys of the kids' favorite players hung. They then returned out to the field, where they played a pickup game of hardball.
"My ERA got inflated somewhat," Zobrist, who pitched the entire time, joked. "I don't take it to heart too much. We had a fun time, and it's just fun to see all the kids out there."
The game itself was full of entertainment. Though Zobrist got touched up for a few homers, there were still some great plays in the field and smiles on the kids' faces by the end.
The Sandlot Cub was created in 2010 by Zobrist to help at-risk children in the community learn teamwork through basic baseball skills.
"These kids are learning how to cheer for each other, how to encourage, to basically teach each other the game as they go about it," Zobrist said. "All those things are really important in the game of baseball. They don't do everything perfect, but that's part of the reason I love playing."
The Pinellas County Police Athletic League, whose mission is to provide youths with alternatives from violence and games, is partnering with the Sandlot Club.
Julianna opens up for Casting Crowns at Atlanta Fest
Posted October 31, 2011
In college, I worked with artists and would watch them perform from backstage. I would be trying to play it "cool" and not make a fool out of myself while I was singing along. So to get to be the artist this time was an amazing experience because I could feel the energy of the more than 8,000 people there, remembering my own experiences watching festivals. Even during the soundcheck to see people walking by and then stop to jam with us was a blast for me.
I've always been pretty confident that I could be in a closet performing and be equally as in to the music as when people are watching. But after Atlanta Fest I'm not so sure! The fans were so electric and so alive, it felt as if I was best friends with them all. The highlight for me was walking off stage to my table and a having a line out the tent of beautiful people that I got to hug and talk about life with. Your stories are my inspirations! So thank you Atlanta Fest!
It's A Girl!!!
Posted October 31, 2011
Kruse Allegra was born September 19 at 10am. She was a chunker just like Zion, weighing in at 8lbs 2oz. Ben and I actually had a bet going on her weight, and I nailed it dead on. I wanted music playing during the delivery process, and the amazing All Childrens’ nurses decided on Pink - a perfect choice I thought. The delivery room was bumping! So Kruse is here, and she is cuter than cute, hates being cold (like her Mama), loves being snuggled by her Daddy, and is already super protected by her brother. Life is good!
Baseball and Ben
Posted October 31, 2011
The Tampa Bay Rays found themselves in the playoffs after the most exciting day in baseball. "The last day of the regular season was an unbelievable experience for the fans and the players. It was the craziest day of baseball that I've ever been a part of. It was an emotional roller coaster, culminating in the most shocking entrance into the playoffs ever by any team in the history of the game, making it a day I will never forget. It was a tough loss, especially after becoming one of the most improbable cinderella stories."