Interview: Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist, Wife on Faith, Family, Music, Baseball
Wicked winter weather continues to freeze much of the country, but baseball is only a couple of months away. With that in mind, I talked to Tampa Bay Rays All-Star Ben Zobrist and his wife Julianna Zobrist about the upcoming season and their life together. No matter the temperature outside, the Zobrists can easily warm your heart.
Ben and Julianna are great Christian role models. While Ben plays baseball, Julianna is an up and coming singer. They are the parents of two little ones and they spread the word of Christ in all they do.
In April a new book will hit the shelves called Double Play. It was written by Ben Zobrist along with his wife and Mike Yorkey, best-selling author of Every Man's Battle and Linspired: The Remarkable Rise of Jeremy Lin. The book gives readers an up close and personal look at the Zobrist family and their incredible devotion to God, family, music, and baseball.
Double Play comes out just around the start of the 2014 MLB season. Ben Zobrist has high hopes for his Rays this year, especially with relief pitcher Grant Balfour now in the fold.
"I feel really good about it," Zobrist told Breitbart Sports. "I think on paper we are even better than we were last year." Last year Tampa Bay earned a Wild Card spot in wild fashion, winning a tie-breaker game over Texas and then went on to top Cleveland in the American League Wild Card game. The Rays run would end in the ALDS where they lost to eventual World Series champion Boston in four games.
"If people stay healthy, if we can keep David (Price), and if we can keep most of the rest of the guys that we have I think we are definitely a better team than we were last year," Zobrist said. "I look for us to do some big things this year as long as things stay as they are now."
One thing that remains the same is the man piloting the Rays. Joe Maddon has been the manager of the club since 2006 and he has led Tampa to the postseason four teams, including an AL pennant in 2008. Maddon is really unlike any other manager in the big leagues. From the way he deals with the press to the moves he makes on the field, he is truly an original. Zobrist loves to play for him.
"Joe is a really unique guy," said Zobrist. "There are very few baseball minds that have ever been around the game that are like Joe Maddon. He's an outside the box thinker. He likes to change things up and do things differently and try new things. That's one of the things that sets him apart."
Maddon's personal relationships with his players are also an important component. "Another thing that sets him apart is his ability to give his players freedom to be who they are," Zobrist said. "He knows how to get out of the way, as you might say and just try to let them be the best player they can be and see how that fits in with the club."
You could say the Maddon-Zobrist partnership has been a perfect fit.
"He's given me great opportunities because I've been flexible," Zobrist said. "When Joe asks can you do this or that?, I say sure I'll give it a shot."
That type of relationship has worked out well for Zobrist and the Rays organization. The switch-hitting Zobrist has played all over the diamond for Maddon and has helped the never say die Rays thrive.
"I probably would not have had those opportunities without a guy like Joe, a GM like Andrew (Friedman) and our other coaches thinking out of the box," Zobrist said.
The feelings of respect are mutual. Joe Maddon has been quoted as saying Zobrist lacks "chrome." In other words, no hot dogging here. Maddon has also called the man he nicknamed "Zorilla," a "winner" and a player any manager would want on his team.
Above all, like Zobrist, Maddon is a good guy. I can attest to this personally. Back in 2006 when I was coaching youth softball, my team wanted to be called the Rays. A friend of mine knew Mike Scioscia, who put him in touch with Maddon. When Maddon heard about my girls choosing to be the Rays, back when the real Tampa team was not very good, he sent us a signed photo and a box filled with souvenir glasses that looked just like the specs Maddon wears. As you can imagine, the team had a lot of fun wearing them. Maddon reached out, just because.
Ben Zobrist is not a solo act. He and his wife Julianna are the package deal. They made a commitment a long time ago to never be apart for more than six days at a time. They continue to stick to that pact, which isn't easy when the season starts up again. And especially more so now that they have a two-year old daughter and four-year old son.
"It's a whole new ball game now with kids," Julianna Zobrist told Breitbart Sports. "The main change has been me getting on a lot of flights with the kids to meet Ben in different cities."
Once there, more challenges are faced.
"We have to get creative with ways to get outside," Julianna Zobrist said. "Finding parks, bringing the Wiffle Ball. It's a lot more alone time for me as a mom which is fine, but I obviously prefer Ben to be there so we make the sacrifice to travel a lot. I don't live my life based on days of the week, I live by which flight I'm taking next."
Every year the Zobrists pack up and move to Port Charlotte for Spring Training. Then they rent in Tampa for the baseball season. At the end of the year, they pack it all up again and head back to Nashville, their home base.
Crazy and hectic? Sure. But, they wouldn't trade it for the world.
Julianna Zobrist loves to see the reaction her children have when they head in to Tropicana Park on game days. "When we walk into the stadium, our son just takes off, holds doors open, says hi to all the security guards by name and the elevator ladies by name," she said. "It really becomes your own little community and family."
Although the little Zobrists are quite young and don't realize the magnitude of the Major Leagues, Ben and Julianna know the kids will look back at these days fondly down the road. "Getting to see their dad play is very unique," said Julianna Zobrist. "Of course they get restless sometimes, sitting in their seats, but its so worth it to see what their dad does. On certain occasions they get to be on the field or run the bases. These are memories that will last a lifetime."
Not only do the Zobrist kids get to see their dad on the field, they sometimes get to see mom out there too. Julianna Zobrist is a very talented Christian singer, and she's performed "The Star Spangled Banner" before Rays games. Coinciding with the release of Double Play, Julianna is also recording music. Just like the woman herself, her music delivers a hopeful message of faith.
Both Ben and Julianna are pastor's kids from the heartland. Their relationship is strong and Christ-centered. They compliment each other beautifully. Their new book is really a must-read not only because of the very honest and transparent content, but because of the way it is written. The autobiography features sixteen chapters with split narratives. Ben and Julianna each give their unique take on life events, obstacles along the way, and their love of God.
For now, the Zobrists are enjoying the last few weeks of the off season. Ben is fresh off of a missionary trip to the Dominican Republic. He's loving his life with Julianna and the kids. When the season does roll around, Zobrist, with his family right there to cheer him on, will be ready to go to battle in the stacked American League East.
"There's no doubt it's going to be extremely tough like it was last year," Zobrist said. "Even though the Yankees lost (Robinson) Cano, they did pick up (Masahiro) Tanaka. The Red Sox will probably be every bit as good as they were last year and the Orioles and Blue Jays are no slouches anymore. It's tough competition all year long. We know what we're getting ourselves into at the start of the season. We have to use what we have as a team and believe that we are going to be able to do it and just go out there and execute. We believe if we play the way we're capable of, we definitely can win our division. That's what motivates us at the start of the season thinking about postseason possibilities."
Whether it's his Rays, his family, his wife Julianna, or his Savior Jesus Chirst, one thing's for sure. Ben Zobrist believes.
For more on the Zobrists and their new book Double Play check out their SarahNET Radio interview on The Palin Update with Kevin Scholla. Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @KevinScholla.