Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ben Zobrist might secure stability with Tampa Bay Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — Change is nothing new for Ben Zobrist.

It's the norm.

The Rays utilityman recalls the wild past couple of years, from being the opening day shortstop in 2007 to going up and down from Triple A four times last season. There were milestones (marrying wife Julianna), career highlights (World Series starts in rightfield in Games 1 and 4) and adventures (the birth of son Zion in February).

"The whole last few years have been a whirlwind," Zobrist said. "Just kind of change after change after change. I feel like it's normal now. So if we ever stay somewhere longer than a month or a month and a half, it's going to be out of the normality right now.

"The abnormal is kind of normal for us."

Fittingly, Zobrist, 27, said everything finally feels "normal," and he might get that wish of sticking in the big leagues. And a few other changes — in positions and power at the plate — are why.

Zobrist's transformation last season into a super utilityman (playing six positions) and slugger (12 homers) could make him a key cog for the Rays.

Zobrist has played six spots this spring, and with outfielders B.J. Upton (left shoulder) and Fernando Perez (left wrist) recovering from injuries, he might be a backup plan in centerfield.

"I'm not saying he can never be a starter again because he may be with the addition of the offense," manager Joe Maddon said. "And it doesn't have to be at shortstop anymore, either. There are other places he can start now because of this experiment. So he's turned into a very interesting player."

The turning point came in late January 2008, shortly before Zobrist began juggling gloves — and roles. He said a couple of people, including Dallas Baptist University coach Dan Heefner (his brother-in-law), gave him tips on tweaking his swing.

Zobrist began to stay connected in his approach, using more of his lower half and getting down into the zone (instead of "throwing my hands down at the ball").

The results were remarkable. Despite starting the season on the disabled list (left thumb fracture) and playing just 62 big-league games, Zobrist led all major-league infielders with a home run for every 16.5 at-bats (minimum 10 homers). This from a switch-hitter who before 2008 had just three homers in 280 big-league at-bats and 19 in 1,251 minor-league at-bats.

Zobrist said he surprised even himself by homering over the centerfield wall (420 feet away) at Detroit's Comerica Park in September. Soon after, Maddon nicknamed him "Zorilla."

"His offense from last year really did a 180. He was our power bat off the bench," shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "Every time he did play, you could feel it in the dugout; he was a threat. … Usually, your utility guy doesn't have that much pop like he does. There's something special about him."

Zobrist acknowledges it was a special year, from his success to that of Julianna's (she recently released her debut Christian alternative CD, The Tree).

But the Eureka, Ill., native, son of a minister, has remained grounded, having thrived through his twists and turns.

"When you're uprooted and thrown somewhere that you are not used to," Zobrist said, "you just roll with the punches."

After all, as Zobrist found out, change can be a good thing.


Power play

Last season, Ben Zobrist led all major-league middle infielders in at-bats per home run (minimum 10 homers), topping some of the game's stars:

Player Team AB

Ben Zobrist Rays16.5

Dan Uggla Marlins16.6

Hanley Ramirez Marlins17.9

Chase UtleyPhillies18.4

Mr. Versatility

Ben Zobrist morphed into a super utilityman last season, playing six positions and starting at five over 62 games. His starts at each:

Shortstop33 Centerfield 3

Leftfield8 Rightfield 1

Second4 Third0

Source: Rays

Ben Zobrist might secure stability with Tampa Bay Rays 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 10:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Crosstown rivals Bloomingdale-Newsome kick off season


    LITHIA — In a week filled with area football rivalries, there is a game on the east side of Hillsborough County — Bloomingdale vs. Newsome — that has matured into a classic crosstown battle, complete with classic cliches.

    Bloomingdale wide receiver Ed Amos charges through a drill a few days before the big rivalry game against Newsome on Friday night.
  2. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Several key players still sidelined


    Greg Auman gives an injury update, with several key players still sidelined from practice three days before the Bucs play the Cleveland Browns in Tampa, and a full recap of your favorite scenes from Tuesday …

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans was held out of practice Wednesday at One Buc Place. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  3. Playoff ambitions evident in opener for Zephyrhills, Wiregrass Ranch


    WESLEY CHAPEL — A new football season in Pasco County begins Friday night, but this one promises to be like none before it — with more math than ever. A new playoff system emphasizes schedule strength, making non-district tilts particularly important.

    Wiregrass Ranch wide receiver Jordan Miner catches a pass in spring practice at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel on Monday, May 1, 2017.
  4. Dirk Koetter says Bucs used team meeting to discuss social issues


    Four days before their preseason home opener against the Cleveland Browns, which had 12 players not stand for the national anthem prior to their last game, the Bucs used their team meeting to discuss social issues that might have led to that demonstration, coach Dirk Koetter said.

    "The main thing is we have to respect everybody's opinion," Dirk Koetter said, "because everybody is not going to agree." [AP photo]
  5. Rookie tight end Antony Auclair making case to stick with Bucs


    Don't let his modest preseason stats fool you: Antony Auclair, the undrafted rookie tight end from Canada is making a strong case to stick around on the Bucs' 53-man roster this season.

    Bucs tight end Antony Auclair (82) collides with a defender following a catch during training camp. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]