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Tampa Bay Rays Tales: Don't mess with Zorilla

Rays rumblings

Until they hosted the woeful Nationals last weekend, the Rays had played the toughest schedule in the majors (opponent winning percentage of .521), the way Baseball Prospectus figures it. … Whatever interest the Rays have in Pedro Martinez is as a reliever. … The next themed road trip sounds like a Johnny Cash special — all black. … The Trop is the only stadium in the majors with at least one homer in every game. … Senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker's name has come up in connection with the Nationals GM job. … The awful June 13 seventh-inning stretch "performance" at the Trop that drew boos made it to YouTube. … Gary Sheffield plans to play two more seasons and still wants to finish with the Rays.

Got a minute? Gabe Gross

Best meal you can make? Steaks on the grill.

Karaoke song if you had to? John Deere Green by Joe Diffie.

Guilty pleasure at the mall? Auntie Anne's, the cinnamon sugar one.

Since your teammates just voted you worst dressed, how would you describe/defend your fashion sense? Normal. I'm not trying to be 19.

And who do you think are the worst dressed?

Ha! Let's say it's a tie between Zo (Ben Zobrist) and Nelly (Joe Nelson).

Joe Maddon meant well. He's always giving everyone nicknames anyway, and when Ben Zobrist returned from the minors last season swinging with a vengeance, this one just kind of happened. "All of a sudden, he started to hit homers, and you talk about guys being a gorilla, and here's ZO-brist. I just went ZO-rilla," Maddon said. "I don't know why I do things sometimes. Then it becomes easy to say, and I just started to say it. But he grew into one of those. He's an absolute zorilla. Every time he comes to the plate now, we expect him to hit the ball hard." Made sense. Sounded good. Had marketing appeal. And then the facts got in the way. Maddon found out there was a real zorilla — and it's nothing like he had imagined.

"I didn't know that actually existed," Maddon said. "It's amazing. Cute little thing, though."

The real zorilla resembles a skunk, black with white stripes, but is related to the weasel and is known more commonly as the striped polecat (and officially as Ictonyx striatus). Worse, it's considered one of the smelliest animals around due to particularly potent anal scent glands. It's native to Africa and supposedly referred to in Sudan as the "father of stinks."

They're nocturnal, can grow to 13-15 inches, weigh as much as 3 pounds and forage for food, preferring insects, small mammals, birds and frogs. Maddon figured he should share his zoological discovery with Zobrist.

"I checked it out online, and it was a little anticlimactic," Zobrist said. "I didn't know what it was. I didn't think it was an animal, either. When he told me it was like a skunk, it really doesn't fit the nickname well.

"I wish it was something like a gorilla, but it turned out to be a night scavenger. And there's something about secreting bodily smells to fend off other skunks."

But some things just sound right, so Zobrist is going to keep making a name for his species of the zorilla.

"You can't get rid of it now. It sounds too good," he said. "Let's just try and keep the other side of that on the down-low."

It starts with a Z

These are exciting times for Zobrist, a native of Eureka, Ill., and son of a pastor. His wife, Julianna, is a Christian rock/alternative singer who recently released her first CD, The Tree. On Feb. 1, they became parents for the first time with the birth of a son. And now Ben is becoming one of the bigger stories in baseball with all kinds of national attention. "The coolest thing is how much fun I think it is for my friends and family to follow; and even people I haven't kept in that close contact with, just knowing they're watching and enjoying it along with me," he said. "Like the other night, my best friend from back home texted me, and he's like, You just tied Ozzie (Smith) for career home runs (with 28 at the time). Stuff like that is just fun."

In the beginning

Before he was the Zorilla, Zobrist was just Zo or Zobe (zo-BEE). Before that, among other nicknames: Ben-zee, Z-man and Zobo.

The Zorilla nation

Get a cool nickname, have some success, a T-shirt is soon to follow. Raysindex.com is offering a couple, the coolest with a gorilla atop the Trop on the front and ZORILLA above the No. 18 on the back rather than ZOBRIST.

Tampa Bay Rays Tales: Don't mess with Zorilla 06/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 7:41pm]

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