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Anxiety, depression nearly drove Rays' Zobrist from baseball

PORT CHARLOTTE — Ben Zobrist is typically a man of good spirits and great faith, aware and appreciative of the blessings of his life — an All-Star career with the Rays, a multimillion-dollar contract, a talented singer wife and beautiful family.

But in a soon-to-be-released autobiography, Zobrist reveals that he suffered from anxiety and depression so fierce after being sent back to the minor leagues during the 2007 season that he nearly quit the game.

"For sure," Zobrist said Monday. "There were definitely days when I didn't want to go to the field and play. Those were the worst days. Because you love baseball, it's kind of one of those joys usually, and there were plenty of days during that time in '07 where I was just like, 'I'd rather stay home, I'd rather just do nothing.' That was just because my attitude was so negative at the time."

The book, Double Play, is co-authored by wife Julianna and written with Mike Yorkey. It is due out April 1, currently available for pre-order on The Tampa Bay Times obtained an advance copy.

Much of the 243 pages is a love story, going into great detail of the extended courtship between Ben and Julianna, quoting from emails and personal journals during the 3½ years from when they met until they began dating, and leading up to their wedding.

"So much cheesy stuff," Julianna said. "You would never think seeing big, strong No. 18 out there on the field hitting home runs that he would have this very romantic side."

There are also anecdotes of their upbringings in the Midwest as the children of preachers; of life in the minors and majors; of events illustrative of their faith; of the juggling of Ben's baseball schedule, Julianna's singing career and family demands.

Both also made deeply personal revelations:

Julianna writes of being sexually molested when she was 12 years old by a group of six boys while attending a church camp, "touched in places where no girl should be touched."

She said she included it in the book not only to be a positive example for others who go through similar incidents, but to illustrate how Ben helped her deal with it.

"That was such an amazing part of our love story," she said. "There had never been healing for me, never been honesty for me because I never learned to trust somebody. It was honestly the grace of God that allowed Ben to love me the way that he did and create safety for me."

Ben describes his adverse reaction to being sent back to Triple A six weeks into a 2007 season that began with him as the opening day shortstop. He details how he stopped eating and sleeping much, became overly negative and extremely unpleasant for even Julianna to be around and hid from his teammates anxiety issues so severe that at times, he thought he might pass out on the field.

"Each time I thought I was over the hump, the anxiety attacks struck with a vengeance," Ben wrote. "The lows became lower. The depths became deeper."

The anxiety issues continued when Zobrist was called back up in July, still struggling at the plate then missing the final six weeks with injury. He eventually, with the help of friends and restored faith, worked through it.

The Zobrists had no plans to write a book until they were approached, thinking initially it would be self-published for friends and relatives, but the B&H Publishing Group turned it into a project of broad appeal.

Once they started detailing their story, Julianna and Ben felt they should pretty much tell all.

"I'm very grateful and very honored to get to share and get to be honest," Julianna said. "And at the end of the day hopefully make other people feel normal, that we've all gone through things and suffered through things and there is grace at the end of it, and you can stay strong in your marriage and your love."

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.