CHICAGO — At one point and time, Ben Zobrist considered following his dad into the ministry. Instead, he gave baseball a try.
About ten million Chicago Cubs fans – in addition to almost as many who hopped on that bandwagon within the last couple of weeks – are glad he went with the latter. But, even though he doesn’t occupy a pulpit on Sundays, Zobrist’s faith is as visible as the MVP trophy presented to him once ending 108 years of frustration for the franchise.
“We know that as a Christian athlete, people are watching, and so we want to be the best example we can be and show that we are different – that Christ has changed our lives. But at the same time, I want people to know that grace is for everyone. We all need grace. We all need Christ,” Zobrist, then a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in a 2013 interview.
He also shows his commitment to Christ through his walk-up song, “Alive,” when batting. The artist, a singer by the name of Julianna Zobrist who also happens to be the mother of his three children, is a personal favorite. In 2014 the couple wrote the book Double Play: Faith and Family First, telling of their careers and how faith directed them.
Zobrist played at Olivet Nazarene University and Dallas Baptist University before being drafted by the Houston Astros in 2004. He made his major league debut two years later after being traded to Tampa.
From 2006-08 Zobrist averaged appearing in 48 games per season. Playing under manager Joe Maddon, with whom he’d reunite in Chicago, Zobrist helped the Rays reach the 2008 world Series.
His breakout year came in 2009. He hit .297 with 27 home runs for the Rays in 152 games while starting every defensive position except pitcher and catcher. In addition, Zobrist made his first of three All-Star appearances and finished eighth in the National League MVP voting.
In 2015 he was traded to Oakland, then to Kansas City. With the Royals, Zobrist hit .261 while starting all five games at second base in the World Series to help KC win its second title and first in 20 years.
Talking with the Kansas City Star last year, Tom and Cindi Zobrist recounted the shaky steps of their son’s baseball career.
After high school, colleges weren’t looking at Ben for baseball. Friends and family assumed he, like his siblings, would work for a time with Tom at Liberty Bible Church in Eureka, IL. Perhaps he’d enter vocational ministry.
It was very possible. Likely, even, except for that day Ben heard of baseball tryouts in a nearby town. Scouts would be there. It could lead to something else.
But there was a price. “Fifty dollars was a lot of money,” remembered Cindi. “It still is.”
Ben paid with birthday money from his grandparents. That led to a stint at Olivet, which led to more exposure playing for Dallas Baptist. Scouts in nearby Houston got a look at the youngster capable of playing several positions on the field, and took a gamble in the 6th round of the 2004 draft.
The night before leaving to join the Astros’ affiliate in Troy, NY, outside Albany, Ben Zobrist told his dad, “I’m going to be a missionary in the big leagues.”
That word gets tossed around, with its meaning debated at times. Zobrist organizes Bible studies with teammates and supports his wife’s career. He also does things that make people genuinely love the guy. How many millionaires ride their bicycle to work wearing PF Flyers?
And being a major league ball player doesn’t mean you’re above singing “Let It Go” with your daughter at Disney.
It started at the crack of dawn on a sunny morning in LA…14 hours and 14 theme rides later I found myself belting let it go while flurries fell and fireworks lit up the sky. Daddy duty till I literally got caught drooling on myself this afternoon. I would not trade one second of this for all the me time in the world. #offdayatdisney
With a 10th-inning, post-17-minute-rain-delay slap of the ball into left field Zobrist brought the Cubs their final lead of 2016. But as monumental as that is, his words as guest speaker for Lipscomb University Chapel in 2013 relay his greatest definition of success. Zobrist spoke on a time when his focus lay mainly on his career, and not as much God.
“The reality is, there are a lot of people [who are] extremely successful,” he said. “You can have success and pursue it and reach it, but that does not mean you’re going to be at peace. That does not mean you’re going to be satisfied in your life.
“… I took a look at myself in the mirror and I wasn’t impressed. … I can’t be perfect, but there is a life I should be looking at that was perfect, and that’s Christ.”