'This has been an incredible experience,' second baseman says of run with Royals
By Hal Bodley
KANSAS CITY -- Thirty years ago, little Ben Zobrist, not yet 5, would pull on his Royals T-shirt with the No. 1 on the back and accompany his mom and dad to Kansas City where they'd cheer on their beloved team.
On Tuesday night, big Ben Zobrist, now 34, will pull on a Royals shirt with No. 18 on the back and try to help his team win its first World Series since 1985. This time he'll be at second base, not in the stands.
"But I think my mom might bring that old T-shirt here tomorrow," Zobrist said as he and his teammates prepared for their date with the New York Mets on Tuesday (air time 7:30 p.m. ET, game time 8 ET, FOX).
"Thirty years," he said, looking past a group of media types. "It's hard to believe I was here then. This has been an incredible experience."
This time last year, the multi-talented Zobrist was completing his ninth season with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was named their MVP.
Since then, he's been traded to Oakland, and on July 28 he was dealt by the A's to the Royals, a trip back to Middle America and close to Eureka, Ill., where he grew up. His dad, Tom, pastor of the Liberty Bible Church, and mom Cindi still live there.
"I dreamed of this, I guess," Ben said somewhat reluctantly. "There are so many small steps it takes to get to this point. I didn't take that dream too far when I dreamed it.
"I just try to focus on one step at a time, what I have to do or what the team has to do to get here. When we got into the postseason, you cannot assume just because we won the regular season you're going to do well. We had great comebacks against the Astros and were able to close it out in five. The Blue Jays were a huge challenge.
"Yes, it's a dream and a long time coming. But it takes a lot of small steps to get there."
And 30 years.
Of all the mid-season acquisitions the Royals' deft GM Dayton Moore made, none turned out to be as important as landing Zobrist.
When Ben arrived he filled in for the injured All-Star left-fielder, Alex Gordon. It wasn't too long after that he became the everyday second baseman. Of course, the fact Zobrist could adequately play so many positions has made him tremendously valuable.
As wonderful as this feel-good story has been, it might not last. His six-year, $30 million contract expires after this season. He'll be a free agent following the World Series and certainly will be in demand.
A year ago the Royals made it to the World Series, exhaled, and lost to the San Francisco Giants in seven games.
That experience made them even more determined this time.
The addition of Zobrist, not only on the field, but his veteran presence in the clubhouse cannot be understated.
"I just try to be the player I am," he said. "Hopefully, that's a good example for some of the young guys, and that I come up big for the team when they need me. These guys are great players themselves. They know how to go about their business."
Zobrist has batted .326 in the postseason, with two homers and six runs batted in. His 10 runs scored are three short of the Royals' postseason record set by Lorenzo Cain last year.
In 59 regular-season games with the Royals, Zobrist batted .284, with seven homers and 23 RBIs.
"Benny Zobrist just brings stability to the lineup and it allows the lineup to be deep, everywhere from one to nine," said manager Ned Yost. "He brings a lot of different aspects to the game, plays a great second base and is a very fundamental player, both defensively and offensively.
"He's a table-setter, plus a run-producer from both sides of the plate. He's been an excellent addition for us."
The Royals held a commanding lead in the AL Central Division when Zobrist came aboard. With 21 postseason games under his belt, his contribution in October was the true reason he was obtained.
"To help win in the postseason, that was it," Zobrist said. "It means a lot to me to have been able to help get to this point. And hopefully contribute to the first World Series championship in 30 years."
Zobrist obviously has the World Series on his mind, but also his wife Julianna, as they are expecting their third child in November. Julianna, a Christian pop recording artist who recently released her third album, sung the national anthem at Game 1 of the ALDS.
"This team has a knack for battling and fighting when things get hard," Ben said. "The last week of the season, when we were about to lose home-field advantage to the Blue Jays, you could see guys turn it on and kick it up a notch. For some teams, when you kick it up a notch it doesn't go so well. When things go tough this team seems to rise to the occasion and play better."
Zobrist's only taste of a World Series was in 2008 when he was a bench player for the Rays, who lost to the Phillies in five games.
"In Tampa Bay that year we were just happy to be [in the World Series] and couldn't believe we had made it," he said. "This club has more of a mix of guys who are experienced, ready to be here and want to win it. After being here last year, these guys are hungry to win it. They won't be satisfied with anything less."
His entire family will be in the stands at Kauffman Stadium as the Series opens on Tuesday night.
"It's a huge blessing," Zobrist said. "You don't get a chance to go to the playoffs and World Series very often, but to be able to experience it with the people you love most in the world is really fun."
As he mentioned, his mom may bring along that old worn Royals T-shirt with "Ben 1" on the back. The problem is Ben has outgrown it, in a big way.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. He's covering his 51st World Series. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.