TAMPA (FBW)—Ben Zobrist has spent most of his career bouncing around from one position to another on the baseball field.
A utility player for the Tampa Bay Rays, Zobrist has established himself as one of the game’s most versatile players, starting every position except for pitcher and catcher during his seven years with the team. From one game to the next, Zobrist has seldom known where he was going to play—only that his team needed him to fill that role.
“It may not be the most comfortable thing at the moment to be moving around, but obviously for my career and for our team in general, it’s great,”
Zobrist told Florida Baptist Witness in an Aug. 23 interview. “You’ll take a little bit of discomfort in the moment if you know that in the end it’s going to work out better.”
That philosophy spills over into Zobrist’s family life as well.
As parents to two young children, Ben and his wife Julianna often lead a harried life. During the offseason, the family lives in Nashville, Tenn. During the baseball season, they stay in Tampa most of the time, unless they’re traveling while Ben is on the road. Julianna and the kids, Zion (age 3) and Kruse (11 months), spend countless hours in hotels and airports.
They know the lifestyle involves sacrifices. But they’re also willing to make those sacrifices to be together as a family as much as possible.
“Kids are very flexible. I guess God made them that way,” Ben said. “They just adapt to whatever their environment makes for them. We take them all over the place, and they’ve kind of gotten used to traveling.”
Ben’s not the only one with the busy work schedule. A Christian recording artist, Julianna released her extended play “Say It Now” earlier this summer. She’s performing concerts, promoting her music, and writing a lot to complete her full album.
On a typical day when the Rays are in Tampa, Julianna wakes up about 8 a.m. to do a radio interview. The kids get up around 9 and eat breakfast with mom and dad. The Zobrists spend the morning together doing typical parent-child activities. One recent morning, Ben spent the day teaching Zion how to ride a bike without training wheels.
Ben heads to the ballpark in the afternoon, when it’s naptime for the kids. Julianna then takes the children to Ben’s game in the evening, and the family waits for him in the hallway outside the clubhouse when the game ends. They head home together and repeat the cycle the next day.
When the Rays are on the road, things get a bit more hectic. That’s when the family has to make the most sacrifices in order to be together.
“The main thing was deciding that we wouldn’t be apart from each other for longer than six days ever,” Julianna told the Witness.
That means the family usually travels to one city per road trip to be with Ben.
“Jules flies with them by herself usually, which takes a lot of effort on her part just to get them through the airport,” Ben said.
Julianna said the kids might have better sleep schedules and better eating habits if they stayed home all the time, but they wouldn’t see their dad as much, and that’s the greater priority for them.
One challenge for the family during the baseball season is being away from their home church, Community Bible Church in Nashville. Though Julianna and the kids make it back there a few times during the season, Ben seldom does.
“We love getting to go back there whenever we can,” Julianna said. “It’s always such a blessing whenever the kids and I get to go home, be able to go in and see familiar faces and hear our pastor. Quite a few people have gotten to visit us during the season as well.”
The Zobrists said church members excel at keeping in touch with them during the season, encouraging them through text messages and e-mails and even making trips to Tampa to visit. Ben and Julianna—both children of pastors—also stay connected as much as possible by listening to online sermons from their pastor, Byron Yawn.
“It’s hard enough, as much travel as we do, just to listen to the podcasts on a regular basis,” Ben said. “But it takes effort. Anything worthwhile takes a little bit of effort.”
That effort extends to the playing field as well, and plenty of baseball experts have noticed. Because of his flexibility and his combination of skills, Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Lemire recently labeled Ben as “one of the most valuable players in baseball.”
The work he puts into his game and the way he strives to excel are reflections of his faith in Christ, Ben said.
“Like anybody else that goes and does their job, there’s a way to do your job with excellence,” he said. “You want to represent Christ well with doing your job, first and foremost, because that’s what you’re there to do.”
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