Tag Archives: Ben Zobrist

2013 Tampa Bay Rays Team Preview

It’s really hard to not like the Rays if you are just a fan of baseball.  They do more with less than pretty much any team in the league.  They have the worst ball park in the majors, they play in front of sparse crowds most nights (19k on average – lowest in the league), and still manage to compete in usually the toughest division in baseball year   in and year out.  They haven’t finished lower than 3rd in the AL East since 2007.  Their highest paid player is David Price who signed for a one year arbitration deal of $10M.  There only long term contracts are Evan Longoria and Matt Moore who both are likely under market value.  They aren’t afraid to trade away great players or even just simply let them go in FA (see Carl Crawford and BJ Upton).  They have managed to keep the farm system stocked for years.  They are what every smaller market team wishes their team could be like. (given financial constraints)  This past offseason they parted with two major contributors in James Shields and BJ Upton, both of whom were in line for market priced pay days the Rays couldn’t afford.

What did they do to replace that production?

Major Off-Season Moves:

  • Acquired OF prospect Wil Myers from Royals
  • Signed 2B Kelly Johnson
  • Acquired SS Yunel Escobar
  • Acquired 1B James Loney

This looks about like what the Rays would do.  Traded for one blue chip prospect in Wil Myers.  He’ll likely be a superstar for the Rays while they control him and he’ll either sign him to a team friendly extension or trade him for more prospects.  The rest of the signings look like mildly liked veterans that the Rays could get for discounted prices and hope to hit on a few of them.  Kelly Johnson is a solid player and will allow Ben Zobrist to play full time in the OF.  Yunel Escobar didn’t endear himself in Toronto after an unfortunate makeup incident.  He’s talented, but comes with some baggage.  I’m not so sure the talent will come to fruition in Tampa.  James Loney will play first, but will likely platoon a decent amount while Ryan Roberts slides over to fill in.

Let’s get tot he rest of that lineup. Continue reading

How to Hit for the Cycle: What was Zoby Thinking Last Night In the 9th?

Our buddy Franco from over at Next Level Ballplayer is friends with Ben Zobrist. Last night when Zoby was going for the cycle and needing ‘only a double’ in the 9th inning, Franco fired him a text. Here is a story about Zoby’s (pictured above) quest for the elusive cycle.

Clearly, hitting for the cycle is one of the coolest things that a batter can do in the game of baseball. From the fans perspective it’s fun to watch and cheer for, because of the rarity of it. Nothing can spice up a 12-1 game in the 8th like a home player one hit away from the cycle. The last big league cycle I can think of was when Cargo did it last year in dramatic fashion- A walk off bomb to complete his cycle against the Cubs.

Last night Mr. Zorilla, entered the 9th inning against the Yanks 3 for 3 with a triple, HR, single, and walk. After an eight pitch at bat that included 3 foul balls, Zoby settled for a walk and leaving the ballpark a double short of the cycle. I’ve always wondered what those players are thinking when they come up late in the game with their cycle on the line… Curiosity got the best of me so I texted Zoby late last night. The following convo ensued:

Franco: A duck fart down the line is all you needed! True or False- You were trying to hit a double in the 9th inning tonight?

Zoby: False. Trying not to. It doesn’t work when you try to!

Franco: So you’re telling me your cycle philosophy is- “Make the cycle come to you” ?

Zoby: Exactly

Franco: Fantastic. I’m gonna right an article for NextLevelBallplayer.com tomorrow teaching aspiring ballplayers how to hit for the cycle (This was a joke!)

Zoby: Haha, go for it.

So there you have it. The key to hitting for the cycle is NOT to try to hit for the cycle. I hope you ballplayers at home are paying attention!

“I’m just trying to hit for average and they keep throwing it in my wheelhouse”

That’s what Ben Zobrist had to say yesterday after his 8 RBI ballgame via text message to our buddy Dave at Next Level Ballplayer. Oh, and then he took a 10 minute power nap, had a cup of coffee, played a game of spades in the clubhouse with teammates and went out and drove in 2 more runs and homered again in the nightcap of the doubleheader.

Here is the thing, you drive in 10 RBI in a day, and you’re going to make Diamond Hoggers every single time. We don’t care how we have to fit it in. Then you start texting a buddy of ours with a humble mentality about it and you’re a real lock for the site. Honestly, I went home and decided I’m trading for him in MLB the Show 11 in every single franchise. What a precious player Ben Zobrist is. And yes, I was lucky enough to have him in the lineup for one of my fantasy teams yesterday.

What a day for Ben Zobrist. Diamond Hoggers salutes you–and you’re going to make us look like geniuses when you win comeback player of the year in the AL!

Spring Training Update Day 5: Hanging with Brian Cashman & Joe Maddon

Spring Training is under way. Since we’re not lucky enough to be down in the Florida sunshine, we still have a plan to have you covered. David Franco from Next Level Ballplayer is down in Florida for the week providing us with all the sights and sounds of spring baseball that we need. Today’s adventures include Brian Cashman being a nice guy, Joe Maddon and the pretty lady in blue, a Zobrist performance off the field, and more. Tune in all week as Franco reports on ST exploits, and be sure to follow him on twitter or Facebook.

What’s up DiHogger Nation? Day 5 went a little something like this- Woke up at a buddy’s place in Naples for the last time this trip. Special thanks to TMobs for giving me an option other than the back of my car. I drove north to Port Charlotte where tons of Yankee fans came to watch at the Rays’ home ballpark.

Overall Highlight of the day: Chatting with Rays’ coach Joe Maddon after the game and watching him work the small crowd that was left.

Runner Up Highlight: Randomly walked by Brian Cashman, realized it was him and went back for a picture. He was very friendly to me and I appreciated that. Not that I’m going to start rooting for the Yanks or anything crazy like that, I just appreciated him being cool with taking a pic with me.

Overall Low-light of the day: Losing in a best of 3 living room horse death match with Ben Zobrist at his house.

Rays vs Yankees 1:05pm
Tickets: Free thanks to Zoby. Sat in the 2nd section behind home plate a few rows away from the wives.

-It was a pitcher’s duel all day that went into extra innings and ended in a 1-1 tie. Is there anything worse for the coaches and guys in the dugout not playing than having a spring training game go into extras?

-Swisher was just a normal player to the fans today, unlike when they played in Clearwater (Phillies) last Sunday and all the girls were going crazy for him.

-A vendor selling bags of kettle corn had the best sales line of the day. He was walking around towards the end of the game and with only one bag left, he yelled, “SINGLE KETTLE CORN, LOOKING FOR A LONG TERM RELATIONSHIP.”

-The crowds normally start to thin out after the main starters get taken out in the 5th inning or so. By the 9th there was hardly anyone left and by the 10th it was pretty much empty.

Joe Maddon and the Pretty Lady in Blue

I watched the end of the game in the first row about even with first base. The Rays were in the first base dugout and have to walk through a fence in right field to get to their clubhouse. Joe Maddon was one of the last guys to leave the dugout and while he was walking by a pretty lady in blue called out to him from a few seats away from me, “Hey Joe can I please have your autograph? Please Joe? It would make my day. Please?”

Right when Joe came over to give the lady an autograph, about 20 kids and fans rushed him to try to get there stuff signed also. He stopped to look up at everyone and said “Man. You guys tricked me. You lure me over with the pretty lady in blue and then all run down here and get me. I just came over to give her one autograph… man you guys are good! You totally tricked me.”

Joe stayed and signed autographs and chatted with the fans until everyone that wanted one was satisfied. I thought it was super cool of him to do that, especially after an extra inning game that took forever.

PS: I think I’m completely over the whole autograph thing. I’d much rather have a picture taken with someone than an autograph, unless I have some sweet picture for them to sign, which has never been the case. Anyways, I’m happy today that I left the ballpark with pictures of me with Cashman and Maddon instead of a signed ticket stub.

 

Julianna Zobrist Puts on a Show at the Local Coffee Shop

After the game I headed over to a local coffee shop to meet up with Zoby and his VERY talented wife. Julianna is a gifted musical artist and wanted to go to open mic night at the local coffee shop to practice some songs she’s been working on. The owner of the restaurant had told a bunch of people all week that she was coming in, so it was a pretty packed house and fun to watch her do her thing. I hadn’t seen her sing live before, but left impressed.

Midway through the show, Ben had gotten up from our couch to order some food, a lady leaned over to me and said, “Would it be ok if your buddy signed a few autographs for me?” Now this is a really interesting situation, that I haven’t been in before. I don’t want to sign him up for a major autograph session, but I also don’t want to be a jerk. Because of the atmosphere and the fact that Ben is a great dude, I said, “Ma’am, he would be happy to.”

When he got back from ordering, I said, “Hey dude, this lady behind us would really like an autograph.” He smiled and turned around to find the lady with a manila folder full of Zobrist pictures and asked if he would make out all the autographs personally to her 11 grandchildren. She had tricked me! You know what Zoby did? He signed all of them with a smile on his face and asked that lady a few questions about her grandkids. It wasn’t a big deal to him at all. One more reason why he’s a great dude… That and the fact that I’m writing this from his guest bedroom.

 

Conclusion

After the coffee shop, we went back to Zoby’s sweet house and found ourselves in a heated living room basketball shooting contest with some bogus, misshapen plastic bball on his two year old’s hoop. Long story short, I lost in a best of 3 series. But seriously, buy a round basketball for goodness sakes!

Just a fun over all day. It was cool running into Joe Maddon and Brian Cashman. I’m gonna be up early in the morning to go to an FCA meeting with Zoby and Dirk Hayhurst at a local high school. Really looking forward to that… Tomorrow, stay tuned for Yankees v Redsox. Could be crazy.

 

Extra Innings
This priceless exchange happened after Julianna’s mini concert at the coffee shop. Zoby and I are sitting on a couch in the back while Julianna was talking to some ladies about music in the front. An older gentleman walks up to Zoby on the way out:

Older dude: “So, when are you going to pitch again?”

Zoby: “Well sir, I haven’t pitched since high school so probably not for a while, but I should play in the field sometime this weekend.”

Older dude: “Do you play in the infield or the outfield?”

Zoby: “Both. I play all over.”

Older dude while patting Zoby on the back: “Hang in there son. They’ll find a position for you.”

I wanted to say- Sir, the Rays are guaranteeing him $18 mil over three years to NOT play just one position. Please don’t feel sorry for him!

Spring Training Update: Hanging in the Rays Locker Room

Spring Training is under way. Since we’re not lucky enough to be down in the Florida sunshine, we’ve still got a plan to have you covered. David Franco from Next Level Ballplayer is down in Florida for the week providing us with all the sights and sounds of spring baseball that we need. Today’s adventures include, sitting with the player’s wives, getting a foul ball, hanging out in the Rays locker room, a quick chat with Longo and his mullet, and more. Tune in all week as Franco reports on ST exploits, and be sure to follow him on twitter or Facebook.

Franco’s Spring Training Update From FL: Day 2

What’s up Diamond Hogger Nation? Franco here, from NextLevelBallplayer.com, ready to break down day 2-
Woke up at a buddy’s place in Naples. I had talked to the Ray’s Ben Zobrist the day before and he said he’d leave me a ticket at will call. After a solid drive that put me over 1,000 miles on this road trip so far, I pulled into the Port Charlotte Sports Park.

Overall Highlight of the day: Hanging out in the Rays locker room for over an hour with guys like Longoria, Upton, Jeff Niemann, Matt Joyce, Dirk Hayhurst and Zobrist.

Runner Up Highlight: Parking my ’98 Honda Passport in the Rays’ players parking lot next to multiple $100k cars.

Overall Lowlight of the day: Finding out that Zobrist likes pickle flavored sunflower seeds… I used to think he was cool.

Rays vs Pirates 1:05pm
Tickets: Free thanks to Mr. Zobrist
– I was so busy marveling at Manny’s dreads that it took me a little while to realize that I was sitting with all of the player’s wives.
-Manny looked great going 2-2 AND playing the outfield.
-Damon got his first base knock of the spring
-Pirates won but who cares

Hanging with the Wives
The Foul Ball
So I’m chatting with three of the player’s wives and having a good time watching the game when a foul ball gets hit towards us. (I am going to keep the wives’ identities private cause I don’t want to be “that guy” that wrote about them by name without them knowing. Just know that you’d recognize their husbands if I told you.) Anyways, wife #1 and #2 lean to get out of the way and wife #3 sees the ball but doesn’t move. #3 has the ball land a foot next to her, bounce off of her back (she was fine) and land about 2 feet from her.

Now the dilemma: I’m one row in front of her and 4 seats over with nobody between me and the ball that has come to rest kinda by her foot. I really want the ball, but I also wanna play it cool… The lady in the row over started to take a few steps towards it and instincts kicked in. As I was about to reach for it wife #3 picks up the ball. Awkward. I go to sit back down and she then proceeds to give me the ball as if I’m a little kid. Had to swallow my pride a bit on this one, but next time I play catch with a buddy, we’re using a big league pearl.

Dip can do what?!?!
This second story from the wives section blew my mind. There were a few bees flying near us that prompted this story.

Wife #1: “One time I was hanging out with a group of friends and I got stung by a bee. It hurt like crazy, but right away a guy took his dip out of his mouth and put it on the bee sting. It worked great and I was back to normal in no time.”
Franco: “Wow. This guy sounds like he’d be the one to suggest peeing on a mosquito bite.”
Wife #2: “GROSS! If any guy tried to but his nasty dip on me, I’d give him a swift karate chop to the neck.”

Moral of the story fellas- If you have a hammer in and your girl gets stung by a bee, make sure you know where she stands on having dip placed on her body (personally my wife would be in the karate chop group)… But if you are only concerned about results, evidently dip works wonders on bee stings.

In the 6th inning or so, just as the convo with the wives turned to Oprah and pedicures, I got the greatest text ever:
“Meet me outside the stadium by the batting cages.” Zoby saves the day.

Inside the Rays Locker Room
I had no idea Zoby was going to take me into the locker room. He had lined up a few unofficial interviews for me and there I was, just shooting the breeze with the Rays in their locker room.
Right when I walked in, Upton and Longoria were there joking around. They over heard Zoby saying to me that he had stayed up until 11:30 the night before.
Longoria: “Oh dang Ben. You stayed up until 11:30?!?! That is so crazy! You need to calm down. I’m afraid you’re going off the deep end.” Maybe you had to be there, but it was funny.

Other locker room happenings
-Matt Joyce was really cool. We talked for a solid 20 minutes and I will be rooting for him this season.
-Talked with Longo briefly, but was able to ask him a few questions, including the toughest pitcher he’s faced (Saving this for a later post).
-Having Dirk Hayhurst give me a copy of his book, The Bullpen Gospels. I had played against Dirk in college and he came over and we talked for a good half hour. He is an absolute character!
-On the way out of the complex (I was by myself) I walked by Joe Madden and told him to have a good night and he told me the same. I’m pretty sure he thought I was a minor league guy who’s name he couldn’t remember.

Conclusion
What a great day. After the locker room I went and grabbed some food with Zoby and then headed back to his house to chill with his wifey and 2 year old boy for the rest of the night. It was good catching up with him and relaxing… Tomorrow I’m headed to Fort Myers to check out the Twins and Red Sox round 2.

Extra Innings
Zobrist still had to shower, so I went and got my car and told him I’d come back and pick him up. I drove into the players parking lot by making a friend with the security guy and then parked my ’98 Honda passport. A few minutes later I realized that I had parked next to Tim Beckham, the Rays 2008 #1 overall pick. His Land Rover car doors opened up towards the sky when he got in… Mine just opened normal.

Do you want little Johnny to be a great ballplayer?

There’s never really been a blog that I’ve come across in all my years of searching the interwebs that taught young and aspiring ballplayers how to actually be ballplayers. Until now. And leave it to one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever had to be the guy to think of the great idea to develop a blog that would educate a young player on everything he needs to know to do just that.

My friend Dave has launched NextLevelBallplayer.com, so please check it out if you haven’t yet. Dave played major Division I baseball at Miami of Ohio with some really big time guys. I played with him from the time we were kids until our last high school game. He was a lot of fun to go through the trenches with.

I spent what seems like dozens upon dozens of games watching him make jaw-dropping plays at shortstop when I was out in left field. There was more than a few times I think he actually bailed me out with a play in short left field (thanks Dave). Beyond his athleticism, he was always an excellent example of a guy who took great care of himself and showed up ready to play. He prepared extremely well, he loved and understood the game, and he was successful at it. This isn’t a guy who hit 10 home runs in little league writing about how to play the game the right way. This is someone who I deeply respect–as well as his knowledge of the game and surrounding aspects.

Recently we were talking about how the game of baseball had given us both such wonderful things to look back on in the way of relationships and stories.

After not talking for some time, I missed a call from him last week. After a little phone tag I got a text back from him: ‘sorry I was throwing BP to Ben Zobrist, my arm feels like it’s going to fall off.’ We had some catching up to do. He had some great stories for me about his buddy ‘Zobie’ as he calls him, as well as his friendship with Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. Reds fans, he’s also buds with former Red Drew Sutton.

Dave is spending the week next week in Florida at Spring Training with Ben Zobrist and the Devil Rays among some other teams. Since we are not lucky enough to be joining him, he’s going to write some posts on Diamond Hoggers about the sites and surroundings in the beautiful Florida sun. This will be great.

Check out his site, or give him a follow on twitter. If I had a son, he would love baseball. And he would be bookmarking Next Level Ballplayer.