Part of Royals lore, Ben Zobrist receives hearty welcome in return to KC

Ben Zobrist returns to Kansas City with the Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs infielder Ben Zobrist returns to Kansas City, where he was a member of the 2015 World Series team, and tells the story of his daughter, Blaze Royal, being born a day after the World Series parade.
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Chicago Cubs infielder Ben Zobrist returns to Kansas City, where he was a member of the 2015 World Series team, and tells the story of his daughter, Blaze Royal, being born a day after the World Series parade.

In the waning moments of his three-month tenure with the Royals three years ago, second baseman Ben Zobrist had limited time to revel.

His attention was split between winning a World Series championship and the well-being of his wife, Julianna, who was pregnant with their daughter Blaise. She was days away from giving birth to the couple’s third child.

Yet Julianna watched in New York as Zobrist scooted around the bases and scored in the 12th inning of what became a World Series-clinching Royals 7-2 defeat of the Mets in Game 5. She watched him celebrate, his glove lost in abandon on the Citi Field infield as the winners of the 2015 World Series converged around closer Wade Davis. Later, she and the couple’s two oldest children, Zion and Kruse, joined the mayhem.

The entire time, Zobrist said on Monday afternoon in Kansas City, “my wife basically held (the baby) in.”

It’s a story he’s told often in the years since his name became part of Royals lore. But he seemed happy to tell it again sitting in the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals were hosting him and the Cubs. His daughter, who was given the middle name Royal as homage to the family’s brief time in Kansas City, was set to attend her first game here. The moment, he said, felt special.

“It’s a special place for me,” Zobrist, 37, said. “It holds a special place in my heart and in our family’s heart.”

Zobrist spent some of his formative years living with his parents and siblings in Belton. He’d never been to a major-league game until he visited Kauffman Stadium for the first time in the early 1980s.

Now it was Blaise’s turn.

Shortly after Royals starter Jakob Junis threw out the first pitch and retired Anthony Rizzo to start the game, Zobrist received a loud welcome as he stepped into the batter’s box for his first at-bat. Although the crowd’s favor was mostly skewed toward the Cubs, Royals fans joined in the ovation.

After joining the Royals in a trade with the Oakland Athletics on July 28, 2015, Zobrist batted .284 with 16 doubles, one triple and seven homers and scored 37 runs in 59 games. He helped the Royals retain an already dominant lead over the Twins in the division on their way to clinching the division crown and continued to provide a boost in 16 games in the postseason. He batted .303 with eight doubles and two homers and knocked in six runs during the Royals’ championship run.

“You can see why he would ingratiate himself with a fan base,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who also managed Zobrist in Tampa Bay from 2006-14. “He does it wherever he goes.”

Zobrist later hit a lead-off triple to the right-field corner in the fourth inning. He dashed around the bags as Rosell Herrera relayed a throw to second baseman Adalberto Mondesi and slid safely into the base on the bang-bang play. He scored on a wild pitch, tying the game 1-1 shortly before a pop-up shower forced a 22-minute rain delay with two outs in the inning.

With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Zobrist reached on a fielder’s choice. He chopped a ball to first baseman Drew Butera, who threw to catcher Salvador Perez to prevent Albert Almora Jr. from scoring.

It was Zobrist’s first time playing in Kansas City since he signed with the Cubs in December 2015. He’s been named an All-Star and the 2016 World Series MVP in the time that’s elapsed. And after putting together one of the worst seasons of his career last year, the switch-hitting Zobrist has re-emerged as a table setter for the Cubs. He entered Monday’s game batting .310 with eight homers and 43 RBIs in 92 games.

“It’s a special kindred you have with the fans when you get to be there in the moment that matters most to them and be part of that,” said Zobrist, who went 2 for 5. “I’ll always have that (here), and I’m grateful for it.”