Royals

Once headed to school in Kansas City, Zobrist arrives to play baseball

Ben Zobrist was originally planning to come to Kansas City out of high school, but he instead started his path toward a baseball career. Since being acquired by the Royals in a trade, he has played every game in left field for the injured Alex Gordon.
Ben Zobrist was originally planning to come to Kansas City out of high school, but he instead started his path toward a baseball career. Since being acquired by the Royals in a trade, he has played every game in left field for the injured Alex Gordon. The Associated Press

This time, Ben Zobrist reached Kansas City.

Fifteen years ago, Zobrist was set to motor from his Illinois home to Kansas City to attend Calvary Bible College. Maybe he’d play sports there, but not baseball. Calvary doesn’t have a team.

“It’s where my dad went, my older sister was there,” Zobrist said. “I really didn’t have any plans to play baseball.”

But here he is, batting second and playing left field in his Kauffman Stadium debut Friday against the White Sox.

The Royals acquired the switch-hitting Zobrist from the Oakland A’s on July 28 for pitchers Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks.

Zobrist, 34, who spent his first eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, joined the Royals in Toronto and made an immediate impact. He hit three home runs in the Blue Jays series, including one from each side of the plate in the Royals’ lone victory in Canada.

In seven games, Zobrist is hitting .259 with seven RBIs, playing every game in left field for the injured Alex Gordon. The idea is when Gordon returns from a groin injury, Zobrist, one of the game’s most versatile players, will move around the diamond, spelling players while likely maintaining his No. 2 spot in the batting order.

That had been Mike Moustakas’ spot, but he’s moved to sixth in the order.

“Moose did a great job for us there,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “When we broke spring training, we didn’t have a No. 2 hitter. You can envision Moose being more of a run producer for the top of the order guys.

“We never envisioned him as No. 2 hitter.”

Zobrist hit sixth the first two games, second since, and remained there because “it just looks right,” Yost said.

What prevented Zobrist’s first trip to Kansas City? His high school coach encouraged him to attend a showcase camp for high school seniors. Zobrist came up with the $50 fee and impressed coaches from Olivet Nazarene, a nearby NAIA school.

Kansas City was canceled and a baseball career continued. After three years at Olivet, Zobrist transferred to Division I Dallas Baptist and that summer was selected in the sixth round by the Astros.

In 2006, he was traded to the Rays where he spent eight productive seasons, reaching the 2008 World Series and playing in two All-Star Games. The trade to the A’s prompted this observation from Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones: “Maybe Zobrist wasn’t the most talented player in the history of the franchise, but you can make a pretty compelling case that he was its most valuable. On and off the field.”

Now, he’s a member of the first-place Royals, barreling toward a playoff spot for the second straight year, and Zobrist said he was thrilled when the trade rumor mill stopped at Kansas City.

“We were so pumped when we found out it was here,” Zobrist said. “I just love playing in the middle part of the country.

“This team is already a really good team. These guys know how to win.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlairKerkhoff.

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