Home' Junior Baseball : March-April 2014 Contents 10 • March/April 2014 • www.juniorbaseball.com
By Bill Chastain
Tips for Playing
Joe Maddon always liked the idea of having a player on his
team who could play multiple positions. A guy who could
give the team some flexibility by being able to handle the
demands of the different spots on a baseball diamond.
So when Maddon took the reins in 2006 of the Tampa Bay Rays
-- then known as the "Devil Rays", he wanted to eventually create a
"super utility" player capable of playing many positions.
Ben Zobrist was out of sight and out of mind at the time,
laboring in the Houston Astros' organization.
While growing up, Zobrist had played center field and pitcher,
but primarily he had played shortstop, which was where the Astros
signed him to play in the minor leagues. He could never have
foreseen what was in store for him in the coming years.
Tampa Bay traded for Zobrist midway through the 2006 season.
Shortly thereafter he became the team's everyday shortstop.
Unfortunately for Zobrist, he couldn't hold the position the
following season, which lead to him being on a shuttle between
Tampa Bay and Durham for the remainder of the 2007 season.
But all was not lost for Zobrist. Prior to the 2008 season,
Maddon hatched a plan for him. In Zobrist he saw a youngster
who had the potential to be that super utility player he wanted for
"I remember talking to him before spring training," Zobrist said.
"I remember reading some things online. What the team's going
to look like, utility players. And I was named in that group and Joe
called me to tell me that he wanted to let me know
that during spring he was going to possibly use me in
a utility role.
"He wanted me to bring several different gloves
to the field. He thought it would give me a lot more
opportunities for at-bats. He just looked at it as a
positive thing in regards to my career."
Moving to a utility role wasn't exactly
conventional at the time.
"It wasn't something many people were doing
in the minor leagues," Zobrist said. "In the minor
leagues you had to have a position. There were
some guys that were corner infielders or corner
outfielders. But in the infield it wasn't like there were
many shortstops that were a starting shortstop on
a daily basis and every once in a while they would
play another position. That just didn't happen in
the Astros' organization or really with the Rays
previously to that."
Given the unconventional nature of the move,
some players might have resisted such a plan. Not
didn't have a choice," Zobrist said. "So my thought
was, if that gives me an opportunity to play in the
major leagues, I'll play whatever position. If they
were going to give me a chance, I was going to take
it. So therefore, I looked at it positively, like, 'Great,
I'll do it.'"
Initially, his preparation included a call to the
manufacturer of the gloves he used in the field.
"I just told the guys making my gloves that I
needed an outfielder's glove, a first baseman's glove,
I needed a little bit longer of an infielder's glove just
in case," Zobrist said. "I tried to play catch with all
of those. As far as practicing at all of those positions, I didn't get in
those positions until I showed up at spring training. But as soon as I
showed up, it was right away, 'I'm doing a different position every
day.' And several times I would skip around to a lot of different
positions just to get different looks and trying to make sure I was
athletic at every position."
Zobrist had four different stints with the Rays in 2008, playing
six different positions in 62 games for the team. Improved offense
accompanied his diligence at multiple positions. He hit 12 home
runs in 198 at-bats for the Rays in 2008 and followed with a 27
home run 91 RBI season in 2009 and made the American League
All-Star team. Last season he returned to the All-Star squad. All
the while, he has continued to play multiple positions rather than
settle down at just one.
"I do like it," Zobrist said. "It's easier to kind of get locked into
one position and try to study that position more, but I do think that
there's a part of it that really keeps me on my toes both physically
and mentally on the field. I really do like that. I think that helps me
as a ballplayer to be mentally aware and to stay in the game."
Catching is the one position that Zobrist has not displayed an
eagerness about playing.
"If you have the knees and you're tough enough, you can try
that, too," Zobrist said. "If I'd have done that as a kid, I'd probably
be more apt to try it now. It would be like me standing on my head
or something. I'm just not made that way right now."
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