Baseball World Gets an Introduction to the Z-Factor
I guess the secret is finally out on a global scale. Everyone who watched last night’s Team USA victory over our friends from the Great White North truly saw what everyone in Tampa Bay has known for a long time. Ben Zobrist is a heck of a ball player both at the dish and in the field and provides an unseen element to the game I have come to know as the “Z-Factor”.
Maybe it is a slice of karma that Joe Torre is the Manager of the Team USA World Baseball classic squad because he got to see firsthand that MLB maturation process of a young Tampa Bay Ray named Ben Zobrist as he cut his teeth on the most competitive division in Major League Baseball. And we all know the respect and admiration Rays Manager Joe Maddon has for the player he affectionately calls “Zorilla” for his monster plays in the field and at the plate for the Rays. Zobrist firmly is a player who has embraced Maddon’s “Rays Way” and is a firm Rays and MLB symbol of a player playing his life right on and off the field.
We all know Torre got a front row seat as the Manager of one of the Rays biggest rivals, the New York Yankees just as Zorilla was beginning to show his potential to everyone in baseball. Maybe a few of those vibes and moments stuck in Torre’s mind and he knew possibly tossing Zobrist’s name on the lineup could muster a few more special moments and possibly turn the Team USA tide onto the Second Round of the World Baseball Classic.
You got to think there are many reasons Zobrist got a spot on the Team USA roster, not only because of his versatility to play anywhere at anytime, but also the fact his offensive game is also filled with that same unbridled versatility and variables. From Zobrist’s fine display and precision in the use of small ball tactics to move runners over or score runs to his potential to produce power from either side of the plate making him one of Team USA’s most versatile secret weapons, and one any Manager would drool over to have hidden on his roster.
It did bother me a bit that Zobrist did not get a chance until the third game in the Team USA World Baseball Classic, but if you really wanted to see Zorilla come alive and show his potential to everyone throughout the World, Sunday night’s contest showed why he is one of Team USA’s secret weapons and why Zobrist is a true asset no matter what game plan you envision for your squad. It was evidently apparent to Torre that Zobrist, who sometimes has as many as 5 gloves in his bag, was ready willing and able to do whatever it took to help Team USA fight off elimination last night.
Zobrist responded by showing the rest of the baseball World last night both at the plate and in the field why he is a vital cog in the Rays machine and could translate that same magic for Team USA in their “must have” contest. Zorilla showed his small ball proficiency with his bunting early on in the game and ended up gathering 3 hits in 5 trips to the plate including scoring a run for the victorious Team USA squad that sealed their trip into the Second Round meeting with Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening in the big MIA.
Zobrist could have possibly had a 4th hit last night if not for his bat being a bit under an attempted bunt and watching as the Canadian backstop clutched the ball in his glove for an out. But last night the rest of the baseball world got to see the type of player we have enjoyed here in Tampa Bay ever since he came here along with former P Mitch Talbot from Houston in exchange for Aubrey Huff.
Not only was it a great night for Zorilla at the dish, but he also gunned down Canada First Baseman Joey Votto at Second Base with a precision throw that nailed him, but also prevented a Canadian rally with his outfield assist. Most people in the American League do not run on Zobrist when he is stationed out in the Rays RF, but Votto took a chance and Zobrist made him pay. I have a link on my blog of just how determined Zobrist is when tracking a fly ball as he hit the low retaining wall in RF just to the left of my usual seat and tumbled into the area after a huge thud. That is the kind of play and player that can act as a vat of emotional glue that can help tie together wins and brings the confidence of a team to a zenith.
Hopefully Torre has seen enough of Zobrist in this critical game to warrant another shot in the lineup as Zobrist responded to the Team USA challenge with flying colors and hopefully he did enough against Canada to warrant another right field start, or at least a late inning appearance against Puerto Rico.
Zobrist also has that special gift off the field and in the Clubhouse that inspires and gets people motivated not only by his style of play, but by his exuberance for the game and his passion to succeed.
Zorilla is that type of guy you must have on your team, that motivator through his style of play that brings everyone’s level of play to the top, and boosts not only morale but the belief the game and a victory is firmly within their grasp. The Z-Factor has been rampant in Tampa Bay for years, maybe it was just time for the rest of the planet to also admire this truly gifted ballplayer as we do.