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Today in our Clubhouse Convos we have Ben Zobrist, super utility man for the Tampa Bay Rays. Not only is Ben a great guy, he’s also a very talented switch hitter that can play just about any position on the field… and play it well. We appreciate Ben taking the time to hang out with Next Level Ballplayer for the second time this year. This time we talk about the mental side of hitting, whether or not he guesses pitches, his philosophy on hitting for the cycle, what part of the pitcher he focuses on when looking to steal, the toughest pitcher he’s faced and more.
Ben has been a buddy of mine for the last 6 years or so. He’s played with a few of my college teammates and we share some other mutual friends. I feel led to share my top 3 highlights of knowing Ben before getting to the interview:
- My hands down #1 is hitting back to back home runs with Zoby in the bottom of the ninth inning of a neighborhood wiffle ball game (My bomb tied it and Zoby walked it off). Even better was the fact that both bombs came against our mutual buddy (one of my groomsmen) M. Toy.
- Me beating Ben’s wife Julianna in a singing contest… Ok, it was a video game. Also, she didn’t know how to play and it was her first try. Also, I am a horrible singer and Julianna is a professional… None the less, a W is a W and nobody can take that away from me!
- Getting to chill in the Rays locker room with Ben, Longoria, Upton, Joyce and other teammates after a spring training game.
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What was the hardest adjustment for you to make when going from college to pro?
The most difficult part is playing every day. It can become a grind and seem like groundhogs day. You have to be consistent and even though you get tired, you have to keep working toward your goals.
Once you got to the minors how did you get through the grind of a long season where you would be playing almost every day?
You always have to think- How can I get better today? You can’t worry about next week. I know it’s a cliché, but you really do have to take it one day at a time.
What gives you your mental edge when playing the game of baseball?
My drive to get better every day. When guys start getting complacent and comfortable and thinking that they have everything under control- that’s when they start losing ground as a player. What’s made me successful as a player has been my ability to continue pushing forward, especially in the times when I’ve done well. You have to keep working hard or else you are going to start moving backwards.
Describe your mindset in the following places…
National Anthem: Prepared for my first AB. I like to take that time and thank the Lord for the freedom to play in our country and all the people that are sacrificing for us. I think of one of my best friends that has done a few tours in Iraq and Afganestan.
On deck circle: Focusing on the pitcher and what he’s been doing to other batters. I also try to get my timing down by striding like I would be doing in the batter’s box.
Batter’s Box: I try to simplify things. I do my routine and focus on the one pitch I’m looking for and then I’m just looking for the release point.
Do you ever guess pitches when you’re in the batter’s box?
It depends on the pitcher. I really just try to time the fastball and think “drive the fastball away”. That usually keeps me on pitches longer and I just react on inside pitches.
Do you have a favorite hitting drill that you do throughout the season?
No, not really. There are a lot of different ones I do from time to time, but the main thing that I like to do is have our BP pitcher throw me balls middle away so I can grove my swing middle away. Every once in a while he’ll try to throw one inside to make sure I can still turn on that pitch and am not cheating away too much.
The other night you entered the 9th inning against the Yankees 3-3 with a HR, triple and single (only a double shy of the cycle). True or False, you were trying to hit a double when you came to bat? (FYI After an eight pitch at bat that included 3 foul balls, Zoby settled for a walk)
False. I was trying not to. It doesn’t work when you try to! You have to approach it like any other at bat and just try to hit the ball hard.
So are you telling me that your cycle philosophy is “Make the cycle come to you”?
When you are on base and looking to steal off a right handed pitcher, what part of the pitcher are you focusing on? I’ve heard a lot of different things from different people.
You are looking for the first thing that moves for that pitcher. For some guys it’s the front heal. Other guys, there knee will bend before that heal comes off the ground. Then you’ll have other guys who will move their shoulder before anything else. It’s about doing your homework and figuring out how that individual pitcher tips that he’s going to the plate. One other random thing I notice is that usually bigger pitchers will shift their whole weight a little bit before moving towards the plate.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I was actually asked this the other day. My first response was playing in the World Series. That was such an unbelievable experience. The other highlight that sticks out is playing in the All-Star game and being able to sit in that clubhouse with all those great players was really cool.
Who’s the toughest pitcher you’ve faced and why?
It depends on the day, but over all I’d have to say Roy Halladay. Every pitch he throws moves and he can throw any pitch at anytime.
What advice would you give to ballplayers out there who want to take their game to the next level?
Focus on the level you’re at. Try to get better at the level you’re at. Just be as good as you can be today, because you are never guaranteed tomorrow. Make the most out of today and play for a purpose beyond yourself.
What are the top 4 things on your Bucket List?
- Tour Europe
- Go to Israel and see some biblical lands
- Do the world’s longest zip line
- Sit down and ask Pujols some questions