Ben Zobrist going through tough time, but he owes Cubs clarity about his future
The Cubs could use Zobrist. They have a shot at another World Series title. They are waiting. Their decision-making hinges on what he decides to do.
In general, a pro athlete’s private life should be his — or hers — alone, free from intrusion.
That’s why it’s called private.
But when that private life affects the athlete’s performance on the field, course or court, things change.
That’s where we are with Ben Zobrist.
The Cubs’ valued utility player, a veteran switch hitter who is a gentleman, well-liked in the clubhouse and a fierce and talented competitor who built his career from nothing, hasn’t played baseball for 2½ months.
His last game was May 7. Soon after, the Cubs put him on the restricted list, meaning he is in a sort of limbo — still under contract to the Cubs but without pay and still a member of the team, even though he doesn’t count against the roster limit. In short, he is neither a ballplayer nor a regular guy.
He isn’t injured, at least not physically. He is out because of a ‘‘personal matter,’’ which can mean many different things.
For Zobrist, it is the divorce and family issues he has been dealing with. In May, he filed for legal separation in Tennessee from his wife of 14 years, the Christian singer Julianna Zobrist, citing ‘‘inappropriate marital conduct’’ on her side. On the same day, Julianna filed for divorce from Ben in Illinois.
Both are the children of pastors, and theirs seemed to be a marriage full of love and the blending of hot and cool personalities bound together by shared faith. They have three kids and, as a group, embodied something Julianna once said was ‘‘kind of like the American dream.’’
In a video titled ‘‘Double Play: Faith and Family First,’’ the two alternate lines as he prepares for a game with his then-team, the Rays, and she primps for a music concert.
‘‘My job is to perform,’’ he says.
‘‘My job is to perform,’’ she echoes.
‘‘At the end of the day, the only thing I really want to do . . . ,’’ Ben says.
‘‘All I want to do . . . ,’’ Julianna says, as they rush together and embrace in slow motion.
‘‘Is run home and be with the ones I love.’’
The pair enter their home to the smilingfaces of their two kids (their youngest wasn’t born yet), and everybody joins in a joyous group hug.
This was so perfect, it almost shamed anyone whose own married-with-children life wasn’t nearly so beautiful, smiling or, yes, wealthy.
Zobrist came to the Cubs before the magical 2016 season, and Julianna was often at games, sometimes singing to the crowds at Wrigley Field. Her voice pierced the night sky, and her long, blond hair could be seen like a beacon of light from anywhere in the park when she performed. She even sang his walk-up music: ‘‘Benny and the Jets.’’
How blessed was this pair!
Zobrist was the spark that ignited the Cubs’ drive to their first World Series championship in 108 years. He already had played for the Rays, Athletics and Royals in his career, and he was no youngster.But it was his stellar performance in the 2015 postseason, when the Royals won their first World Series in 30 years, that got the Cubs’ attention.
That offseason, they snagged a guy who knew how to win. When Zobrist arrived in Chicago, it was all good. Indeed, if anyone has forgotten, he was the MVP of the 2016 World Series. When he celebrated in Cleveland with the immense trophy, Julianna was right there on the field, staring at him in rapture.
But now, apparently, all the good vibes have turned to sorrow. Zobrist apparently is taking care of his kids in Nashville, and, well, the rest of the story is anybody’s guess. Obviously, Zobrist doesn’t feel well enough or settled enough mentally, spiritually or emotionally to continue on with his trade.
He’s 38 and at the end of the trail; we know that. He’s in the last year of a four-year deal in which he was supposed to earn $12.5 million. If he comes back in September, as manager Joe Maddon has hinted, though nobody knows for sure, he’ll have lost as much as $8 million.
But this clearly isn’t about money. It might be about legal matters. It might be about confusion. It might be about heartbreak.
But the Cubs could use a healthy Zobrist. They have a shot at another World Series title. They are waiting. Their decision-making hinges on what he decides to do.
As Zobrist said in that video: ‘‘My job is to perform.’’
He’s not. And that’s public.