“It is hard to quantify. He is this thing that spreads – almost like a good virus.”
That was Joe Maddon’s description of Ben Zobrist prior to an 8-6 win over the Nationals that saw the viral veteran launch a pair of home runs (his third straight game with a tater) and drive in four to pace the Cubs. Sure, he comes out to his wife’s songs instead of the catchiest clap-along walk-up in history, but this scruffy nerfherder is quickly making fans forget about Star…what is it again? Whatever.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Zorilla. Or perhaps you prefer Zobi Wan Kenobi. But what’s in a name? That which we call Zo by any other name would play as sweet.
And play sweet Maddon’s longtime charge has, particularly over the last few days. His positional versatility limited by age and uber-talented teammates, Zobrist has become a full-time second baseman. Okay, he might see some time in right on occasion too. The fact remains that he needed to be able to impact the team as a jack of just a couple trades. Has he?
“Everybody else sees [Zobrist’s winning attitude], too, especially the young guys,” Maddon told reporters Friday afternoon. “So there’s a residual positive impact just from being around him.”
It is in the acquisition of players like David Ross, John Lackey, and Zobrist that the genius of the Cubs rebuild has really been highlighted. Sure, hitting big on trades for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, and Addison Russell were great. And getting the Astros to select Mark Appel with the top pick, thus allowing the Cubs to take Kris Bryant, was epic. Home runs, all of them.
But in a game in which a man who fails 70 percent of the time will earn a bust in Cooperstown, the moonshots have to be augmented by singles and doubles. Recent outburst aside, that’s exactly what Zobrist is for this Cubs team. He’s a guy who fills in the cracks sets an example and who the other guys like being around.
The season is still young and we’ve got a few more months of hyperbole and “the Cubs have the best [insert superlative] since [Team X] in [random year]” trivia to unearth. Through all of that will be an undercurrent of immeasurable influence from Ben Zobrist and others, a unseen but no less inexorable force of will that pushes the team forward.