He wears cleats that look like Pro Wings and he even runs like a man who’d require Velcro shoes. But the way he’s been playing so far in 2018, Ben Zobrist more closely resembles Benny the Jet Rodriguez pickling the Beast in his all-black PF Flyers.
We knew he’d be better than last year if only because he’d gotten over the nagging wrist injury that sapped his bat speed last season, but there’s still the matter of age. Healthy or not, Father Time is a beefy bastard when you’re in your late 30’s and trying to piggyback him around all the time. Maybe that’s why Zobrist looks so awkward when he’s rounding the bases.
Of course, the important thing is that Zobrist is rounding the bases pretty frequently these days. With two more hits and a pair of runs batted in from the cleanup spot Wednesday night, the cagey veteran continued to prove doubters wrong. And by doubters, I mean present company. And by present company, I mean me.
When Zobrist told reporters this spring that he thought he could play in 130 full games this season, I was highly skeptical. No matter how healthy he was, I reasoned, the Cubs just wouldn’t have much use in the field for a guy who’ll turn 37 in May. Not with so many other players who are both younger and more talented and with questions about how much of last year’s diminution was purely a function of age.
Ah, but Zobrist cares little for what I think he should or should not be able to do. Through the first 11 games of the season, he’s already started at four different positions and in five different spots in the order. And he’s looked pretty good doing it.
I suppose I could research his exit velocity and cite his slash line or get into all other manner of statistical analysis. Do you really need that, though? Not if you’ve been watching the way Zobrist is lacing the ball all over the yard from both sides of the plate so far in the young season.
“If I see the ball well, which I usually do, [with] my swing, when I say ‘go,’ it’s there at the front of the zone where it needs to be,” Zobrist shared with Patrick Mooney (subscription required/recommended). “Then I’m not going to chase very many pitches. That’s just the kind of hitter I am. Last year, when I said ‘go’ to my swing, I couldn’t.
“My wrist wouldn’t allow me to get certain places in the zone, which made me have to start my swing earlier. I chased more pitches. That’s really what it comes down to: You got to be able to see the ball and react and know that your bat’s going to be where you want it to be.”
Zobrist’s bat has certainly been where he wants it to be, which isn’t something that can said for all of the other younger hitters on the roster. And that’s what’s really important in all this, the fact that Zobrist is not just some sort of impotent figurehead who’s expected to serve as just the token old dude with goofy kicks and questionable taste in music.
How long he continues to sit in the driver’s seat remains open to speculation and there’s plenty of reason to believe that 130-start goal is still too lofty. But for a team that has struggled with consistency and is without Anthony Rizzo for the time being, this new/old version of Ben Zobrist is exactly what they need.
Now, about that walkup music…