Zobrist visits, speaks to youngsters
Rays shortstop talks about importance of having self-control
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist patiently sat and waited under the covered meeting area at Sawgrass Elementary School in St. Petersburg on a sunny, breezy day. As Sawgrass Elementary principal Jean Marks and assistant principal Michael Moss read off several character awards to the student population of 670 students and the rest of the school community, Zobrist demonstrated the type of discipline he needs as a professional.
The Devil Rays shortstop bounced his knee up and down with a bit of nervousness in anticipation of speaking before the throng of kids neatly lined up according to grade and class.
Zobrist was admittedly anxious. When asked later what was more intimidating, facing Curt Schilling or hundreds of first to six-graders, Zobrist said, "Oh, absolutely, talking in front of these kids, because they're not trying to deceive anybody."
He smiled as each name was announced and laughed as Raymond, the Rays' mascot, bobbed and weaved across the concrete floor.
Finally, 25 minutes after his arrival, the Nashville-native was given the chance to speak. And what topic did Zobrist choose to preach to the grade-school youngsters who sat cross-legged and upright?
"I'm here to talk about self-control," said Zobrist, who mentioned the Devil Rays' 9-7 loss to the Orioles on Monday at Tropicana Field. "In baseball, you need self-discipline to be as good as you can be. There are times when something bad happens and a bad response would be to go back to the dugout, throw my helmet and curse. But a good response would be to slow down and learn from the experience and have a different perspective the next time."
Zobrist referred to his night against the Orioles in which he lined out with the bases loaded in the fourth inning but then, an inning later with the bases full once again and the Devil Rays leading, 6-1, put the ball in play to score Elijah Dukes on a fielder's choice.
The visit by Zobrist was part of the Sawgrass Elementary's participation in a federal character education grant that includes two other Pinellas District schools.
"It's very meaningful to have someone like Ben appear, because it lets kids know that having a positive character doesn't stop at school," said Marks. "We requested to have Ben speak because of his strong belief system. It's important to have the kids interact with people like him."
After his speech, Zobrist was interviewed for the school's in-house television program by fifth-grader Jason Mugavero, who was dressed in a Rays jersey and hat.
"This is really exciting," said the 10-year-old, whose grandparents have season tickets. "When I found out a week ago, I couldn't wait to meet him. It was neat to shake his hand and get his autograph."
When the young television host asked Zobrist how important his wife, Julianna, was in his life, Zobrist reached out and brought Julianna into the camera's view. He then talked about how the support system that his wife provides helps him have balance in his life.
Later, away from the camera's eye, Julianna discussed how faith drives her husband to become better in baseball.
"It doesn't lessen the frustration, but it does give him perspective on life," said Julianna, whose dad, like Ben's father, is a minister in Nashville. "Being able to make a difference is important for Ben, and he knows that the better he gets, the more of an audience he can have. Then, with that, comes an ear for people to listen."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.