Faith of Kansas City Royals' Ben Zobrist: 'a missionary in the big leagues'

I first became aware of major-leaguer Ben Zobrist's Christian faith when I watched the movie "Ring the Bell" on Netflix a while back.

It's one of those cheesy, relatively predictable faith-based films that I enjoy (much to the chagrin of my wife, Tamie, who cringes at the less-than-Oscar-worthy dialogue and storyline).

In this case, a high-powered sports agent finds God and redemption while attempting to sign a top prospect in a small town. Zobrist, a two-time All-Star, appears as himself in the movie, along with retired major-leaguers John Kruk and Rick Sutcliffe.

Zobrist and his wife, Julianna, a Christian singer, also wrote a 2014 book, "Double Play:  Faith and Family First."

In tonight's opening game of the World Series, the super-utility-man is playing second base and batting second for the American League champion Kansas City Royals.

As part of its postseason coverage, a Kansas City Star writer traveled to Eureka, Ill., and interviewed Zobrist's parents:

A bit of foreshadowing: Zobrist's father is a pastor.

So will the Star cover the obvious faith angle in Zobrist's life story or attempt to write around it?

Let's find out, starting at the top:

EUREKA, Ill. — Shortly after the Royals made the July 28 trade that would put Ben Zobrist in one of their jerseys, his mother, Cindi, scoured through tubs of keepsakes for a throwback version:
A weathered Royals T-shirt fit for a toddler, circa 1985, inscribed with “BEN 1” on the back.
She finally unearthed it just in time to make it part of the postseason Royals-themed decorating scheme in the family living room.
“This is what he wore to the Royals games,” his father, Tom, said, happily holding what proved to be a harbinger.
“No way,” Ben Zobrist said when they told him they’d found it.
Now, it’s just part of something that almost seemed meant to be, tethering together the family’s few years in Kansas City when Tom was studying at Calvary Bible College.

Calvary Bible College, huh? That's a promising signpost.

Keep reading, and the Star describes how Ben Zobrist — after his high school baseball days — "had nary a scholarship offer and was entirely off the radar of any major-league teams."

Then came a turning point:

Which was fine.
Ben was set to attend Calvary himself, and as each of his siblings has for at least a time, follow in the work of his father.
Tom Zobrist has been pastor of the Liberty Bible Church in Eureka since 1988, nurturing those to whom he ministers and the operation from a storefront location to its own site to a soon-to-be shimmering expansion project now that will include 500-seat capacity.
Their son’s direction wasn’t going to change, either, when the Zobrists got a call suggesting Ben attend a tryout camp in nearby Brimfield.
It would cost $50, after all.
“Fifty dollars was a lot of money,” Cindi said. “It still is.”

From there, the Star does a nice job of letting the story unfold naturally — in the parents' own words. And yes, those words include "God":

Next thing you know, though, college recruiters were calling.
Ben and his family were confronted with a new range of decisions as he considered nearby Olivet Nazarene of the NAIA to play baseball.
Cindi remembers crying about it over lunch with him at a local Cracker Barrel, fretting that doing so would be stepping away from God’s plan and fearing “other influences” at a larger school.
But Tom told him that at age 19, he needed to decide for himself and asked what he thought God wanted for him.
“ ‘Well, I feel like I’m not done with baseball yet,’ ” he remembered Ben saying. “ ‘But I’m willing to do what you want me to do.’ ”
That, Tom said, “told me a lot about his maturity. And he made that decision to go there, and it worked out pretty well.”

For readers wanting to understand what makes Ben Zobrist tick, this ghost-free feature swings and delivers a solid hit:

The night before Ben left home to join the Astros’ affiliate in Troy, N.Y., he told his father, “I’m going to be a missionary in the big leagues.”
And so he has, whether by organizing Bible studies with teammates or vigorously supporting the career of his wife, Julianna, a Christian singer, or just in how he carries himself.
“It’s not this blustery, dominating in-your-face kind of thing,” his father said. “It can be very gentle and quiet: the way you live your life, the way you treat your family, the way you treat other people …
“He lives his life and lets his actions speak.”

It's a terrific interview piece.

Go ahead and take the crown, Kansas City Star.

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