I met Ben Zobrist at the first conference I ever spoke at. I was in Nashville, at Community Bible Church, to speak on discernment, and someone introduced the two of us, telling me that Ben was a major league baseball player with the Tampa Bay Rays. I think he was manning the book table at the time. We talked for a few minutes and he told me that the next time the Rays came through Toronto, I should look him up. I did that, and it has become something of a tradition, so that once or twice a year I spend a few hours rooting against him, and then, after the game, we get together to spend some time catching up. It has been fun to watch his rise from a utility player and pinch hitter bouncing between the majors and minors, to a two-time All Star who is undoubtedly one of the most under-rated players in Major League Baseball.
What I appreciate about Ben is that he seems unchanged by the fame and the fortune that have come his way through being a professional athlete. He is as down-to-earth today as the day I met him, still a small-town pastor’s son unimpressed with his own success. He is a humble guy who sees his career as a unique opportunity to speak about Christ. As he has established himself as a great player, he has seen those opportunities grow.
Ben and his wife Julianna have teamed up with Mike Yorkey to write Double Play. This is really four different stories woven into one: Ben’s long climb to the major leagues, Julianna’s growth as a professional singer, their spiritual journey as individuals and then as a couple, and the tale of two people falling in love. Each of the stories is enjoyable and well-told. They open up their lives with honesty, yet without exhibitionism. You won’t have to be a hopeless or sheepish romantic to enjoy reading about how they met and fell in love and (finally!) married. You won’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy reading about Ben’s struggles and successes at the plate.
A few aspects of the book merit special mention.
Ben tells about his early career as a major leaguer where he struggled and found himself demoted. He went through an excruciating depression where he blamed God for his failure and just wanted to give up. Yet through this time, and with the help of his pastor Byron Yawn, he came to see that he had made baseball into his idol, the one thing in all the world he felt he needed to succeed at in order to experience joy and fulfillment. It was only when he was able to identify this as idolatry that he was able to recover his joy in the Lord.
Julianna shares that as a young girl she was sexually assaulted. She describes how this affected her and how the weight of it has carried into her adult life and even into her marriage. She describes Ben’s kindness and patience in helping her come to terms with what happened to her. Those who have experienced similar grief will be helped, I think, by her openness and honesty.
Finally, the Zobrists make no attempt in Double Play to hide or disguise who they are and what they believe. From the first page to the last, the book is soaked in their Christian faith. Both Ben and Julianna grew up in Christian homes as the children of pastors and both of them have a deep and mature commitment to the Lord. They go to a great church today and, despite the difficulties of a career that involves seven months a year of near-constant travel, they celebrate it and are committed to it. They get the gospel and are eager to share their faith with those who read their story.
Sports memoirs vary greatly in their quality, and, though I admit my bias, I can say confidently that this is one of the good ones, up there with the likes of R.A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up (my review). Zobrist is one of baseball’s best players and one of the sport’s men of true character. His story—and Julianna’s—are worth knowing. If you like baseball or if you like memoir, you’ll enjoy this book.