It feels weird to say that Ben Zobrist — he who played all of 51 games at second base for the Royals — might be the most important second baseman to play for the team in the last 20-plus years. But you could certainly make that argument. Do the Royals win the World Series if they don't acquire Zobrist? Could Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Raul Mondesi or whoever else been able to fan the flames of the numerous rallies that led the team to the promised land? It doesn't seem likely. Zobrist was such a critical piece of the puzzle that at times it's hard to remember that his time with the Royals spanned less than 100 days.
We will remember Zobrist long after the memories of Desi Relaford, Ruben Gotay and, yes, Omar Infante have faded. It is not just that he showed competence at a position where we had become convinced that competence was impossible, it is the way he sparked the team more than once on their way to the title. It is the way he kept the rallies going despite facing elimination. It is the way he played the game, with respect and modesty and a fantastic work ethic. Zobrist is now a part of Royals lore. At the very least, he is the second answer to the question "Who was the starting second baseman when the Royals won the World Series?"
Frank White with 2,324 games in a Royals uniform, and Ben Zobrist with all of 75 games in Royals blue.
That is one of many reasons why it is tough to say goodbye to Zobrist. We met him, we fell in love with him, and now our time with him is already up. He was the special someone you met on a summer vacation, fell madly in love with, and then never saw again. You promised to write, but eventually the letters stopped coming.
And he loved you back! You knew that he loved you back. He became a fixture at your favorite restaurant. He named his child after you. You had some of the best times of your lives together. And yes, you think, maybe it is weird to love a guy this much despite only knowing him a short time. But if that's wrong, you don't want to be right.
We can't blame Ben Zobrist for leaving. The Royals couldn't offer him the money or the length of contract that he was looking for. And even if they could, it would have hurt them in the end. What Ben Zobrist gets in Chicago is an opportunity to be a leader and a mentor for some of the brightest young talent in the game today. He will get the opportunity to earn another ring for one of the most storied franchises in baseball — and one that has not won a championship in over a century.
Ben Zobrist, Savior of Chicago. Who can blame him for jumping at that chance?
Where would he be in four years in Kansas City? Even if we could afford his terms, he would be stuck here after the Great Exodus of 2017/18. If he didn't end up traded, his contract would likely prevent the Royals from extending one of the other key components of the magical World Series run. And at that point, he would be 38.
Ben Zobrist had to leave. But that doesn't make it hurt any less.
I've watched this clip of the Royals celebrating their championship nearly a hundred times by now, and I'm sure many of you have as well. The most emotional part for me (besides "all of it") is Ben Zobrist's reaction to the final pitch. You can see the sheer happiness on his face, but beneath it all, there's also some relief. Here's a guy who has been one of the best and most underrated baseball players of the past ten years. He has done whatever's been asked of him at every stop. He had a chance to win a World Series earlier in his career, but failed. And now, just as the sun begins to set on his time in baseball, he is finally a world champion.
This is the image that will last for me when I remember Ben Zobrist. I'm thrilled that he was finally able to achieve his dream, and I'm thrilled that he was able to do it as a Kansas City Royal.
There's a quote from the inestimable Dr. Seuss that I wish I could use now, but I'm afraid it may be far more appropriate to bring out when Alex Gordon eventually signs somewhere. You can probably figure out the one that I mean. The point is, it's hard to understate what Ben Zobrist brought to this team. Even though he was only here for a short time, he will forever be remember as a hero in Royal blue. Forever Royal, if you will. And nothing can take that away from him.
Except if he had signed with the Cardinals. Can you imagine?
Thanks, Ben, and good luck.