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When the Royals take on the New York Mets in the World Series, one of the keys to Kansas City’s success will be the play of Ben Zobrist, arguably Major League Baseball’s most underrated player.
And yet, Zobrist’s growth into one of baseball’s most valuable players might not have ever happened if it weren’t for $50 he received as a birthday present towards the end of his senior year of high school.
In an interview with Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star, Zobrist’s parents recalled the end of his baseball season as a senior at Eureka High School in Illinois.
Zobrist was a better basketball player in high school and had no scholarship offers to play college baseball.
According to Gregorian, on the night after his final high school baseball game, the younger Zobrist drove around “lamenting” the end of his athletics career. Zobrist’s mom added that baseball “was in the past” at that point.
However, a short while later, Zobrist got a new hope. Somebody suggested Ben attend a nearby tryout camp.
There was just one catch: the camp cost $50 and Zobrist’s dad refused to pay for it.
“Fifty dollars was a lot of money,” Cindi told Gregorian. “It still is.”
The family eventually reached a compromise. Zobrist could use $50 from the birthday money he had received from his grandparents.
Zobrist attended the camp and eventually received interest from some schools, including Olivet Nazarene, a small NAIA school close to the family home.
He eventually transferred to Dallas Baptist before being drafted by the Houston Astros and later traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, where he became super-utility player with a ton of value. He doesn’t do anything at a Hall of Fame level, but he does everything very well and he can do that while playing almost any position on the field, having started games at every position except pitcher and catcher in his career.
Zobrist may not be a highlight machine, but he is extremely valuable.
Here are the Major League leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) since the start of the 2008 season. That’s some pretty good company that almost never happened.
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