Rays # 4 Moment in 2009: “Zorilla Meets the Renegade”
Here we go again!
Let’s get this show back on the road again of the Top 5 Moments in Rays baseball in 2009. It is time now to present my personal fourth greatest moment this past season. I guess you can say I am really proud of this moment because it happened literally right in front of me. That’s right, the special moment I am picking as my fourth best of the season is when Tampa Bay Rays rightfielder Ben Zobrist came over and fell over the padded partition just to the right side of my seats with a circus catch that endeared him to everyone from that moment on in 2009.
The play happened during the sixth inning of a game that the Rays had pretty much in the bag against the Oakland Athletics, and their big slugger Matt Holliday was at the plate facing Rays rookie Jeff Niemann. There were two outs in the inning, and the Rays had a comfortable 11-2 lead at that point. Niemann threw a nice slick 94 mph fastball that Holliday was able to turn on and sent a high fly ball into the rightfield corner.
Zobrist felt he had a nice bead on the ball and was concentrating on following the path of the ball and not his location on the field when he smacked into the wall just outside the Checkers Bullpen Cafe. Well, from my seat, which is right there, I could see he might not be able to get both the ball and keep his feet. But I had my camera in my hand at the time looking at that ball beginning to floating towards our seats. But I quickly glanced over and saw Zobrist was barrelling at full speed and did not even blink as he clipped the bottom of the wall with his cleats and his momentum sent him end over end into the padded area besides my seat.
Just before he hit the green padded wall near the foulpole, Zobrist firmly caught the ball and quickly clamped it deep into the webbing of his glove. As he flipped over the wall I reached down to try and keep him off the Green concrete wall just next to my seat. He hit the black padding and just looked up at me and I yelled “Throw up your glove and let the umpire call the ball!”. Zobrist immediately thrust the brown glove up with the pure white ball showing firmly deep in the pocket of his mitt.
He was grinning from ear-to-ear at that moment and quickly popped back up and walked out the opened gate back onto the field. He had hit that padded wall with such extreme force that he broke the painted wood paneling on that section of the wall and tore the field-side padding at the bottom where his cleats hadcaught the fabric before hurdling over the wall.
It was an amazing catch, and set the stage for the rest of the MLB world to get to know this player Rays fans already knew and loved for his hustle and his grit. It showed the hustle and the determination of this young player do whatever he could to help his team win night after night. And I am so glad I got to have a front row seat to his “coming out” party.
The next day during the Rays Batting Practice, Zobrist came over to me at my seat and we chatted for a few seconds and I made sure to congradulate him on his “ESPN Baseball Tonight” web gem (#2). We chuckled about it all for a moment and I had an idea. I asked him if he would sign the wall portion that he cracked during the play. He looked at me for a second, then took the black Sharpie from me and signed his name to the wall. He inscribed on the wall, “Courtesy of Ben Zobrist”.
I picked this as the fourth best moment of the year simply for the fact it was Zobrist’s outfield defensive “coming out ” moment of the season. Before that time people had considered him a utility player with mostly roots in the infield. But in 2009, Zobrist became one of those players that a team can not win without having him in the line-up. And for that reason, this moment stood out to me as the day everyone around the MLB had a reason to fall in love with the way he plays the game, even as Zorilla.
Be sure to check out each special Rays moment daily as I count down my list to Number #1. To the right of the blog, in the sidebar, you will see a heading for the “Top 5 Rays Moments of 2009” as MLB.com links to each of the special Rays moments.
I am planning on leaving those moments up for the entire off season. But if anyone really wanted to know where I sat, and if I ever got on television, this video is proof for both questions. I love sitting there to be close to the action, and to chat with the Rays Bullpen members each game. But on May 18th, during the first home game since my birthday, I got a special present from Zorilla, and a moment we will all remember in Rays history.