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Will Ben Zobrist put Kansas City over the top?

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With the trading deadline in sight, contending teams serious about winning THIS year, often make their moves. We now see who is going for the gold in 2015 and a popular former Ray may be the final piece to make a good team a champion.

When the Kansas City Royals acquired Ben Zobrist from Oakland on Tuesday, they got what we all know they got: a winner. After acquiring all-world right hander Johnny Cueto from the Reds on Sunday, the Royals now seem to have all of the pieces to complete the championship puzzle.

They shot from 4-1 odds to win the World Series to 7-2 favorites when Cincinnati agreed to send Cueto to Kansas City. Those odds have only improved.

Just six months ago, Zobrist was still a part of the Tampa Bay community. But baseball’s economics force moves such as the one that sent him to Billy Beane’s Money Ball operation in Oakland.

Now, the two-time All-Star heads for his third team in this calendar year. We should all feel very good for him to have a chance to win a championship.

He gave Rays’ fans plenty of highlights during his career. Zobrist was nowhere near a .300 hitter, but he seemed to get the big hits at the right time. A good eye at the plate helped him achieve an on-base percentage consistently over .350.

Zobrist could never be classified as a slugger, but he hit some memorable long balls leading to Rays’ victories. He wasn’t a big-time run producer, but twice approached 100 RBIs and had the knack to knock in a key run.

Ben didn’t win a Gold Glove, but he wore many gloves. Infield or outfield, all he asked of Joe Maddon was to tell him where to go when the Rays took the field and what place in the order he would bat when they were up.

His contributions to his team and his community are remembered well. Many have a Ben Zobrist story. Here’s mine.

On the day Gov. Charlie Crist restored the Governor’s Baseball Dinner to St. Petersburg in 2008, part of the day’s activities was a baseball clinic for youngsters. Zobrist, of course, was among those willing to give their time and expertise. Class act.

Zobrist will give Kansas City what he gave the Rays; a winner’s best effort wherever he plays. Second base seems a likely spot.

They will get every penny’s worth of his $7.5 million salary. In today’s reality of overpaid under achievers, players like this are routinely overlooked. Not by the Royals.

Players with Ben Zobrist’s career numbers are not likely to leave a legendary mark among the team’s fans. But when it was time for Rays’ fans to vote for their “Franchise Four” best players, Zobrist was one of those four.

While the Rays pulled off an exciting win on Tuesday (and perhaps identified a future star), their chances of catching the Yankees or earning a wild card playoff sport are fading. While no one should write off this season, Tampa Bay fans may be looking for a rooting interest for the post season.

With the understanding many of our area’s residents are also fans of northern teams, wishing the best for Kansas City and Ben Zobrist would be a nice fallback option. Just a humble suggestion.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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