LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Some Lakewood Ranch residents will get to spend tonight with "The Zorilla."
The Zorilla, as most Tampa Bay Rays fans know, is manager Joe Maddon's nickname for the Rays' Benjamin Thomas "Ben" Zobrist, the Illinois-born switch-hitter who can play just about any position on a baseball diamond.
Zobrist, who relishes talking to groups about his Christian faith, will be the keynote speaker at "Spring Training at Harvest: Preparing for the Game of Life, God's Way."
The event begins at 6 p.m. at Harvest United Methodist Church, 14305 Covenant Way, Lakewood Ranch.
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The event has been designed as father-son "spring training" practice for the game of life and is a near sell-out, said Dave Steurer, a member of the Harvest men's ministry team and the chairman of the event.
"The individual tickets are $25 and we discount a father-son combo to $40," Steurer added.
The chance to hear Zobrist speak has created high demand because Zobrist has become a role model, said Steven Price, co-pastor of Harvest United Methodist Church.
"I have a lot of respect for Ben," Price said. "He doesn't just talk about faith but lives it out. That has been very impressive, that kind of role model is a real blessing, We are excited about having him here."
"What we are hoping to do is for fathers and sons to have a special experience together and have something remember and talk about in the future," Price added.
Zobrist, who has been the Rays' starting second baseman since 2009, is the son of a pastor, the Rev. Tom Zobrist of Liberty Bible Church in Eureka, Ill.
Harvest could actually do a mother-daughter event in the future and invite Zobrist's wife, Christian singer Julianna Zobrist.
The couple have a 4-year-old son, Zion Benjamin, and a 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Kruse Allegra.
Zobrist was not available this week for an interview due to his hectic schedule at spring training in Port Charlotte, but things he has said at prior speaking engagements form the platform of all his speeches.
Zobrist often tells audiences that he had no idea he was supposed to play baseball.
He says he turned the direction of his life over to God and God led him to shortstop, second base and the outfield.
He tells people that they can do the same thing and discover the perfect direction for their lives.
During his speeches, Zobrist also relates that he only shares his personal views on faith with fellow players if asked, he says.
He has said that he did organize Bible studies with former teammate Gabe Gross because the pair desired to fellowship.
Smoking, drinking and drug use are also completely off his personal agenda, he has said.
"We are trying to demonstrate through Ben that being a Christian man is a cool thing to do," Steurer said. "He is a character witness and a baseball star. Where he really has it made is his faith journey. He doesn't attribute success to his own efforts but the talent God gave him. These are keys to any youth making it in life. That is why we called it spring training. If kids can get this message and live life this way than a lot of problems would not be there. They would have their priorities straight."
To try and capture elements of the baseball experience, Harvest's all-purpose sanctuary will be turned into a "baseball park" complete with Cracker Jack and pulled pork and chicken breast sandwiches. The program booklet will also have a baseball theme.
Church youth minister Jeff Peck will be the warm-up act.
"We have 200 people signed up and about two-thirds are fathers and sons," Steurer said.
Steurer is asking those without tickets who would like to attend to call him at today at 941-779-3148.