tampabay.com

Zobrist's bunch descends on Chicago for Sox series

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 29, 2006


CHICAGO - Rookie shortstop Ben Zobrist is always in control on the field.

But he isn't sure what to expect tonight when he plays for the first time at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field with at least dozens of friends and relatives making the 2½-hour drive from his hometown of Eureka, Ill., to watch.

"I have no idea how many, but I know it's a lot," Zobrist said. "And I know some of them made T-shirts with 'ZOBRIST 18' on the back, so I'll know them by their green shirts."

Zobrist was more a Cardinal fan growing up (with a No. 27 Tommy Herr jersey with BEN on the back) but made a few special occasion visits to the White Sox stadium with his father, sitting high in the stands watching the big-leaguers play and dreaming of one day joining them.

"I hoped," Zobrist said. "It's pretty neat now that I'm going to be playing there."

Zobirst, 25, has played relatively well since joining the Rays about a month ago, hitting .226 in his first 25 games but drawing praise from manager Joe Maddon for having consistently good at-bats and providing steady, fundamentally sound defense.

"I can't really complain about anything," Zobrist said. "I've been given a great opportunity getting to play every day, I've been healthy the whole time and I feel like I'm learning a lot. I feel like I've been having better at-bats and am hitting the ball harder. Some of the balls I've hit harder haven't fallen, but that's something I can't control. As far as the things I've been able to control, I'm pretty excited."

So is Maddon.

"I'm really impressed by him," Maddon said. "This guy is a front-line player. He's a championship-type shortstop I believe. I really like this man a lot. His maturity, his work ethic, his professionalism are all of a high standard."

REMEMBER ME? At the time, Carl Crawford was unhappy when he was not chosen as a reserve for the American League All-Star team by manager Ozzie Guillen. But Crawford said that tonight when he sees Guillen, the White Sox manager, for the first time since, he is more likely to joke with him than jab him.

"When I look back at it, and I look at Travis Hafner and those kind of guys who also didn't make it, it's definitely not a big deal anymore," Crawford said. "There were a few guys who were doing way better than me. Ozzie probably wasn't even thinking about me. I probably never even came across his mind. I'll probably just laugh with him about it or something."

GETTING WIGGY: Ty Wigginton's previously fractured left hand seems to be better. In his first rehab game at Triple-A Durham on Monday, he reached on an error, doubled and hit a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh that took the Bulls from behind to ahead in an 8-7 win. He played first base.

UNHAPPY DODGER: Shortstop Julio Lugo, whom the Rays traded to the Dodgers after he passed on their long-term contract offer, is not happy about being used in a utility role in Los Angeles and his agent, Dan Lozano, is making it clear that Lugo doesn't want to be there.

"Although Julio will always remain professional, it's becoming a frustrating situation," Lozano the Los Angeles Times. "I'd like to believe the Dodgers did not trade away one of their top prospects (Joel Guzman) for an All-Star-caliber shortstop to sit the bench. He's a player that wants to contribute on a daily basis, and has, at a high level, for the last three years. If the Dodgers don't feel like he can contribute every day, they should trade him."

MINOR MATTERS: Andy Sonnanstine set an organizational record with his 15th victory for first-place Double-A Montgomery on Sunday, improving to 15-7 with a 2.77 ERA and a remarkable strikeout/walk ratio of 147/31.... Catcher Chairon Isenia was released from the hospital after a two-night stay after sustaining a concussion Friday.

MISCELLANY: The Rays, who won two of three from the Sox in May, have won one season series from a defending World Series champ, going 4-2 against the 2004 Marlins. They are 30-53 against defending champs.... Kevin Witt's homer Sunday was his first in the majors since September 2003, and his 37th overall this season, with the 36 he had at Triple-A Durham.