O'Donnell: Ben Zobrist's dad is grateful for media restraint
THE REV. TOM ZOBRIST is nothing if not a man of faith.
And patience, hope and charity, too.
He tends to a congregation of 300 or so at the Liberty Bible Church in downstate Eureka.
Rev. Zobrist and wife Cindi have five adult children and nine grandchildren.
He gets his sports news in the ways that so many in the farming communities of north central Illinois do.
That checklist would include cable or dish TV, the Peoria Journal-Star, the Bloomington Pantagraph and the radio and television stations of Peoria.
When son Ben Zobrist signed with the Cubs prior to that magical championship season of 2016, the Reverend found him and his wife the objects of some sports media attention.
When Ben and wife Julianna Zobrist filed separate divorce papers in May, the 38-year-old son -- in the final season of a $56 million contract -- left the Cubs to attend to myriad matters of the heart, the spirit, family and law.
"There were a few calls to us back then," the Rev. Zobrist told The Daily Herald Wednesday.
"Since then, really nothing.
"I think the media has been very respectful to our family about all that's been happening.
"Obviously, I don't hear or read every single word that's being written or spoken. But I'm not aware of anything that's been outrageous or mean."
The father acknowledges the celebrity of the son.
But he also cites a clear line of generational independence long ago staked out.
"Ben's life is not my life," the Rev. Zobrist said. "Of course you want your children happy. And as a Major League Baseball player, Ben has nothing left to prove.
"What has happened this year is just more proof of the trials and tribulations that the Lord can throw your way and all the more reason for people to understand the absolute necessity of gratitude, hope and prayer every day.
"Things can turn very quickly. And the deeper your faith, the stronger your appreciation for what you have, the greater the chance that you can weather storms with the help of God."
The Cubs have been weathering storms all year long.
With a Swiss cheese roster and without the seasoned and reliable "glue" of a Zobrist, Joe Maddon has somehow craftworked a team that wins at home and loses on the road into a tenuous spot atop the NL-Central.
Now, with MLB personnel deadlines straight ahead, the question looms:
Is Ben Zobrist coming back to assist in a golden autumn run?
"Ben is a perfectionist," his father says.
"He has also been a very conflicted person for some time now.
"Without question, his top priority remains his three children. Then, the marriage, if it can be saved.
"As far as baseball, there have been days when I thought he was very close to coming back and other days when I think he's not coming back.
"I know he has kept in regular touch with Theo (Epstein). And if there are deadlines coming up -- and I don't completely understand all of the new rules -- obviously, a decision has to be made.
"Ben will do what's best for his children and then himself. And with the Lord, and with prayer, things will be right."
STREET-BEATIN': Opening of Bears training camp is a reminder for fans to turn their clocks back to 1985. That was when an august story about Mike Ditka, Jerry Vainisi and Co. in The World's Greatest Newspaper blabbed: "They have spent most of the preseason looking backward instead of forward, a sure formula for a collision with reality." Doink, doink and Super Doink. … Someone called in a major favor to get Joe Namath a slot on Stephen Colbert's CBS late-nighter -- following guest John Oliver, no less -- to plug his new book "All The Way" (Little, Brown and Company, $17.95). Part of it could be that Namath's -- cough, cough -- victory in Super Bowl III (1969) remains the most important on-field staging in the sales history of the NFL's phenomenal business boom. … Caleb Plant's third-round TKO of Mike Lee (Benet Academy, Class of '05) for the IBF super middleweight title on Fox wasn't very fun to watch. With a precision-driven nine-year pro mark of 21-1, Lee -- who originally hired former Tim Weigel assistant Lissa Druss as his PR maven -- should have enough Notre Dame College of Business smarts to stow the gloves. … At least two short contract extensions are in play at Jim Pastor's flailing ESPN AM-1000. That's the same sort of reassurance a pilot would get who's looking for Meigs Field. … That nostril flaring by Northern Illinois faithful over new coach Thomas Hammock and the Huskies being chosen by media to finish third in the MAC-West is a sign that there's still fire out on Annie Glidden Road. Twenty years ago, master cultivator Joe Novak was simply trying to keep the new-age corn growing after seeding seasons of 0-11 and 2-9. … Chicago hearts are at half-staff over the passing of Mrs. Joan McKenna, 88, the wife of ultimate business nexus -- and Bears minority partner -- Andy McKenna. Married for 66 years, the McKennas have relentlessly pursued civic and charitable betterment on so many fronts. … And Mark Giangreco, who got to greet the milkmen with his WLS-Channel 7 10 o'clock sports report shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday following the Cubs' lengthy 5-4 loss at San Francisco, opened by deadpanning: "The replay of the Sox game is almost over."
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at email@example.com.