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Tampa Bay Rays’ Zobrist grateful for WBC experience

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:10 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

Ben Zobrist returned from his stint with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic happy for the opportunity and eager to do it again.

"When they gave me the opportunity I'm glad I didn't wait because it's a special experience, a once-in-a-career type experience," he said. "If I'm lucky I'll get to do it even more than once.

"The energy level and to get to play for your country and to have that many people cheering county against country is certainly nothing like I've ever experienced before, even in the Major League Baseball experience."

The joke before Zobrist left was what would happen if he faced Rays closer Fernando Rodney, who pitches for the Dominican team?

That happened Thursday night in Miami. With USA down 3-1 in the ninth inning, Zobrist and Rodney squared off with Rodney winning. He got Zobrist to look at a called third strike for the second out, then retired the next batter to close out the game.

Naturally, Rodney fired his imaginary arrow in the air.

Here is Zobrist's account of the at-bat:

"Well, he got behind me early in the count 2-0. I was thinking about taking him yard 2-0, but I thought, you know, it's not going to help anything. It's 3-1 right now. One run isn't going to do anything. I figured I would take one and I regretted that later on in the at-bat, because he got pretty nasty later on in the at-bat.

"I thought the 3-2 pitch that he threw, I couldn't have touched it, I don't think, where he put it. It was a great spot, but I thought it was a ball. But, you know, strike three, (I) walked back to the dugout. Next thing I know the arrow is being shot in the air, another patented Fernando Rodney-slash-Rays moment."

Zobrist actually fouled off a pitch during the at-bat.

"I saw the ball pretty good off if him so I'm going to tell him he needs to hide it a little better," he joked.

Zobrist, who had 19 plate appearances before joining Team USA and 14 more in the WBC, said he is ready to begin the regular season.

"I think at-bats-wise we're just going to basically pick up where I'd normally be," he said. "I told (manager Joe Maddon) I really felt like I got into game mode, and if we had to start the season today or tomorrow I'd feel really good about that. Regardless of how many at-bats I have gotten I'm really seeing the ball.

"I think I'm ready to start when the time comes."

Maddon said Zobrist will rejoin the lineup Tuesday when the Rays play the Tigers in Lakeland and his schedule will be the same as if he did not have his camp interrupted by the WBC.

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