(WHITAKER BANK BALLPARK, Lexington, Ky.) Former Lexington Legends Ben Zobrist, Jimmy Van Ostrand and Murilo Gouvea are representing their countries in the current World Baseball Classic.
Zobrist, who plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, will play for the United States team in the WBC. He batted .304 in 68 games with Lexington in 2005. He was traded from the Houston organization to Tampa Bay on July 12, 2006, and was called up to the Rays, then known as the Devil Rays, on August 1 of that year. He played in the World Series with the Rays in 2008. Zobrist, a native of Eureka, Illinois, has played in at least 150 games for Tampa Bay in each of the last four seasons. In 2009, he was an American League All-Star and finished eighth in AL Most Valuable Player voting after hitting 27 homers and driving in 91 runs while batting .297.
"Ben is a guy who is one of the nicest and most genuine players we've had and he's also a great picture of hard work," said Legends President and COO Andy Shea. "He was an all-star and a nice player in Lexington, but I don't think anyone at that time expected him to be a future big league all-star and a member of the WBC team. His hard work, focus, and dedication has truly paid off."
Zobrist is a member of the Legends Hall of Fame.
Van Ostrand, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, will take the field for Canada. He batted .289 with 12 home runs, 60 runs batted in and 105 hits in 98 games for Lexington in 2007, and was named a South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star. He played in the 2007 All-Star Futures Game, which showcases top minor league players in an exhibition matching a U.S. team against players from around the world. Playing for the World team, Van Ostrand hit a home run off current Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Van Ostrand also played for the Canadian Olympic baseball team in 2008. He played in 2012 for the Harrisburg Senators, the Washington Nationals' double-A affiliate in the Eastern League.
"Jimmy, who was known as JVO at the ballpark, was a fan favorite," recalled Shea. "From the first day he came to Lexington he always had 'big league' batting practice with some monster home runs and raw power."
Gouvea (pronounced go-VAY-uh), a right-handed pitcher, played for Brazil, which fielded a team in the WBC for the first time. He appeared in two games as Brazil was eliminated in the first round after losses to Japan, Cuba and China. Born in Sao Paolo, he is one of 14 players from Brazil currently signed to contracts with major league organizations. (Yan Gomes, who made his major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012, is the first native of Brazil to reach the majors.)
Gouvea was with the Legends in 2011 and 2012, and led the team in appearances with 50 in 2012. His won-loss record was a combined 3-10 for the two years, but his earned run average was under four (3.98 in 2011, 3.71 in 2012) and he struck out 170 batters while walking just 58 in 152 and one-third innings as a Legend.
"I was very excited to see Murilo on the Brazil roster," Shea said. "He's a young guy who is full of energy and pride for his country."
The United States will open WBC play against Mexico Friday, March 8 at 9 p.m. Eastern time at Chase Field in Phoenix. Canada will play Mexico at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9, also at Chase Field.