Sutton glad to share field with Zobrist
Buddies from their Minors days, they've reunited as Rays
Drew Sutton says he's grateful not for the time he spent in the Pirates' organization, but for how quickly he left it.
On May 21, the Braves traded Sutton to Pittsburgh, which then sold him to the Rays.
"In about seven hours, I was on three different clubs," said Sutton, now Tampa Bay's principal third baseman while three-time All-Star Evan Longoria's partially torn left hamstring heals.
"I have a lot of respect for the Pirates," Sutton said. "When you have an opportunity to play in the big leagues and another team says, 'We don't want to stand in the way of him getting a big league opportunity,' I think that says a lot about the club, as opposed to them saying, 'No, we want to hold him hostage. We want to have him in Triple-A in case we have something happen.'
"I think that says a lot about the Pirates because I don't think every team would do that."
The 29-year-old Sutton was playing for Gwinnett, the Braves' Triple-A club, at Rochester, N.Y., when he was pulled in the fourth inning and told he'd been dealt to Pittsburgh's Triple-A team at Indianapolis. He was going to rent a car in the morning and drive to Buffalo, N.Y., for their next game, but at 11 p.m., he got a call telling him he'd been traded to the Rays and would be on their Major League roster.
"You hear about stuff that happens, but you don't ever think that kind of stuff's going to happen to you," said Sutton, drafted in 2004 by Houston in the 15th round (454th overall), nine rounds behind Ben Zobrist, now a Rays star.
When Sutton got the word that he was headed to the Rays, he quickly texted Zobrist, "You got a place where I can stay when I come to Tampa tomorrow night?"
Zobrist has been Sutton's close friend since the day each began his pro career with Houston's short-season Tri-City ValleyCats.
"I called him right away," Zobrist said, "and he goes, 'What's up teammate?' And I'm, 'No way. You're kidding me.'"
The locker adjoining Zobrist's was vacant. His first order of business was to ask Tampa Bay's clubhouse manager to give it to Sutton, who said it made the transition a lot easier.
"Ben was the first guy I ever met in professional baseball," Sutton said. "I signed with Houston and I walked into my hotel room and there he was."
They ended up rooming together that summer. Sutton was playing second base and Zobrist was at shortstop, they were a double-play combination.
Sutton lived in Jackson, Tenn., Zobrist in Nashville. The next year, Sutton moved to Nashville and they roomed together between seasons until Zobrist married. They roomed together in Spring Training a couple of times and in the offseason practiced together, often going to a local ballpark to hit batting practice against each other.
They'd also spend time at a soccer field, working on their fielding. They'd use a pitching machine that swiveled, firing balls toward the goal about 95-100 mph from about 100 feet away. If the ball went into the net, the player aiming the machine got a point. If the fielder made the stop, he got the point.
"That game was intense," Sutton said. "We'd be betting lunches on it. We hadn't made it to the Majors yet, so $7 or $8 was a big deal."
Eventually, they began making their way up the chain, Zobrist generally one level above Sutton. In 2009, Sutton was traded to the Reds, then to the Indians.
After the 2010 season, he signed as a free agent with the Red Sox, and after 2011 did the same with the Braves. By then he was becoming, like Zobrist, a utility player.
"We kind of became the same player," Zobrist said. "When he does well, I feel like it's myself out there. I'm really a fan when I watch him because we're so close."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.