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EUREKA — When the topic is Ben Zobrist, words like "surreal" and "unbelievable" get tossed around like a baseball.

The 35-year-old Chicago Cubs star is proof the American dream is alive and well.

His is the kind of "feel good story" that's kept his hometown of Eureka buzzing ever since he made his Major League debut with Tampa Bay in 2006.

After helping Kansas City win the 2015 World Series, Zobrist has created even more buzz in Eureka this season as the Cubs posted the best record in baseball and have advanced to their first World Series since 1945.

Among those following Zobrist as the Cubs prepare to open the World Series on Tuesday night at Cleveland is former Eureka baseball coach Bob Gold, now a school superintendent in Ingleside, Ill.

Gold remembers Zobrist, who graduated in 2000, was all set to attend Calvary Bible College in Kansas City. He wanted to become a pastor like his father, but the school didn't have a baseball team.

"He actually stopped in my office one day and said he just didn't feel like he was done playing," Gold recalls. "All he wanted though was to play one more season."

Gold handed Zobrist a flyer for a tryout camp at Bushnell where an Olivet Nazarene coach spotted Zobrist, who starred three years at Olivet before playing his senior year at Dallas Baptist.

Skip ahead 11 years and six trips into the MLB playoffs and we find Zobrist has played in three All-Star games (2009, 2013 and 2016) while hitting .266, amassing 1,287 hits and stroking 145 homers.

"I remember after he got called up with the Rays, my wife and I went down to watch a series," Gold said. "I remember sitting in Chili's with him after the game and he was like, 'can you believe five years ago I wasn't going to play baseball anymore and now I'm playing for the Rays?'

"He's got an interesting story. It's really kind of unbelievable honestly."

While playing two years of varsity basketball for Eureka coach Tim Meiss, Zobrist gave no hint he'd become a pro athlete except with his enthusiasm.

"It's funny," Meiss said, "when you see him hit that double the other day (to help win the National League Division Series vs. San Francisco), he was all excited and fired up. That's the way I remember him as a player."

Zobrist's first impact on Eureka sports came as the sixth man on a sixth-place state cross country team as a freshman in 1996. He finished 111th in the state, running three miles in 17:07.

When baseball season rolled around, Gold was trying to build his program.

"I was looking for kids who had some grit and competitiveness and I moved him up to the varsity and took a lot of flak for it," Gold said. "He was so little (at 5-foot-5, 110 pounds), he didn't have a lot of power, but he found ways to get on base.

"I could throw him out in the outfield and he would run down every fly ball. He was a real competitive kid. It's funny how those characteristics have really carried him a long way."

By the time Zobrist was a junior guard in basketball, he'd grown to 5-10. As a 6-1 senior, he earned all-Tri-County Conference honorable mention on a 25-1 team.

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That same year, Zobrist's athleticism stood out to first-year football coach Mike Goodwin, who talked Zobrist into coming out for the first time.

Zobrist's 649 receiving yards ranked second in the Pantagraph area as he earned all-Big Rivers Conference honorable mention as both a receiver and cornerback.

"He tells me one of the best decisions he ever made was playing high school football because he had so much fun," said Goodwin, who coaches at Petersburg Porta.

Goodwin isn't surprised Zobrist, a 6-3 switch-hitter who has played every position except pitcher and catcher, has reached the postseason so often.

"He hates losing and he's such a consummate team guy," Goodwin said. "He'll sacrifice anything for the team and that's what makes him so special."

Goodwin and his son, Andrew, attended the 2009 game in which Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox beat the Rays by pitching a perfect game. Zobrist took time to talk to Andrew near the dugout, a gesture Goodwin never forgot.

When Gold and his two sons went to Wrigley Field this year, Zobrist spent an hour after the game giving them a tour of the clubhouse.

"He didn't have to do that," Gold said. "He's just that kind of guy."

Most stories about Zobrist mention his Christian faith and positive impact on teammates. Understandably, that makes his parents, Tom and Cindi, proud.

"I'd like to take credit for that, but I think the credit really goes to the Lord," Tom said. "He has a real faith in Christ and desire to please him."

The elder Zobrist, the senior pastor of the Liberty Bible Church in Eureka, believes his son got a lot from his hometown.

"He got a real sense of work, a good work ethic, in that community," Tom said. "I think he got a sense of loyalty and learning to work with a group. It's not all about himself. He's very team oriented. I think he learned that growing up in Eureka."

Zobrist now lives a mile from Wrigley Field where he's been known to bicycle to work. He and singer-songwriter wife Julianna have three young children.

By signing a four-year, $56 million contract with the Cubs, Zobrist rejoined manager Joe Maddon, who first saw Zobrist's potential as a "super utility player" in Tampa Bay.

"Joe was the guy who was really his biggest cheerleader," Tom Zobrist said. "Joe saw something in him that a lot of people didn't in baseball."

The pastor says his son's surreal journey from an 18-year-old ready to leave baseball to big-league star has "been a lot of fun."

"It's a little stressful at times," he added, "but we try to enjoy it as much as we can and maintain some normalcy in our own lives and try to help him maintain some as well."

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​Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @pg_sharer

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