One beautiful spring evening in April, Julianna Zobrist and her husband, plus their three kids, piled into a blue convertible and headed to CVS. They picked up bags of candy and proceeded to drive around a north side neighborhood of Chicago, throwing out treats to passersby. Only a few dozen may have been fortunate to be in the path of this parade of sorts, yet tens of thousands of fans watched it play out on Instagram Stories.
“You have to work hard to be vulnerable with other people,” she says. “As a celebrity, you’re so often just put on a pedestal.”
She would know: This fun-loving wife and mother has been married to Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs second baseman and 2016 World Series MVP, for 12 years.She’s laughter; she’s rainbows; she’s genuine; she’s perpetually late… in her own words. Splitting their time between their hometown of Nashville and Chicago, the power duo are raising their young family in a God-centric, down-to-earth way that bucks the norm of what many would expect from a professional athlete.
While she embraces the baseball wife life, Julianna is far from content to sit in the dugout. With her own professional singing career taking off (she released her first full-length album, “Shatterproof,” last summer) and a growing presence as a speaker on the Christian conference circuit, she’s becoming a power player in her own right. Her positive messages to young girls and women about self-image are amplified through her social media channels, starting a #shatterproof movement with potential to change the world.
The Love Story That Almost Wasn’t
Julianna was born in Iowa City as one of six children—a PK (pastor’s kid), to be specific. “People assume there were pressures attached to being a PK, but that wasn’t the case for me,” she recalls. “I was in church every time the door was open, but I never felt pressured to be there.”
She and Ben (also a PK) were introduced by one of her sisters when Julianna was a junior in high school and he a freshman at Olivet Nazarene University. At the time, she was focused on figuring out a music career and pursuing her love of science, while Ben was playing baseball alongside her sister’s husband. Not really interested in “him or anyone else,” Julianna shot him down when the serious Ben asked for her number.
But this was only the beginning for Ben and “Jules.” When she went on to study music at Belmont University in Nashville, they kept in touch a bit, and he kept popping up in family conversations. “Ben was always an elusive character in my family, and it became their running joke: ‘Dear God, please send Ben to get Jules’ feet on the ground a little bit,’” she says.
Over four years, the pair hung out a total of only about two days. Yet one night in Nashville, during Julianna’s sophomore year of college, Ben surprised her for her birthday. They started dating that night, and it was then she realized all roads had been leading her to this point. “God had something for me that was outside my plan,” she says. “There were no fireworks, no flirting—it just felt like walking in faith. That’s so unsexy, but God knew [Ben was] what I needed.” They became Mr. and Mrs. Zobrist two years later.
As much as their relationship may have been “unsexy” from the beginning, Julianna is her husband’s No. 1 fan, both on and off the field. The night the Cubs took home their first World Series trophy in 108 years in 2016, she was perhaps more confident than some of the team about who would get the win. “If one man on that roster had anything to say about it,
I knew we’d be coming home with the trophy,” she says of Ben.
The victory was enough to coax out a few tears in anyone, and the emotional night had everyone feeling quite friendly toward one another. “I must have gotten kissed by 12 strangers,” Julianna recalls. When she got trapped in the crowd trying to reach her husband after he was awarded MVP, she wasn’t about to let anyone stop her. “Somebody better get me down there!” she remembers yelling. “You don’t understand—I’ve had his babies! I need to be downstairs right now!”
A Partnership of Encouragement
It’s rejuvenating to see how the two are truly a team—what Julianna calls a constant source of encouragement for each other. “We wouldn’t be where we are without the other person,” she says. “He might not have even said yes to being a pro athlete [if we weren’t together]. His success is just as much mine, and mine is just as much his.”
For Julianna, that success is measured in a few different ways. She and Ben’s children, for one: 8-year-old Zion, 5-year-old Kruse and 1-year-old Blaise. The youngest, a spitting image of her father, is named for Blaise Pascal, a French scientist and theologian. That reveals more of Julianna’s left-brain nature.
“I considered myself a naturalist before I was a believer in Christ,” she says. “I’ve never seen [science and Christianity] conflict; they mesh in such a beautiful way, as an expression of who God is.”
Besides the Bible, Julianna, who is an avid reader, reads a lot of theology books. “I like to read dead people!” she says of C.S. Lewis and Charles Spurgeon. But she also enjoys reading living authors, such as Brene Brown.
Being married to a professional athlete has changed what church looks like for the Zobrist family, with baseball season lasting a good eight months of the year. A busy travel schedule (Julianna and the kids travel to many away Cubs games, as they’ve committed to never spending more than seven days apart) prevents them from attending on a weekly basis.
While it’s a hard adjustment for two PKs, it’s taught them that faith extends beyond a building. “If God is all sufficient, he needs to be able to be sufficient for even those who can’t attend church,” Julianna says. “We’ve been able to see a part of God [this way] that we’ve never really seen before.”
The family stays connected to their local church in Nashville, and Julianna takes part in a baseball wives Bible study with spouses of other Chicago Cubs team members. The pair also works to cultivate an environment of transparency spiritually with their three children, giving them freedom to ask questions, openly talk about God and memorize scripture together.
In another act rather uncommon among professional athlete families, Ben and Julianna wrote a book together. They released “Double Play,” about how they both use their gifts to glorify God and raise a Christian family, in 2014.