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In divorce documents, Ben Zobrist says wife ‘coaxed’ him into returning to Cubs
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In divorce documents, Ben Zobrist says wife ‘coaxed’ him into returning to Cubs

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Julianna and Ben Zobrist

Julianna Zobrist greets her husband Ben Zobrist after she sang the National Anthem on Memorial Day at Wrigley Field on May 30, 2016.

CHICAGO — Ben Zobrist’s estranged wife, Julianna Zobrist, says the former Chicago Cubs utility man was “guilty of failing to preserve marital assets” when he took a leave of absence from the team in May 2019, so she will ask a judge to award her an additional $4 million when those assets are divided during next month’s divorce trial, according to pretrial documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune.

“In 2019, he had a contract with the Chicago Cubs for ($12 million), but since he only played for 2 months, his salary was prorated and he only earned ($4.5 million) of the ($12 million) he could have earned,” according to the memorandum filed July 14 in Williamson County, Tenn., by Julianna Zobrist’s attorney, Marlene Eskind Moses of Nashville, Tenn.-based MTR Family Law.

The brief contends that Ben Zobrist “intentionally and voluntarily stopped working” and “essentially went from the top of his game to basically giving up, which caused a massive loss in income.”

Julianna Zobrist is seeking an even split of the marital assets, plus an additional $4 million for the “amount of money he failed to preserve by abruptly and intentionally failing to satisfy his baseball contract.”

Ben Zobrist’s attorney, Helen S. Rogers of Nashville-based Rogers, Shea and Spanos, calls the claim and its reasoning “utterly absurd” in a filing to Judge Michael W. Binkley and shifts blame to the extramarital affair Julianna admitted to having with the couple’s former pastor and marriage counselor, Byron Yawn.

Zobrist, who is a Eureka native, is suing Yawn for $6 million in a separate case in Davidson County for intentional infliction of emotional distress and defrauding his charity.

“Rather than accepting blame for having torn her husband’s heart out by having an affair with their pastor, she expected him to be able to totally focus in an elite athletic job that required (100%) of his physical and mental energy,” Rogers writes in the memorandum. “It is Mrs. Zobrist, by having the extramarital affair and confessing same to her husband, and not disclosing the true extent of her affair, that caused him such extreme mental distress and difficulty that resulted in an inability to finish his long and very successful career in the way that he had hoped for and planned for.”

Cubs Diamondbacks Baseball

The Cubs' Ben Zobrist watches the flight of the ball as he hits a two-run double against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix in 2019. 

Ben Zobrist alleges that Julianna overspent from the marital estate by “at least $691,602.86” and is seeking 60% of the couple’s assets.

Both parties laid out their full battery of accusations in the briefs as well as their proposals for dividing assets and sharing custody of their three young children. Here are just some of the facts and allegations revealed in documents before the weeklong divorce trial is set to begin Aug. 9 in Franklin, Tenn.

Ben Zobrist’s witness list includes Yawn and his now ex-wife, Robin Yawn; Zobrist’s agent, Scott Pucino; his trainer, Josh Costello; and an “Erin Dillard.” The wife of Zobrist’s longtime friend and former Milwaukee Brewers reliever Tim Dillard is named Erin. It appears some if not the majority of witness testimony will come from depositions.

Ben Zobrist accuses Julianna of orchestrating a “scheme” to persuade Ben to put their divorce proceedings on hold and return to baseball so his earnings would continue to fill the marital coffers.

Julianna Zobrist has countersued Ben for inappropriate marital conduct, though it’s not spelled out in the documents available to the Tribune and Ben has denied the allegation.

Julianna Zobrist alleges that Ben struggles with “mental health issues” that include manic tendencies, depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide and that she helped “manage husband’s behavior” so it wouldn’t adversely affect his baseball career.

Julianna Zobrist said she continued to “emotionally support” Ben and his “often-rigorous baseball schedule, many of the games lasting late at night, with all three children in tow.”

Julianna Zobrist seeks primary custody of the children and child support, while Ben advocates for a 50-50 parental plan. “Husband has no real desire to coparent due to his anger towards her,” Julianna says in her filing.

Ben Zobrist asserts that he propped up Julianna’s ventures as a Christian pop singer, author and speaker, with Julianna Zobrist LLC posting a 2019 net loss of more than $212,000 because of clothing (more than $188,000), travel and other business expenses.

Julianna Zobrist was awarded $1.72 million in proceeds from the April sale of the couple’s North Hamilton Avenue home in Chicago as well as an additional $772,500, to “purchase a new home as her separate property.”

Ben Zobrist accuses Julianna and Yawn of “spoliating” — destroying or altering — evidence.

All of the Zobrists’ and Yawn’s social media posts and communications may be included among the exhibits, and so will their books, including “Double Play,” cowritten by Ben and Julianna, “Pull It Off,” written by Julianna; and Yawn’s “What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him” and “Things That Go Bump in the Church.”

Ben Zobrist requests a “stay away” order (under Tennessee’s “paramour provision”) prohibiting Yawn from coming in contact or communicating with the children until the youngest is 14: “Wife has made it clear that she intends to continue her involvement with Pastor Yawn in the future, and that the children will eventually know of their mother’s involvement with their former pastor.”

Ben Zobrist’s filing adds, “The Court will find that Mrs. Zobrist is a spoiled, self-centered person who does not understand the meaning of a dollar.” (Julianna recently said on social media that she won’t resort to the kind of “ugly accusations” Ben has made during divorce proceedings.)

The Zobrists once were something akin to a celebrity couple in the Christian community and even to mainstream audiences to an extent. They were featured in Parade magazine in 2017, and Julianna was a guest on “Megyn Kelly Today” in September 2018.

Each the child of a minister, Ben and Julianna Zobrist were introduced because one of Ben’s teammates at Olivet Nazarene University was married to Julianna’s older sister. The Zobrists married on Dec. 17, 2005, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Ben Zobrist worked his way up from the minor leagues to play for the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals and Cubs. He won back-to-back World Series championships with the Royals (2015) and Cubs (2016), and he was named the 2016 World Series MVP.

Julianna Zobrist carved out a career as a self-help author, motivational speaker and singer. She sang the national anthem at some Cubs games, and Ben used a couple of her songs as walk-up music at Wrigley Field, including her cover of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” and her single “Alive,” which hit No. 48 on Billboard’s Christian digital songs chart in November 2015, according to Billboard.com.

The Zobrists famously kept a “six-day rule” with which they made sure no more than six days passed without spending time together as a family. That sometimes meant shadowing Ben’s travel schedule with baseball. They bought a house in Chicago so the family would have a home base during the Cubs season.

However, Julianna Zobrist maintains that “as the marriage progressed, (she) began to experience (Ben)’s perfectionist tendencies which would often feel overbearing and controlling.”

Both parties agree things began to change substantially in 2018.

Ben Zobrist says in his brief that Julianna told him she had “new thoughts and opinions that differed from some of their religious background and family beliefs.” Julianna says her in own memorandum that she “began questioning some of her religious beliefs.”

“Wife reached out to her pastor, Byron Yawn, and found solace in his support,” she continued. “The parties had a friendship with Mr. Yawn and his family. Wife’s friendship and connection with Mr. Yawn grew over a period of time and changed into a romantic relationship.

“In March of 2019, wife had an affair with Mr. Yawn and admitted this relationship to husband in May of 2019. Although she did not admit the adultery until later.”

Ben Zobrist lays out a more detailed sequence of events in his pretrial filing. At an unspecified time in 2018, Ben began to notice that Julianna was “distracted and often not engaged with him or the family.”

Ben says Julianna asked him for space, and Yawn, when Ben asked for his advice as their marriage counselor, reinforced her request, he said.

According to the filing, Zobrist “looked at his wife’s cell phone records and realized that she was spending huge amounts of time virtually every day, beginning in August 2018, talking and texting with Pastor Byron Yawn.”

Zobrist cites that Julianna testified in her deposition that her relationship with Yawn “crossed the line” in September 2018. In either October or November, she “confessed her love for Pastor Yawn,” presumably to Yawn, though she doesn’t expressly say that in the brief.

Then in December 2018 — in a pivotal moment that Ben Zobrist calls the “genesis” of their split — Julianna threw a retirement party for Yawn, who was stepping away from his role as elder of Community Bible Church in Nashville to take on a more business-related position, according to Ben’s filing.

“The one-night party cost almost $30,000 and was conducted at the Zobrist farm,” according to the filing. “Mrs. Zobrist paid for the party out of the ‘farm account’ that her husband typically did not review, apparently to keep the cost of the party unknown to him. … Mrs. Zobrist and Pastor Yawn both became intoxicated and are dancing ‘on’ each other in a provocative way that was very embarrassing to Ben Zobrist, especially in front of their close church friends.

“Wife took umbrage at her husband’s rebuking her privately after the party for acting in this manner in public. However, unknown to husband, wife was already ‘in love’ with Pastor Yawn.”

According to a family spending report Ben Zobrist commissioned, financial advisers reported that Julianna’s spending began ramping up in 2018 and increased by as much as 174% by 2019.

In 2018, she averaged $24,000 per month in spending, including $12,500 for rent and $4,000 for furniture rental, until a court order limited her to $30,000 per month for living expenses. Total spending on clothing topped $134,000 in 2018 and $289,000 in 2019.

In spring 2019, Ben Zobrist was preparing for a “long grueling season with the Chicago Cubs at a time when wife was changing and acting differently. He reluctantly left for Spring Training Camp, wife finally admitted (after Pastor Yawn’s now ex-wife caught them talking) directly to husband that she was having an ‘emotional affair’ with Pastor Yawn.”

Ben Zobrist was alerted to the affair in May 2019 by Robin Yawn and was “devastated” and “simply could not play baseball while his marriage and family were in limbo.”

Zobrist asked the Cubs for a leave of absence, and they placed him on the restricted list on May 8.

“Rather than take up a roster spot that could be taken by another player, husband took a leave of absence from the team. This decision cost him about $8 million,” according to Zobrist’s brief. The Cubs recalled Addison Russell from Triple-A Iowa.

Julianna Zobrist filed for divorce May 13, 2019, in Cook County, then later withdrew. Ben filed for legal separation the same day in Tennessee.

The couple decided to put the divorce on hold and entered an agreed order to attend counseling. Ben Zobrist contends that Julianna kept in contact with Yawn “despite her promises to the contrary, and purchased a burner phone to do so, which she discarded after using it to hide evidence of such.”

Julianna Zobrist admits in a previous filing that she acquired a disposable phone in June 2019, used it to communicate with Yawn, “then threw the phone away in an airport in New York City.” Also, when she received a new phone after changing service providers, it allowed her to get “rid of her phone that contained the nude photos and text messages that she had sent to Yawn.”

Also, “by Pastor Yawn’s own admission during his deposition, he too spoliated evidence … under the dubious claim that his cellular phone ‘fell out of his pocket’ into a puddle as he was crossing 21st Street to go to a restaurant and was run over by a vehicle,” and he had regularly deleted text messages, according to Ben Zobrist’s memorandum.

“Incredulously, wife sent a text message to Pastor Yawn while watching his testimony in his deposition via Zoom, telling him ‘You’re killing it. I knew you would’ as he was being questioned about his inappropriate relationship with wife and his spoliated electronic device.”

Ben Zobrist’s baseball career was on pause during most of May and all of June, July and August 2019 while the couple went through counseling, though Julianna was “continuing her sexual affair while the parties were attending marital counseling.”

Meanwhile, “Mrs. Zobrist … coaxed her husband into returning to the Chicago Cubs in the late summer and fall of 2019, during which he earned another $4 million.”

The Cubs activated Ben Zobrist from the restricted list Sept. 1, and he played the final 21 games of the season.

Starting at second base, he went 0-for-3 and pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two walks and a strikeout during a 9-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 29 at Busch Stadium, his 47th game of the season and the 1,651st of his career, according to baseball-reference.com.

Zobrist says in his brief that his “Major League Baseball career is over.”

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“It appears that one of wife’s main motives in concealing her affair with Pastor while participating in marriage counseling was to coax husband back into playing baseball so he could further enrich the marital estate in which wife is expected to receive significant sums of money once the court equitably divides the estate,” Ben Zobrist alleges in his memorandum. “One would be hard pressed to concoct a more deceitful, sinister, and otherwise inappropriate scheme than wife has devised in this divorce matter.

“Therefore wife is going to claim, in order to complete her scheme, that husband ‘dissipated’ the marital estate when he decided to take a leave of absence so that the parties could work on the marriage. Again, it is difficult to fathom a more disingenuous argument when it was wife, who knew full well that she had no intent in repairing the marriage, even attended marriage counseling in bad faith while continuing her affair with Pastor Yawn.”

Ben Zobrist’s filing adds, “Wife’s scheme did not pan out as she had hoped as husband soon retired from baseball.”

Finally, on June 3, 2020, in answer to Ben Zobrist’s formal “request for admissions,” Julianna was “forced to admit her affair was not just ‘emotional,’ but also physical.”

Ben Zobrist requests that the judge weigh whether Julianna is at fault for his leave of absence and its cost to the couple’s bottom line.


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