Ralph is a guy for all seasons. He’s done everything and he’s as dependable as they come. —Former BYU athletic director and baseball coach Glen Tuckett
PROVO — The scene is tattooed on my brain and will be forever. It was 25 years ago during a college baseball game. There was blizzard-like snow blowing sideways. There sat BYU sports information director Ralph Zobell at a folding banquet table behind the home plate fence bundled up like an Eskimo, eyelashes white, cheeks flushed red, icicles forming from his nose.
His laptop was covered by a plastic tent as he peeked into it to create the official boxscore of a WAC baseball game. Fans could leave, the players had to play, but even after all were departed, his work was long from finished.
This has been Zobell’s life: sacrificed Saturdays and cleanup work Sundays, with rarely an eight-hour shift, a luxury for most of the masses. Working in sports is fun stuff, but it comes at a price few outside the business understand.
Zobell’s work as BYU’s baseball publicist is heading into its 42nd year. He’s known from coast to coast. His imprint on the record books, media guides and press releases has enshrined hundreds of players and coaches, both famous and unknown, forever.
For his efforts, Zobell will be the 42nd recipient of the prestigious 2016 Wilbur Snypp Award by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association for outstanding contributions to college baseball. While his Cougars may not make it to Omaha for the College World Series, Zobell will, to receive his plaque.
If anyone deserves it, it is Dr. Z, as many in the media have called him.
“Ralph is a guy for all seasons. He’s done everything and he’s as dependable as they come,” said former BYU baseball coach and athletic director Glen Tuckett.
BYU has shuffled Zobell around the athletic department over the years, taking advantage of his skills as a perfectionist. He’s done everything from putting together media guides to filing NCAA stats.
At least four athletic directors have come and gone and they’ve all had ideas of where to use him. In the late '70s, he was part of a two-man tag team for sports information with the late Dave Schulthess. That office is now managed by half a dozen VP athletic directors and an army of associate sports information directors, assistants and student interns.
I’ll always remember Zobell as one of the hardest-working guys in the business. His cup wasn’t just full, it overflowed.
“Ralph actually hired me as an intern when I was a student at BYU,” said Deseret News sports writer Jeff Call. “He took a chance on me because of my lack of experience. While interning for him, I learned a ton and that's when I decided to become a sports writer. In my current job, he has been an invaluable resource for me, providing insights, offering angles for stories and setting up interviews. He has helped me countless times, for which I'm grateful. I'm happy that he's being recognized for his efforts.”
This week, Zobell was in Northern California with the Cougars at the NCAA Baseball Regional at Stanford. Zobell covered head coach Mike Littlewood as a player and is now his spokesman, arranger of media interviews, ace of statistics and bios, and creator of advances and game stories.
Zobell will receive the award June 17 at 10 a.m. before the first game in Omaha. Former BYU coaches Tuckett and Gary Pullins, who are board members, will be there.
“He’s just a stay-with-it guy,” said Pullins. “He stayed with us as coaches through thick and thin, making us sound good, even when we didn’t. This is a positive, upbeat guy and I think he is zeroing in on Pete Witbeck’s record (former assistant athletic director) as the most years employed in BYU’s athletic department.
“He’s always so supportive. Before we built Miller Park, we were out there in the elements. Rain, sleet, snow, whatever, Zobell was always there," Pullins continued. "I remember in the early days looking over from the dugout, his computer covered in plastic. He didn’t duck out, he didn’t chicken out. He’s just a loyal, solid, positive guy and all of us appreciated his earnest way of doing his job and going beyond the mark.
“After I retired, Ralph made sure I knew what was going on in the program, making sure I was abreast of the latest.”
Zobell was front and center when BYU was ranked No. 1 in 1983 prior to a regional appearance. He’s also been there when the Cougars have struggled mightily. He’s seen celebrations, dog piles, budding Major League stars, and he’s seen tears and dejection that have torn the hearts out of very strong men.
“Ralph Zobell has been a shining example about the positive points of college baseball for five decades,” said NCBWA executive director Bo Carter.
“He is the consummate college athletics media relations professional, has been a fine contributor to the NCBWA and has affected the lives of hundreds of college baseball student-athletes, coaches and administrators during his illustrious career at BYU.”
Zobell has spent almost half a century behind the scenes, promoting and devoting. This time he’ll come out from behind the curtains.
It’s time he took a much-deserved bow.
Well done, Dr. Z.