Interview with Zach Zaneski

Zach Zaneski has been one of the ‘Riders best hitters in the month of May. Frisco’s radio broadcaster Alex Vispoli had a chance to talk with the catcher about everything from his recent hot hitting to his college major, Marine Affairs.

Alex: You look like you’re swinging the bat as well as you have all year, do you feel comfortable up there?

Zach: I’ve just been working with harty and have been trying to iron things out and get better. You know that’s the name of the game, it’s always a work in progress and I’m just trying to get better at everything I’m doing. Never be satisfied or ok with what’s going on. I’ve been swinging it better and hopefully I can just keep improving.

Alex: Is it just the process you credit with getting you where you’re at right now?

Zach: Yea, sticking to my routine and getting here and doing early work. Working on some mechanical issues that I had and really just getting back to basics and focusing on seeing the baseball.

Alex: You’re not playing every single day, but it seems like you’re playing a little more than you were over the first couple weeks of the season and I’m sure that has helped too, to get adjusted to the jump in pitching at this level.

Zach: The more at bats the better, but it’s always good to play more. I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity that I have.

Alex: It’s not a situation that you’re not used to because last year you and Vinny DiFazio split time. So that part of the adjustment is something that you haven’t had to make.

Zach: Right last year, me and Vinny went every other day, so we knew today we’re playing and tomorrow we’re not. We played a lot of games and got a pretty good amount of at bats. I’m used to that, and it’s really whatever Bue is throwing at me, I’m ready for.

Alex: As a catcher and being your first year at this level, do you try to pick the brain at all of Jose? He’s been here for a year, this is his second year of Double-A. He has the experience at this level. Is there anything that you can glean from him or that he can share regarding how you call a game, receive, or footwork, etc.?

Zach: We were taught by Hector Ortiz, our catching coordinator, a lot of the same things as far as our footwork, receiving, and blocking, so we work together on that. But, it’s more about our relationship with our pitchers and knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and personalities. Also establishing relationships with them, so that when we get into the game we know what is going on and know what their strengths are and can get the most out of them.

Alex: How daunting is it at the beginning of the season to know that over the course of the year you have to catch in the neighborhood of probably 25 to 30 different pitchers, some of whom you may have caught in Spring Training, last year, or possibly haven’t at all? While knowing that you have to know the ins and outs as quickly as you can.

Zach: Sometimes it’s tough, but I just relate it back to Spring Training when I played one game and Koji Uehara came in and I had never caught him, even in a bullpen before. He doesn’t speak much English, so just the communication piece was tough. But we worked through it, and it’s a learning experience. I learned something from that, so every guy is different and you just have to get to know every guy.

Alex: Fans always wonder, how do you even communicate with a guy who doesn’t speak much English?

Zach: Well there’s definitely some boundaries there and when you go out and talk with somebody like that. There isn’t much you can say outside of “it’s ok, calm down” and hope he understands. You just want to make sure he knows the signs and you’re both ok on the signs. When you’re catching someone new like that you don’t have the relationship with them and it can make it difficult to understand what their best pitch is and their out pitch. It’s difficult at times.

Alex: Yesterday’s ball game, there was a lot going on there in the ninth inning. You have runners on second and third with nobody out and a two run lead. It looks like the game is at least going to be tied. When you have the meeting out there with the entire infield and Bue, what is the manager saying in that situation? Is he laying out where the throws are going out and every scenario you have to worry about?

Zach: It was great, he came out and said “Ok, we’re going to walk this guy and we’re going to get a groundball from the next guy, double play in the middle.” And it just so happened, we walked the guy, and first pitch was a sinker, and we got the groundball and double play and that was it, so it was pretty fun!

Alex: Not saying it’s all luck there to call that, but Steve Buechele has been around a few ball games and when he says something like that, it probably hones in that our manager really knows his stuff.

Zach: Absolutely, we have confidence in him and we’re playing for him every day, as well as ourselves. We believe him, believe the things he says, and when he talks, everybody listens. He’s a natural leader and we’re having fun playing for him.

Alex: You went undrafted out ofRhode Island. A lot of catchers will get picked up after a draft to help out with a lot of the new pitchers and maybe keep them on for half a season. But, you have managed to not only stick around, but you were an all-star in the Carolina League last year and you’re getting significant playing time in Double-A. Do you ever take a step back and say “wow this has been an amazing ride that I’ve been given here?”

Zach: Yea, that’s natural and you know I would sit around a fire with my mom and dad and we’d talk about it. It is, it’s been a fun crazy ride. But at the same time, I’m always searching for more and expecting more for myself. Even when I didn’t get drafted, I always knew that I could play. I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder because of that. I think that it’s only helped me keep getting better in this game and hopefully I can take that all the way to the big leagues.

Alex: Growing up in easternConnecticut, you were a Boston Red Sox fan as you were raised. I would imagine that one of your role models growing up was Jason Varitek. Is that one player that you grew up trying to emulate?

Zach: Oh absolutely, Varitek was unbelievable. Just the blue collar type of player he was.  He’s a grinder, he played every day. He didn’t care if he was hurt or got hurt, he was playing. He’s a mentally tough player and those are all of the attribute you want in a good catcher. Hopefully I can just have some of those attributes.

Alex: You’re one of the few players that has a college degree. Not every player has one at this point, sometimes they will go back after their playing career. But, you went to the University of Rhode Island and got a degree in Marine Affairs. That caught my eye because it’s not your typical degree. Explain a little bit about what that entailed.

Zach: Well, it’s like Ocean Management or Ocean Policy. Some people go into Marine Law. But it’s a pretty broad major and you can go into a lot of things from there. Some people go into Marine Biology, Aqua Culture, Coast Guard, or DEP, which is Department of Environmental Protection. I lived on the water my whole life in Waterford, had a boat and always went fishing and surfing. I love the ocean, so it caught my eye. It was cheaper tuition too, because none of the colleges in Connecticut offered that major, so it helped out as far as the money goes. It was a no-brainer to be honest with you.

Alex: Was there anything after your baseball career, whenever it’s going to be, that would keep you interested in and go in to something in that field?

Zach: Sure, I’d love to be a recreational fisherman the rest of my life and just go fishing with my dad all the time. But, I don’t know, I don’t think that I will ever go down that road. I may, but who knows when the time comes, that maybe that chapter will open.

Alex: So, you’re a bit of a fisherman, what is the most impressive catch that you’ve had in your fishing career as an amateur?

Zach: A couple of them actually. My dad and I went shark fishing on our boat a couple years ago and got a couple of big blue sharks. We actually had two of them on at once and next thing you know our 21 foot boat starts getting pulled by the sharks, so that was pretty crazy. Another one is we went 110 miles offshore and caught four yellow fin tuna and a couple albacore tuna.

Alex: Get you out on this, game three, tonight 76ers and Celtics, who you got?

Zach: Celtics all the way. I think they’re going to win the series and move on to the next round. But, you never know, the 76ers are good too.

Alex: That’s Boston homer and RoughRiders catcher Zach Zaneski. Congratulations on the game yesterday and thanks a lot for the time.

Zach: Thanks, a lot.

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