May 10th, 2014

Framing Pitches, Framing Minds

Zaneski pointing

The catcher touches the ball on nearly every play and influences the game in many aspects. Before every pitch, the man behind home plate helps determine the location and velocity of the throw. He can change the momentum of an inning with a strike to eliminate a would-be base stealer or a tag at the dish. A skilled backstop can even coax an umpire into calling a strike by “framing” a pitch over the plate.

As a catcher in the Rangers organization for over six years, Zach Zaneski understands the many different roles of his position, both on and off the diamond. He knows the catcher’s capacity to mold a game’s outcome. Whether starting behind the dish or warming up his hurlers in the bullpen, it is job that requires focus and determination.

Zaneski employs a similar skill set as a substitute teacher around his hometown of New London, Conn. The 27-year-old has spent parts of the last five winters in the classroom.

He first arrived at the idea when he realized the offseason could be a slow period of time for athletes.

“When I was in college I signed with the Rangers and after that first season I came home and realized I had to work,” said Zaneski.

“I figured that I could substitute teach, be done with work at 2 o’clock every day and that would hold me over for the winter until spring training rolls around.”

The seven-year veteran is prepared to teach in any subject. By now, he has instructed a variety of classes.

“For the first four winters it was kind of whatever they needed me to teach,” Zaneski said.

“I was doing physical education, automotive, history, you name it and I’ve done it. This winter it was mostly math, so it was more of a long-term position.”

“It is fun working with kids, and once they figure out that I play professional baseball with the Rangers, they get all excited.”

Zaneski’s career outside the classroom is unique from his co-workers, but he manages to blend both worlds and enjoys doing so.

Zaneski swinging

“It’s very convenient because once I’m done at 2 o’clock, I can lift, I can hit, I can do what I need to do for baseball as well. It works out well,” he said.

Zaneski has the leadership and poise to call a great game at the plate and he also guides his pitcher through the obstacles of a game. These are the experiences he relates to while working with some of his students.

“I mentored Jordan Reed who’s in the NFL with the Redskins my first couple of winters there and when he was looking at going to college for football I pretty much told him he had to get his grades straight or else he wouldn’t get accepted into the school,” said Zaneski.

“I’m kind of guiding and mentoring some of the kids and it’s fun. I try to explain that just because they’re good at football or baseball or whatever the case may be, they can’t just get into college. They’ve got to get accepted with their grades first. Trying to help them through that process because I’ve done it is a good thing.”

Life can be related to a game in which there are highs and lows. A pitcher can wind up in a bases-loaded and no one out jam, similarly to how students can find themselves without focus, drive or determination. This is when it takes the leadership and influence of a catcher, or a substitute teacher named Mr. Zaneski, on the other hand, to slow the game down and re-find much needed focus.

For Zaneski it doesn’t matter if it’s guiding his pitcher through a mid-summer afternoon game or giving advice to students back at home. Zaneski enjoys framing pitches to get a call from the umpire at home plate, and framing minds so one day his students can get a call bringing them their notice of academic acceptance.

-Cameron Varnau