Former Sun Devil Zechry Zinicola enjoying pro baseball
Though minor league baseball can be what he calls a "grind," former ASU pitcher Zechry Zinicola is still savoring the opportunity to play the sport he loves.
"It's no cakewalk," he said of life in the minors. "There's long bus trips, interesting hotels, but it's fun playing baseball. It's fun getting a paycheck for baseball."
Zinicola, who played at ASU from 2004-06, is currently one of the Washington Nationals' top prospects, and he is playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League.
He said he was honored that the Nationals selected him to play in the Fall League.
"If you get invited here, it feels like your organization cares about you and has a spot for you somewhere in the future," he said. "You just want to prove that they're right, that you're good enough to be in the big leagues one day."
Zinicola has appeared in seven games thus far in the Fall League, going 1-1 with one save. His win came in the Javelinas' first game when he pitched the ninth inning of a 3-2 win over the Surprise Rafters, and he earned the save in a 5-4 win Oct. 20 over the Peoria Saguaros.
He has also walked just one batter in four innings, and that is something he said he is working on during this Fall League season.
"Just not giving up free bases," he said. "Not hit batters, no walks. [I'm] trying to cut down on that a lot, and just trying to refine my game overall."
After being drafted in the sixth round (181st overall) by Washington in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Zinicola had immediate success in his first season of pro baseball, eventually being named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
He began by getting four saves and not allowing an earned run while appearing in eight games for the Vermont Lake Monsters, the Nationals' short-season Class A affiliate. Next, he moved up to their high A team, the Potomac Nationals, and went 3-0 with three saves and a 1.98 ERA in nine appearances.
He then finished the season with the AA Harrisburg Senators, pitching in ten games and going 1-1 with five saves and a 2.70 ERA.
"When I look back, I was just right place, right time," Zinicola said of his early success and winning the Pitcher of the Year award. "I got hot, I did well, the organization liked me, and they gave me a little plaque for it. It's an honor, but it's in the past and you've got to take care of business now."
Zinicola returned to Harrisburg for the 2007 season, making 42 appearances and finishing 0-4 with six saves and a 5.46 ERA in 57.2 innings.
"In AA, the competition gets better," he said. "You've just got to get used to better hitters that have an idea of what's going on out there. They're better prepared, so you have to be better prepared."
Zinicola played three seasons at ASU, serving as a two-way player during his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2004 and 2005 and then becoming a full-time pitcher in 2006.
The 2005 season was probably his most memorable, as he played a key role in ASU's run to a third-place finish at the College World Series.
After his balk put the Sun Devils down 1-0 in their best-of-three Super Regional series against the defending national champions Cal State Fullerton, he returned to start the tiebreaking Game 3 on the mound. However, he made his biggest impact with the bat, going 3-5 at the plate and driving in three runs to help ASU to a 9-8 win that sent the team to the College World Series.
"It was just nice to come back from that Friday night [losing Game 1], being the last one to walk off the field giving up that run," Zinicola said of the Fullerton series. "It was nice to help out and redeem myself a little bit."
Then, in a College World Series elimination game against Nebraska, Zinicola came up big again for the Sun Devils.
After Jeff Larish hit his third home run of that game in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score at 7-7, Zinicola shut out the Cornhuskers in the 10th and 11th innings and earned the win after J.J. Sferra drove in Joey Hooft in the bottom of the 11th.
Zinicola struck out four and allowed just one hit in his two shutout innings.
"That game, there were so many things that happened," he said. "That was the one game that stood out."
ASU would eventually bow out of the CWS to Florida, but Zinicola said the great memories of that postseason remain fresh in his mind.
"To come in, being probably the lowest team there, to winning some games and leaving our stamp on that College World Series, I don't think anybody on that team will ever forget what we did there," he said.
In total, Zinicola finished with a 10-9 record as a pitcher and a .276 batting average for his three seasons at ASU.
His 18 career saves put him third on the school's all-time list, behind Doug Nurnberg (25 saves from 1965-67) and Kevin Dukes (20 saves from 1978-81), and his eight saves in 2004 tied the then-freshman school record set by Mitch Dean in 1976.
Overall, Zinicola said he has no regrets about choosing ASU over the pros when he was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves in the 43rd round of the 2003 Draft.
"It helped me loads, learning how to pay rent, trying to go to class, just growing up," he said of his time at ASU. "Then, on the field, better competition, I think it was just a step toward what I do now."
Still, while he is happy playing professionally, Zinicola said he misses life at ASU.
"I miss all the guys, with how close you get compared to being in pro ball," he said. "Being a Sun Devil and going out on the weekend and just going to bat with your boys is just something you don't really see in the minor leagues."