As his Lancaster Barnstormers teammates take batting practice before a game, Zach Shank will usually be seen fielding baseballs all over the field. At second base. At short stop. At third base. In the outfield.
“I try to mix all the different positions because I could play anywhere any given day,” Shank said. “And then I try to take my batting practice as seriously as possible.”
The routine has come as a result of the career path the 6-foot-1 Shank has been on since being drafted in the 28th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2013. An all-star middle infielder at Warwick High School and NCAA Division I Marist College, Shank as a pro has been used as a utility player.
Through the first half of the 2019 season with the Barnstormers, Shank has seen action in three games at second base, four games at third base, six games in right field, 13 games at short stop and 26 games in left field. Impressively, he’s gathered a .969 fielding percentage, committing only four errors in 132 chances.
His fortunes haven’t been as good at the plate, where he’s batting just .197 in 52 games, 43 of them starts. That’s been a bit of a surprise considering Shank holds a career .249 batting average in 229 games at the triple-A level.
Then again, Shank might still be shedding some rust after taking off nearly all of the 2018 season. Fourteen months ago, he had called it a career. Or so he thought.
'I needed to step away'
Shank was only six games into the 2018 campaign with the Mariners’ double-A Arkansas affiliate when he returned home to Lititz.
“I had retired in May of last year,” Shank recalled. “I was just coming off of stomach surgery and going through some family stuff. My mind just wasn’t in the game anymore. I felt I needed to step away for a little bit.”
The baseball itch, though, eventually returned around January.
“The family issues kind of resolved themselves,” Shank said. “And I started wanting to play again. So I reached out to a couple teams.”
One of them was to the Barnstormers and its third-year manager Ross Peeples. Shank had some questions. Never before had he played independent ball. But the Lancaster County native was interested in returning to the game with the pro team in his hometown.
“Ross was on board with it,” Shank said.
'Plays the game the right way'
In the second game of a day-night double-header at Clipper Magazine Stadium back on June 26, Shank stepped to the plate in the fourth inning with two outs and teammate Josh Bell at first base. Shank drilled a pitch to deep left-center field for what could have been an easy RBI double. The speedy Shank wanted more. He tried to stretch the double into a triple but was instead tagged at third base before Bell crossed home plate.
Lancaster eventually lost, 2-1.
Asked about the play after the game, Peeples said, “It’s an aggressive play. I can’t get mad at an aggressive play like that. ...Zach Shank plays the game the right way. Would you like to have that run across? Yes. But you can’t fault Zach Shank for going hard.”
It was a good example of Shank’s relentless hustle with which he plays.
Asked where the trait comes from, Shank said, “My mom and dad. ...That’s been instilled in me from the time I was a little kid.”
Those parents have also welcomed their son back home this summer.
“I’ve been living at home with mom and dad. It’s been awesome,” Shank said. “They’ve been able to come to a bunch of games. My friends have been out to see me play.”
'One day at a time'
Shank is 28 years old and only a sixth-year pro. So he’s young enough to have some baseball years left in him. And he’s also only two years removed from playing at the triple-A level.
But he’s had to endure multiple stomach surgeries over the years, a result of intestinal issues he’s been managing since he was 11 years old.
“It’s just kind of a recurring thing,” he said. “Just scar tissue from previous surgeries at this point. Basically blockages that needed to be resolved.”
He already holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and closing in on obtaining his teacher’s certification license. He hopes to become a math teacher when he’s done playing.
When will that be?
“I’m trying to take it one day at a time, as cliche as it sounds,” he said. “We’ll see. I try not to look too far ahead, honestly.”