New York City - Andrew Zapata won’t have to travel far to begin the college phase of his baseball career.
The Staten Island native will graduate this year from Poly Prep, and soon begin pitching for the University of Connecticut Huskies.
And while it’s a cold weather program, Zapata doesn’t think of it as much of a change from the chill of the northeast, to the chill of New England air.
“I do think about it a little. But it won’t be dramatically different. I’ll get used to it and be comfortable. I don’t think it will be a huge challenge,” he said.
His teammates and coaches at Uconn will soon find that a confident focused disposition is the Andrew Zapata way. [Note: He must be pretty excited to get there. His Twitter background already represents the Huskies. Follow him @Azapata24]
“I’ve coached him for four years and he’s always been humble, and winning is all that’s on his mind. He’s always been like that,” said Poly Prep head coach Matt Roventini.
With a four-pitch repertoire (fastball, cutter, slider, changeup), he is already highly developed.
“He can throw all four for strikes. He gets his fastball in the plus-ninety zone and has the three off-speed pitches, making him very hard to hit when he puts it all together,” Roventini said.
The learning experience of properly using one's talent on the field is ongoing. Even with all the talent and humility, he's still had to figure out who he is as a teammate, and as a pitcher. With a solid ability to lead and such impressive skills, he's still working out the approach.
“I'm always working on my changeup. I feel it could be better. This off-season, I worked on that more than any other pitch. For some reason, that's always taken me longer to locate,” Zapata said.
As for the leadership aspect, that is both a strength and a part of himself he feels he needs to polish as much as his offerings on the mound.
“When he came to the team, he had a lot of talent, but was also very humble, which you don't always see with the best players,” Roventini said. “He learned a lot from the older guys. John Franco's son was here, and other guys that were extremely talented. It was sophomore year that he really became the number one pitcher. He embraces the role of leader. He's more vocal. Now he's the one helping the younger guys.”
Zapata agrees that he's embraced the role, but he also sees room to let the game breathe and the players play. His competitive drive pushes him to push others, perhaps too much at times.
“I recently have found I needed to take a step back. I was really hard on them at first this year. I don't like to lose. But I also want their respect,” Zapata said.
Respect was key in selecting Uconn. The baseball program is led by highly respected head coach Jim Penders, whom Zapata met with before deciding. He was immediately struck by the dedication that Penders showed to the school, developing players, and more than that. Much more than what the player becomes.
“He's completely committed to the school. He said he's never going to leave, he never wants to, and that he loves the school and the team. He makes sure that he gets to know the guys he's recruiting as people, not just as players. He's a great person and wants to see us develop into better players, but, more importantly, better men.”
In the past several years players drafted out of Uconn's baseball program by major league teams include, David Fischer (Nationals), Greg Nappo (Marlins), Kevin Vance (White Sox), and Anthony Giansanti (Cubs).
Penders will inherit a pitcher that Roventini said is already highly developed. His willingness to learn, and what he's learned so far, make him valuable. But so too does his unwavering devotion to getting better, no matter how good he already is.
“He's never sat on his talent,” Roventini said. “He's learned how to pitch, not just throw the ball harder. He's learning how. And his work habits are impeccable. He just goes out there and takes care of it. He wants to go pro, but he's never let the pressure get to him.”
Zapata is goal-oriented, not just for himself, but for the team. Ultimately, though, it's when he has the ball that he takes full accountability.
“I want to win. But when you pitch, you can almost win the game for the team. When I'm in control, I want to do my best.”