LIMA - As far back as last autumn, Zach Petrick had received indications he would be picked up in the following Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. And when Petrick sat in his room and never got a phone call or heard his name announced earlier in June, he was lost.
Just a day before shipping out for a trying with an Independent League team in his native Illinois, Petrick finally received the call he'd been waiting for. Now instead of Illinois and the Independent League, he will report to the St. Louis Cardinals short-season team in Jackson City, Tennessee.
"This has been my dream my entire life," Petrick said. "I don't care where I'm going, I'll just show up. I fly out (Friday) then I'll start throwing in the next couple of days.
"I wasn't expecting to be in the top rounds or anywhere close, but that last day was one of the hardest days for me. I thought my dream was gone then. I was going home today to try out for the Independent League and go that route."
After Petrick went undrafted, University of Northwestern Ohio baseball coach Kory Hartman called all of the scouting contacts he had to figure out what kept Petrick off the list. So when Brian Hopkins, an area scout for the Cardinals, called Hartman during a meeting on Thursday, he let it go to voicemail.
"I listened to my voice mail and he was like, ‘Hey, Kory, this is Brian Hopkins. I need you to give me a call right away.' I had a good feeling right then," Hartman said. "What a huge day, not only for the program, but for Zach. … This speaks volumes to if you do the right things, good things happen to good people. I'm so happy for Zach. I'm still shaking because I got that phone call."
Petrick came to UNOH from Joliet Junior College and pitched two seasons for the Racers, going 10-5 in 27 appearances with 21 starts in 130 1/3 innings, a 3.05 ERA with 121 hits and 50 runs, 112 strikeouts against 25 walks and five complete games.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right hander was named first-team All-Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference as a senior and honorable mention as a junior.
He was quick to credit Hartman, assistant coach Eric Best and the entire baseball program and the University for helping him achieve his dream.
"It's not only on the baseball field, it's in the classes and everywhere in my life," Petrick said. "I wasn't very good with classes in my junior college, I came here and he made me work hard. He changed my life."
Hartman said, "When he got here, this system challenges players to do the right thing, to value education, to lift and condition and have a program. Coach Best has done a remarkable job with Zach."
Petrick's older brother, Billy, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the third round of the 2002 amateur draft out of high school. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, the older Petrick was the natural talent, according to Zach, but watching his brother play professional ball over the last decade helped lay a groundwork for what he needed to do and could expect.
While this is Petrick's day, Hartman said this is a boon to the Racers program, which recently finished up a 31-win campaign in only the second season of its existence.
"It's good for the program, it's good for the University, for notoriety and exposure," Hartman said. "It helps recruits players. The players we're going after, the marquee, blue-chip players, want to go play professional baseball.
"To allow us to compete on the national level, you have to have some stock, some value to your program. To have this feather in your cap, to have this on your resume to say, ‘Hey, if you want to play pro ball, we know that door is small and far-removed, but this is a stepping stone. We've had kids go onto the next level.' It's a huge step for the baseball program. It's a colossal step for Zach Petrick."
At their fall workouts, Hartman said there were over 20 organizations represented scouting the UNOH pitchers. One scout told Hartman the eight pitchers showcased were the best collection of arms he's seen on any level of collegiate baseball.
"I still feel like the guys we have coming back next year and the recruits we have coming in will attract the same attention as we continue to build this tradition of getting kids to the next level," Hartman said.
A native of Morris, Illinois, about an hour southwest of Chicago, Petrick grew up a Cubs fan. And now he reports to his favorite team's biggest rival. But as he said, it doesn't matter who. All he knows is he's got a chance, and that's all he's ever wanted.
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