As he heads off to Foundation Field this summer, Zac Carey considers this summer one of career exploration. The 2014 London High School graduate and a Bowling Green State University sophomore believes the time he is spending with the Hamilton Joes baseball team in Butler County, Ohio is good preparation for what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
The right-handed pitcher picked up his first win, a 9-3 victory over the Ironmen, on June 7. In that game, Carey allowed one run and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.
“(Playing in the Major Leagues) is the dream,” Carey said. “This summer (playing for the Joes) is like playing a major league schedule. We play six days a week with one day off. It’s really important for my development.
“I’m learning how I can pitch more strategically. Every team we played at BG, we played two other times before I pitched. I could get down what a batter likes and doesn’t like. I don’t know the batters (in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League). I have to trust my stuff and learn on the fly what’s working for me.”
As of June 11, Hamilton was 3-3 and near the middle of the pack in the 11-team wooden bat league.
Named after famed Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, the Joes are made up of a mish-mash of Division I, Division II, and junior college players. Since the Great Lakes League began, approximately 70 alumni have gone on to play in the major leagues.
Bowling Green coach Danny Schmitz believes these summer stints will be helpful for Carey’s development as well as the growth of his team. Currently, 19 of the team’s 26 underclassmen are playing in summer leagues with the majority of them competing in the GLSCL.
“Summer baseball is extremely important,” said Schmitz, whose team finished 25-29 overall after losing to Ohio University 6-0 in the Mid-American Conference tournament. “Not only are they playing with some of the best collegiate players in the country, they’re also playing against some of the best.
“We wanted to make sure that Zac is getting his rest and getting his bullpen work in. He logged a lot of innings for us and one thing we don’t want him to do is rack up a lot of innings this summer.”
Schmitz was impressed with how much Carey developed this season. After starting the year 0-3, the pitcher finished 7-3 overall with a 3.43 earned run average. Carey was named the MAC’s freshman pitcher of the year and was a second team all-league selection after being the only starting pitcher to go undefeated (6-0) in league competition.
“After losing 13 seniors from the 2014 team, we knew going into the season, we had to have some freshmen come in and step up big,” Schmitz said. “That’s exactly what Zac did.
“The thing that really impressed us was Zac’s composure on the mound, his mental toughness and his competitiveness. His total makeup is just outstanding.”
Carey was a three-year All-League and All-District selection for London. During his junior year, Carey had a .56 ERA and 95 strikeouts, both of which were Red Raiders records.
However Carey admits it took some time to get used to playing at the Division I collegiate level.
“A lot of times in (high school and) travel ball, you just throw hard and then come back with some off-speed stuff,” Carey said. “You could get away with (not having much location). But at this level, a lot of these guys could hit a hanging curve ball or the 89 mile per hour fast ball.”
“He came to us with a great fastball and an outstanding breaking pitch,” Schmitz said. “He needed something to complement both those pitches.”
Carey’s development of a changeup, a pitch he rarely used in high school, helped him navigate the challenges of the MAC. Changing his grip on the ball and working on his arm speed made the changeup one of the more effective weapons in Carey’s arsenal.
“I can come at players with my fast ball and then use a changeup that drops off the table a little bit,” he said. “It’s my most effective pitch and the one I feel the most confident with.”
Carey’s able to pinpoint exactly his turning point last season. The Falcons were mired in a 10-game losing streak after losing to host North Illinois 12-3 and 11-2 when Schmitz turned the ball over to Carey for the second game of a March 28 doubleheader.
Carey responded by allowing only one run and three hits with two strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings in an 8-2 win.
“We weren’t sure once we got to conference play if he was going to stay in the rotation or not,” Schmitz said. “He told our pitching coach Rick Blanc, ‘This (losing) streak stops right now.’ He pitched a whale of a game. It not only changed his season but it changed ours.”
“That was the moment I definitely realized I belong here,” Carey said. “I had the stuff to compete at this level.”
College notes: Carey is just one of three London alumni competing in the MAC. Here’s a look around the league.
Track and cross country: During her freshman year, Sarra Taylor got off to a strong start for Miami University. Taylor placed fourth in the 5,000 meters in 18 minutes, 12.02 seconds at the University of North Florida Spring Break Invitational on March 28, fifth (18:47.5) in the Bowling Green State University Indoor opener on Jan. 10 and eighth (18:56.7) in Ranklin-Poehlein Invitational at Purdue University on May 2 during track season. Her best finish during cross country season was a 14th finish (18:27.8) in the 5-kilometers at Miami Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 13.
Football: After being redshirted his freshman year and not seeing in the 2013 season, redshirt sophomore Josh High, a 2012 London graduate, is beginning to make an impact at linebacker for the University of Toledo. High played in 11 of Toledo’s 13 games last season with a solo tackle and two assists. The Rockets finished 9-4 overall with a 63-44 victory over Arkansas State in the Jan. 5 GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala.