Zgardowski Humbling Hitters
The manager of the New Jersey Jackals remembers it well.
This was five or six years ago, and he was managing the Normal CornBelters, a Frontier League team about 50 miles east of Peoria, Ill.
The opposing pitcher beat his squad that day, and Brooks Carey was very impressed with the big guy on the mound.
Now, flash forward to the 2019 baseball season. Carey was here in Little Falls, managing the Jackals in their final year in the old Can-Am League. Meanwhile, the River City Rascals had just won the Frontier League championship in O'Fallon, Mo., some 35 miles west of St. Louis, but they were going out of business and their players would all be up for grabs in a dispersal draft.
And there he was - 6-foot-4 righty Jason Zgardowski, who'd been a major part of that championship team and who was the same big guy who'd impressed Carey several years earlier.
"I was glad to get the chance to grab him," Carey said.
"I definitely remembered him. He'd beaten me a few years ago and he made an impression on me. Obviously, he was a quality pitcher, but he also had a presence on the mound. He looked totally in control out there, very intelligent, all business."
Today, Zgardowski leads New Jersey's pitching staff with six relief appearances in the team's first 11 games of 2021, performing one rescue after another in 8 1/3 innings of work and still boasting a perfect 0.00 ERA.
Not that you'll ever hear the humble, 27-year-old San Antonio native boasting about anything. That's just not his style. And he would certainly not boast about his own ERA.
"I care more about other pitchers' ERAs," Zgardowski said. "When I come in with runners on base, that's my job, to keep them from scoring. I want to protect the other guys' ERAs."
Instead of thinking about wins and losses, Zgardowski concentrates on his strikeout-to-walk ratio. So far this year, it's been awesome - 11 Ks and just one free pass.
"Everything's been working for me," he said. "I've given up a few hits that I'm not happy about, but, overall, it's been a good start. My preparation coming into the year is paying off in these early games."
Part of that preparation was simply throwing whenever he felt like it, night or day, in his Dallas neighborhood, where several teenagers were always eager to play catch with him.
A proud Texan, Zgardowski has some Staten Island family connections, as well, largely explaining why he grew up as a Yankees fan. He saw his first game at Yankee Stadium as a 4-year-old, and he can still easily recite that day's lineup.
Back in San Antonio, he pitched and played center field in high school, then stuck to pitching for two years at Midland College. From there, he moved to Angelo State University, in San Angelo, Tex., and that's where the Philadelphia Phillies spotted him.
Zgardowski signed as a free agent with the Phils after the 2014 college season, playing a handful of games that year and all of 2015 on several Philly farm teams, before being released.
He played in independent leagues in 2016, then got a second shot at affiliated ball with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 and 2018, before joining the River City Rascals in 2019.
"I try to put all that experience to use every time I take the mound," he said.
"At this point, I know my arm. I know what's reasonable on any given night."
He's throwing mostly fastballs and sliders these days, mixing in a splitter now and then to lefty hitters. Actually, he describes his breaking ball as somewhere between a slider and a curve, otherwise known in recent years as a "slurve."
Back home in Dallas, Zgardowski's fiancée, Sarah, and his 7-year-old son, Justin, watch him pitch on the Frontier League broadcasts, and they'll be traveling here Sunday to stay with him next week, see a few games and visit New York City.
"I know I'm from Texas and I'm supposed to say 'steak,' but my favorite food is New York-style pizza," he said. "I'm looking forward to showing my fiancée and my son some of my favorite places I've found here in New Jersey and I'm sure we'll try a few in New York.
"Yes, they have pizza in Texas, but, no, it's not the same."
Zgarbowski wasn't the only pitcher to come out of Midland College, a 7,500-student institution 120 miles south of Lubbock, Tex.
He played two seasons for the Chaps - short for Chaparrals - and there was another outstanding hurler a couple of years behind him.
That's current Atlanta Braves lefty Tucker Davidson, who's started three games so far this year with no decisions and a 1.53 ERA.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Trentonian.
• Discuss this story on the Frontier League message board...
Frontier League Stories from June 10, 2021
- Y'alls Lose First Series of Season After Home Run Derby - Florence Y'alls
- ThunderBolts Fall in Pitchers' Duel - Windy City ThunderBolts
- Miners Take Series from Quebec - Sussex County Miners
- Crushers Win Rubber Match - Lake Erie Crushers
- Wild Things Fight, But Can't Come Back in Defeat - Washington Wild Things
- ValleyCats End Home Stand on a High Note - Tri-City ValleyCats
- Valley Cats Walk off against Boulders - New York Boulders
- KC Royals Purchase Contract of Boulders' Dennis - New York Boulders
- Eighth Inning Helps Boomers Capture Series - Schaumburg Boomers
- Otters Coming Back to Bosse Field for Season-Long Homestand - Evansville Otters
- Zgardowski Humbling Hitters - New Jersey Jackals
- Team Israel to Play Boulders - New York Boulders
- Mistakes Cost Miners at Windy City - Southern Illinois Miners
- ThunderBolts Come from Behind to Beat Miners - Windy City ThunderBolts
The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.