In his first season with the Wichita Wingnuts, catcher Zac Fisher is having the time of his life, not only because he is helping to make this team a true contender for the American Association title, but also because his new perspective on life is making the game a whole lot more enjoyable.
Introduction – Zac Fisher
Writer Peter Mayle once wrote, “Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity.” The truth is that virtually all of us take the things that are part of our routine and turn them into daily events we learn to loath or at least wish we did not have to do. Whether it is helping your kids with their homework, going to work, or even kissing your spouse good-bye, so much of each of our lives has become so routine that we no longer enjoy them as we should.
While many people see being a professional baseball player as glamorous, the reality is that this is an extremely tedious job. While it may be fun to watch Bryce Harper homer or Clayton Kershaw strike out 11 batters on 101-pitches, the truth remains that for every one home run that Harper hits, he probably hit 1,000 balls in the batting cage or during batting practice, and for every strike out that Kershaw has recorded he probably threw 1,000 pitches in warmups, practice, and bullpen sessions. It may seem glamorous, but the truth remains that this is a game of tremendous repetition, which can make it not a whole lot of fun to play after some time.
To succeed at the highest levels of the sport, one must be willing to endure the tedium that comes from this kind of repetition. It takes a special kind of mental approach to say the least, often leading to players simply getting bored with the sport. They lose their edge because they lose their focus.
This can also lead to a great deal of frustration that the years of repetition are not leading to greater success. Players become angry, frustrated, and even volatile because what worked before may no longer be bringing success. In not time, they find that the pressure to thrive, the business side of the game, and the lack of success on the field can take any enjoyment they have out of the game completely.
It’s a common story, and one that Wichita Wingnuts catcher Zac Fisher could have told himself. However, a new perspective about the game has changed his approach greatly and, as a result, he is having the most fun he has had in the sport in a decade. He is enjoying playing baseball once again, and his enthusiasm is another reason why the Wichita Wingnuts are on their way toward their seventh straight division title.
When Baseball First Became Fun
Zac Fisher was first introduced to the sport of baseball when he was three-years-old. His father took him around to watch Little League games, and he could not wait to get on the field himself. In fact, his desire to play started years before.
“I guess even before that my parents have pictures of me in diapers swinging bats, wanting to hit the ball, and wanting to throw it around. I really have my dad to thank for getting me started in baseball. He signed me up for Rec ball when I was 4 and I just haven’t stopped since.”
While he was a good athlete and could have played any position on the diamond, the catching position appealed to him more than anything else. It was the perfect position for a little kid to enjoy.
“When I was a kid, I was about the right age for Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles. They all had armor or suits that they had to put on before they would go out and put in a day’s work, and so that is exactly what catching is. I thought I want to put stuff on and get out there.”
Rebel with a Cause
Zac Fisher attended A.B. Miller High School (Fontana, CA) where he starred on the diamond for the Rebels. He was the starting catcher on the varsity team all four seasons, and took his game to a whole new level his senior season. That year he hit .544 with 3-homers and 25-RBI. He helped lead the Rebels to the league championship in 2007, and was awarded First-Team honors in the league at the catching position that season. He would earn second-team honors a year later.
The success he was having was already earning him some recognition, however a twist of fate gave him the opportunity to turn pro coming straight out of high school. In 2009, Zac was selected in the 49th round of the MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals.
“I wasn’t expected to be drafted out of high school. I happen to be at the right place at the right time. We had a first rounder in our league, and I happened to catch the eye of a couple of people and it wound up working out because it was a very interesting few weeks. I went from ‘okay maybe I have someplace to go to school so I’m just going to go and have fun’ to ‘I may be going pro.’ I started getting a couple of calls and it was pretty surreal for me at the time.”
Cultivating His Skills
Zac Fisher could have been going professional directly out of high school, but he really thought he would be best served by going to college. The Kansas City Royals organization agreed. They encouraged the catcher to go to college, and so Zac headed for New Mexico State University.
The decision to go to college proved to be an intelligent one to say the least. In his freshman season (2010), Zac hit .350 in 38-games, blasting 8-homers and driving in 33-runs. He also was solid behind the plate, making just 3-errors in 220 chances. His performance earned him Third-Team All-American honors.
A season later the expectations were high for Fisher and he delivered. Named to the Pre-Season All-American team, the Aggies catcher hit .398 in 52-games with 8-homers and 56-RBI. He was first on the team in average and home runs, and second in RBI. He was named to the ABCA All-Midwest Regional team, as his average was the 20th best in the country.
In his junior season, Zac put up another impressive set of numbers. He hit .355 in 59-games, hitting 6-homers and driving in a career high 60-runs. He also hit 18-doubles and posted a .432 on-base percentage. At the end of the season, the Aggies star was named a Third-Team All-American selection.
Good Guys Wear Black
Zac Fisher had proven all that he needed to at the collegiate level, opting to enter the draft following his junior year. The Chicago White Sox agreed, selecting him in the 27th round of the 2012 MLB draft.
Zac was sent to Great Falls in the Pioneer League where he struggled in his first professional season. In 36-games, the catcher hit .218 with 2-homers and 10-RBI. It was a disappointing campaign for the then 20-year-old, but one where he knew exactly what was the culprit that led to his struggles.
“I took it so seriously my first year, and really didn’t make any progress. I wasn’t a very good catcher then. In many of the aspects of my game I struggled because I was in my own head.”
After going home in the off-season, the White Sox prospect committed himself to relaxing and letting things just happen. He had an epiphany that changed his entire approach to the game.
“Then, my second and third year, I realized there was really no point to stress over it. Things are going to happen because they’re going to happen. There are more important things than what goes on the baseball field and I was already blessed by already being there so I didn’t need to worry about what else was going on out there. All of the things that I was stressing about were beyond my control, so I needed to just go out and do what was best for myself and my teammates to help so that we can win games.”
With a new attitude, Zac returned to Great Falls to start the 2013 campaign and the results were instantaneous. He hit .302 in 42-games with 6-homers and 32-RBI, prompting the organization to promote him to Mid-A Kannapolis. That is where he met Pete Rose, Jr., the manager in Kannapolis. In 20-games, Fisher hit .268 and it looked like his career was on an upward trajectory.
The 2014 season began with big hopes as he was named as one of the White Sox organizational MVPs by MiLB.com, but Zac saw limited time on the field in Kannapolis, and was shuttled between there and Great Falls all season long. In Great Falls, he put up huge numbers, hitting .348 in 45-games with 8 homers and 46-RBI, however, he hit just .158 in Kannapolis, appearing in just 5-games.
Baseball Austrian Style
At the end of the season, Zac Fisher needed a break and so he took a year off. In 2016, he opted to head overseas and join the Dornbirn Indians of the Austrian League. In 10-games with the team, he hit .350 with 3-homers and 7-RBI. It was an outstanding performance that led the team to fondly reminisce of how “Zac left an unforgettable mark with his monstrous homeruns.”
While playing well in Europe, what meant the most to Fisher was that he came to love the game again. The sport was once again about winning and he was loving coming to the field each day.
“That was the most passion I’d seen in baseball in probably 10 years. It’s because it wasn’t developmental; these guys were trying to play to win in every game. They were trying to win their country’s cup and that was all that mattered to them. So, they played with passion, they played with a certain vigor that I had not seen in a decade. That kind of got me fired backup about the game. These guys are playing because they love it, and not because they’re trying to make the big leagues.”
Reconnecting with an Old Acquaintance
After a year in Austria, Zac Fisher returned to the United States and considered playing professionally again. After meeting up with an old hitting coach, he contacted Pete Rose, Jr., who had been named the manager of the Wichita Wingnuts a year earlier.
“I gave Pete a call and within three or four lines of conversation he told me to come out to Wichita and play for us this year. I was like ‘All right! Just tell me what to do and I’ll get out there.’”
Arriving in Wichita was exactly what Zac was looking for because it gave him the chance to play the game with the same passion that he had in Austria.
“We are out here to win. We are trying to get to the playoffs and win a championship, to win a ring. We got a bunch of people out here that come out on watch, so why not put on a good show and have some fun while we’re out here.”
A New Perspective Brings Peace and Harmony
Baseball is a lot more fun for Zac Fisher because he is getting to play to win, but he is also simply enjoying playing the sport. His passion had taken the joy out of the game, but with a new perspective it has never been more fun.
“When I was younger I was a little more hotheaded and then I realized, as I got older and I took a hiatus from baseball, there are so many different things that are more important than what is going on down on the field. We are blessed to be out here, to be playing a child’s game and making a little money doing it. Getting to do this every day through the summer, getting to do all these different things. This is supposed to be about fun.”
Zac is taking a more pragmatic approach to the game, because he understands that a player can be his own worst enemy. By recognizing that there is another at-bat, another chance to produce, he is not letting the challenges of earlier in the game affect him later on.
“I know that every day when I go out that I have just as good a chance as anybody to spray the ball somewhere around the yard and get on base. So, if I mess up, if the pitcher gets me, or I get outmatched then I don’t worry about it. It’s just part of the game. A lot of people take it way too seriously and they get frustrated. To me that’s not what it’s about. I’ve been given an opportunity to come out here and play ball and that’s all I’m out here to do. If I strike out, pop up or I hit a ground ball, the frustration for me is a momentary thing. If I try to bring that frustration into the dugout or back out defensively or from defense into the batter’s box, I’m not helping, I’m only hurting. So, when I have to deal with failure I just shrug it off. There are worse things to fail at then a single at-bat or a single play.”
A Philosophy to Live By
It cannot be undersold how much of a key contributor Zac Fisher has been for the Wichita Wingnuts. The team carried just 10 position players for better than half the season, so every man played a significant role in helping this team to within one-game of clinching their seventh straight South Division title in the American Association. In 44-games this season, he is hitting .344 with a career high 9-homers and 38-RBI, 10 off his single-season best.
Fisher has been especially hot of late, posting a five-game hitting streak entering Tuesday night’s play. He is 10-20 during that streak, with 5-runs, 2-homers, and 9-RBI during the streak.
This has probably been the most fulfilling part of the year for the 25-year-old. It is not that he is having a career year statistically, but the fact that he is an integral part of the Wingnuts success. For Zac, the team is what this is all about.
“The guys in the clubhouse are the ones who put everything together. If I just wanted to hit, I would go out to a field and just have someone throw to me and hit. Here, I have 24 guys who have my back. We go out and do stuff off the field too. Being out here is 24 guys who have each other’s backs no matter what. We all love each other and we all go to war for each other every day.”
Zac not only wants to be a big contributor on the field, but to be a guy that his teammates can count on in other ways. A catcher can often become the team’s resident psychologist, and Dr. Fisher gets how important the psychology of a team can be.
“There is nothing more important than picking a guy up when he’s down, or raising another guy up when he’s higher. That’s really what I try to do. I try to help them out if they’re having a bad day, or to hyped them up even more if they’ve had a really good outing. It’s all about brotherhood and about that cohesive unit. If one guy is down, then we have all these guys to pick him right back up. If they are dwelling on one thing, then other things are going to falter as well, so we might as well bring them back up.”
Lessons Learned Early On
Cohesiveness. Raising guys up. Brotherhood. These are all values that can make a really good team into a great one, and that is what the Wichita Wingnuts are looking to prove this season. Zac Fisher is a key member of that success as his play allowed the team to carry just 10 position players for the vast majority of the season.
He is truly appreciative of the role that he has been able to play in helping his team to win, but that should be of no surprise to anyone. His parents, Charmie and Donald Fisher, were no strangers to sacrifice and dedication, helping to develop that attitude in their son.
“My mother and father have been absolute inspirations since the beginning. My dad has always been hard-working, working in construction for over 40 years. I was homeschooled as a kid. My mom stayed home and raised us and taught us all the way up to high school. They gave everything for me to have the opportunities that I have, and have really taught me about the sacrifices and hard work that it takes to be successful.”
With a new perspective on the game, and life overall for that matter, Zac Fisher may be having the most enjoyable season in his baseball life. He is truly having a blast. If only the Wichita Wingnuts could win their second American Association championship. That would make this season through the roof for the catcher.
Pictures of Zac Fisher with Wichita Wingnuts Courtesy of Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA