*This article originally appeared in the July 21, 2016 edition of the Hendersonville Standard
Former Hendersonville HS and Vol State pitcher back in majors after stint with Double-A Mobile
By Russell Vannozzi
Zac Curtis’ life-long dream came true in April when the Arizona Diamondbacks called him up to the major leagues from the Class-A Advanced Visalia Rawhide. It was an unprecedented move, but it paid dividends as Curtis went 10 appearances before giving up a run.
“You don’t see guys go straight from Class-A ball to the major leagues that often,” said Curtis. “I didn’t put too many expectations on myself. I was just out there to try and compete and show them that they made the right move.”
Curtis did his best to be a sponge and observe the habits and mannerisms of other Arizona players. As a part of his rookie orientation, Curtis lugged around a pink princess backpack designed for elementary-aged girls.
“I met a lot of great guys and watched how they acted. They told me ‘it’s hard to get (to the majors) but it’s even harder to stay.”
Unfortunately for the former Hendersonville and Vol State star, he was sent down to the Class-AA Mobile (Ala.) BayBears after a series of rough outings in early June. He finished his initial major league stint with a 5.23 ERA in 14 games while also striking out eight batters in 10.1 innings of work.
The left-handed pitcher took everything in stride and used his experience with the Diamondbacks as a chance to improve his game.
“When I got sent down, (Arizona) said I need to be a little more consistent,” Curtis mentioned. “I was getting away from how I pitch, which is usually an aggressive and fiery style. I was pitching to be perfect instead of pitching to be confident and to get guys out.”
Curtis regained his old form with Mobile. He appeared in 10 games and allowed just two runs in seven innings pitched, while also fanning 10 batters.
“When I got to Mobile, it kind of put me at ease,” Curtis said. “I had a bit of a weight off my shoulders and I got back into the groove of how I pitch.”
When Arizona placed left-handed pitcher Andrew Chafin on the disabled list on July 6th, Curtis was the first person they called to rejoin the team. Curtis has appeared in two games, tossing 1.2 scoreless innings as of the MLB All-Star break.
Familiarity with Mobile’s pitching coach, Doug Drabek, helped Curtis regain his focus during his time with the BayBears. Drabek, who pitched in the majors for 13 years and was named an MLB All-Star in 1994, was the pitching coach for the Hillsboro Hops when Curtis first joined the pro ranks after being drafted out of Middle Tennessee State in 2014.
“(Drabek) loves the game and knows what it takes to get to the MLB,” said Curtis. “If you have any type of question about baseball or life in the bigs, he’ll sit down and talk to you about it.”
Being closer to home was another aspect Curtis enjoyed about pitching for Mobile. His family recently paid him a visit and he hears from friends in Hendersonville often.
“Being back in the South again is always a good thing,” said Curtis. “I also talk to coach Andy Gilley and my old teammates from HHS a lot. It’s been great to have support, it helps me to be more confident to go out and play.”
Curtis says the outpouring of support from the Hendersonville area has been appreciated. He hopes to return to Sumner County during the off-season and give back to the community.
“Hendersonville is such a great town,” he said. “It’s pretty big, but’s it’s a close knit family. I’ve had people reach out to me that weren’t even baseball fans, but that graduated from HHS and wanted to congratulate me. I’m looking forward to helping out with the (Hendersonville High) baseball team during the off-season.”
Curtis and the BayBears were scheduled to be in Tennessee from July 14-18 to face the Chattanooga Lookouts, but being recalled has since changed the schedules of those who were planning to visit him in the Scenic City.
Now they will visit him in Phoenix instead, something that Curtis welcomes.
“My goal is to get to (MLB) and stay up there,” he said. “I think I’m ready, I just need to be more consistent.”
Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball