BY STEVE KRAH
Zach Wager sees rockets and spacecraft in his future.
Right now he’s excelling on the baseball diamond.
As an 18-year-old (he turned 19 on May 28), Wager (pronounced Way-Jer) pitched well enough in his first season at NCAA Division I University of Tennessee at Martin to earned Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and a place on the all-OVC second team.
“I came into the season with only one goal and that was to get on the all-conference team,” says Wager. “To get (Freshmen of the Year) was mind-blowing.”
A left-hander and 2022 Columbus (Ind.) North High School graduate made 22 mound appearances for the Skyhawks (17 in relief) and went 2-1 with four saves, a 2.44 earned run average, 40 strikeouts and 20 walks in 44 1/3 innings.
His major is Mechanical Engineering. He sees himself pursuing a masters in Aeronautical or Aerospace Engineering.
“Space exploration is the main key. That’s what drives all this,” says Wager. “I want to help us go into space. I’m not sure I want to go into space.”
His job wish list includes NASA, SpaceX, Boeing and Lockeed Martin.
He landed at UT-Martin after being recruited by the school, visiting the school and meeting coaches and faculty.
“They were going to honor my major (and not have me change it),” says Wager. “The classes are on the smaller side. It’s more one-on-one with the professor.
“We were on the road a lot this spring (for baseball). I missed a couple tests. Teachers didn’t hesitate to help me out.”
The Skyhawks baseball staff includes head coach Ryan Jenkins and pitching coach Bill White plus assistant Pat Cottrell and volunteer Alex Lozado (a graduate of Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs, Ind.).
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Wager delivers four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up from a three-quarter overhand arm slot.
His four-seamer runs and tops out at 87 mph. His curve moves on an 11-to-5 plane with vertical and a little horizontal movement. There’s move horizontal break to his slider. He uses a “circle” grip on his change-up.
There’s just something about lefty movement. Wager explains how it works with him.
“If you’re trying to throw a ball on the outside corner as a lefty you have to start the ball right down the middle so when it moves it’s going hit the outside corner,” says Wager. “If you start it there it’s just going to end up being a ball.”
In assessing his best athletic qualities, Wager considers himself a good leader on and off the field.
“I just try to create friendships,” says Wager. “If I see some struggling I pick them up. We all have those games.
“It’s also about giving back to the community.”
At UTM, Wager does community service. There is a daycare near the field and he donates to a food pantry.
In high school, he had a two-part project where he gave pitching lessons to kids and built a plyo-ball wall for the baseball team.
Born and raised in Columbus, Zach played at what is now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County and for the traveling Indiana Vipers and Indiana Blazers — all coached by father Nathan Wager — then in high school for Canes Midwest.
Wager played at Columbus North for two head coaches — Ben McDaniel for the first three years and Patrick Antone as a senior.
“I loved Ben McDaniel as a coach,” says Wager of the man who got him to come to the Bull Dogs out of Northside Middle School.
With his workload this spring, Wager has opted not to play this summer. He plans to work out and give lessons at Hit Factory in Columbus, where Hunter McIntosh (a Columbus North graduate who pitched at Alabama State University) is partner and CEO, and do remote and on-site training with Pineville, N.C.-based Tread Athletics.
Nathan Wager is an engineering manager at Cummins. Mother Michelle Wager is a pharmacist. Older sister Caitlin Wager (who played softball at Columbus East High School) recently got into Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.