Former Central Missouri catcher Zak Whalin’s path to professional baseball required a lot of miles on his 2004 Chevy Avalanche. Two trips down I-70 to St. Louis, then a journey up to Ohio all proceeded Whalin signing with the New York Mets organization on July 18.
“It’s truly a humbling experience to go from college athlete to this level of competition,” Whalin said. “It’s fun to hear all these athletes’ stories.”
Whalin’s, who started in 50 games behind the dish for the Mules while hitting .339 with 60 hits, 38 RBIs and five home runs, journey began in the moments after UCM’s season came to an end at the Division II World Series where the Mules finished third.
“After the game, coach (Kyle) Crookes came up to me grabbed me by the shoulders and said you’ll have options, don’t worry,” Whalin said. “I was like okay, awesome, this isn’t a total heartbreak, it is but it’s not.”
While his teammates jetted off to their summer ball locales, Whalin waited.
Finally, after two weeks of waiting, the Gateway Grizzlies called. The squad, located on the Illinois side of St. Louis, was holding a tryout and was in need of catchers. The only issue was Whalin was in Kansas City and the tryout was the next morning at 8 a.m.
“So I drove 4 hours, got to St. Louis at midnight, stayed at my buddies and then went to the tryout,” Whalin said.
The tryout didn’t pan out — the Grizzlies went with another catcher — and Whalin was back to the drawing board.
Another call came for Whalin’s services, this time from the Rivercity Rascals, resulting in another trip down I-70 to O’Fallon. The North Fort Myer’s, Florida-native spent a week with the team before learning that the organization didn’t have room for him on the roster.
After his second chance at extending his career fell through, Whalin decided to visit some family members in Columbus, Ohio, which put him in the right place at the right time.
The Binghamton Rumble Ponies were in need of a bullpen catcher and were on the road, headed to Akron Ohio — just two hours away. The connection was facilitated by Central Missouri pitching coach Damian Stamberski and within the hour Whalin was on the phone with the Mets organization then on the road to join the team.
“At first, I was pretty skeptical,” Whalin said. “Because I want to play, I am a competitor, I can’t stand not playing, but it was a foot in the door.”
Whalin is currently assigned to the Kingsport Mets — the organization Rookie Affiliate in the Appalachian League — but remains with the Rumble Ponies as their bullpen catcher.
“It’s crazy to know that I am on the same field as them and I am within that realm, it’s humbling but at the same time it tells me, hey, I can be here.”