By: Mary Ringwald
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and Knights Field is milling with Bellarmine University baseball players. Redshirt junior Zac Willey steps up to bat. His cleats dig into the ground as he waves his bat back and forth until he pauses, analyzing the pitcher’s next throw.
As the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, Willey seizes the opportunity to blast the ball into home-run territory. He is all too familiar with the rush he receives when he crosses each base.
Baseball games have been a familiar past-time for Willey and his family. His grandfather has been in the business for a majority of his life as a player, coach and current area scout for the New York Yankees. His father and uncle both played throughout college, and the family gene was passed onto Zac Willey as soon as he was born.
“I have played baseball for as long as I can remember,” Willey said. “There is a picture of me just a few days old with a small glove and bat in my crib, and I was 3 years old when I played my first organized tee-ball game.”
During his tee-ball days, he thought of baseball as just a fun game to play. As he got older, the game turned into a passion.
Head baseball coach Larry Owens explained that Willey is a hard-nosed, blue-collar type of player who is one of the best players and strongest leaders on the team.
“He is definitely a leader on our team,” Owens said. “He has a good feel for how to lead. He leads by example but is also not scared to be vocal when he needs to be.”
Senior catcher Brady Pfaadt said Knights’ hitters look up to him and believes he will lead the team in many offensive categories.
“Zac will be a big, if not the biggest, part of our offense this year,” Pfaadt said. “He has always been a great hitter and a good leader. He will be able to hit for power and average, which is rare. I would predict him to have a high on base percentage as well.”
Sophomore pitcher Jacob Nagel said Willey is one of the best hitters he has ever played with and he looks up to him a great deal.
“He is one of the most simplistic players I have ever played with,” Nagel said. “The way he carries himself in a game is something I’d like to do in the future. When I pitch against him, I honestly have no idea what to throw at him because he can hit anything.”
His rarity as both a pitcher, fielder and hitter sets him apart from many other players in the league, but it is his personality that sets him apart among many of his teammates.
“His personality is truly one of a kind,” Pfaadt said. “He has the biggest country boy personality on the team, and everyone love him because he brings a different personality to the team most of us haven’t seen much.”
Sophomore pitcher Will Seewer said Willey is very humble and easy-going.
“He really brings the team closer with all of his positive energy and leadership,” Seewer said. “He’s a big country boy and anything you need fixed he can do.”
Willey grew up in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he spends his free time away from baseball hunting, fishing and farming.
“I hunt just about anything you can think of,” Willey said. “I love to deer hunt because you are in God’s creation, and it is a way that I can just relax and reflect on life. I help other people out with their cattle and crops when I am not in baseball season.”
As he reflects on the season ahead, he is looking forward to playing with this year’s talented senior class one more time.
“A lot of us have played together since we were in high school and have a special bond,” Willey said. “It is going to be different without them next year, and we would like to win a national championship. This year is the year we could do it.”
The Knights take the field for another round of practice pitches.
Zac Willey steps up to the plate ready to take on any pitch that comes his way. He plants his feet, swings and watches the ball sail deep into the outfield. He picks up his feet and rounds the bases heading for home once again.