Shank calls it a career

By on June 6, 2018

Lititz’s Zach Shank batted .259 in 518 career games during his career in the Seattle Mariners’ system

Thoughts of retirement first crossed Zach Shank’s mind at the end of the baseball season last September.

But the 2009 Warwick High School grad wasn’t convinced yet.

Was he just disappointed from a tough summer in which he batted only .215 with Tacoma (Wash.), the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners?

Or did Shank really have enough?

He reported to spring training in Arizona, underwent a minor surgery in late March, then rehabbed and packed his bags to play for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League. But along the way, Shank came to the realization that he was more interested in seeing his friends than he was actually playing the game.

And that’s when the 27-year-old knew.

After playing in 518 professional games over six seasons, all in the Mariners’ minor leagues, Shank has called it a career.

“I was ready,” said Shank, a 28th-round selection of the Mariners in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 2013. “Everybody kept thinking it was health reasons because I had surgery and stuff like that, but it had nothing to do with that. It was just time. I have other things I want to do.”

Among them is starting a family. Living out of a suitcase and taking long bus rides from one town to another wasn’t helpful to such a goal.

“I’m still single, so I’m not really even close,” said Shank, who has returned to Lititz and plans to apply for some teaching jobs. “And that lifestyle, living on the road like that, makes (starting a family) pretty tough.”

He ended up playing six games this season for the Travelers, but after talking to his parents, John and Cindy, and a couple of his close buddies on the team, Shank was ready to make it official.

His next step was to speak with Arkansas manager Daren Brown in his office, but following the club’s 6-2 loss to Springfield on May 12, he caught wind of a Triple-A player opting out of his contract. Figuring the Mariners might promote him to Tacoma, Shank called Brown on his cell phone to break the news.

“I wanted to tell (Brown) in person,” Shank said, “but I called him that night to let him know, ‘Hey, just in case something happens, like, over the next 24 hours, don’t get me a ticket, I’m going to retire. Just make sure it’s somebody else.’ And then I talked to him the next day at the field.”

An All-Star shortstop at Warwick and Division-One Marist College, Shank developed into a super-utility player in the Mariners’ system, and he was one step away from the big leagues after earning his first promotion to Triple-A Tacoma in 2015. He also played for the Rainiers the next two seasons, batting .292 in 81 games in 2016.

Shank admits he was probably a longshot to reach the show at this point, but said that wasn’t part of his decision to retire from the game.

“I just didn’t feel the same that I had in the past,” he said. “I didn’t have the passion for it anymore that I felt like I need to have to do the game justice, really. It was just a grind and I was mentally ready for something else. (Doing) the exact same thing for 140 games with about 10 days off, it wears on you just as much mentally as physically, I thought.”

Reflecting back, Shank will cherish a lot of memories, including a game in which his Clinton LumberKings rallied from a 17-1 deficit to beat the Burlington Bees 20-17 in 12 innings in a Single-A Midwest League game.

“I’ll never forget that,” Shank said. “That was incredible.”

Nor will he ever forget facing former Marist College teammate Kevin McCarthy in Rookie ball in Pulaski (Va.), when he connected for a pair of triples against the right-handed hurler. McCarthy is now pitching for the Kansas City Royals.

“We had just played on the same team a couple months prior, then he started against us. So on a more personal note, that’s one I’ll remember,” Shank said, “because I’ll always having bragging rights over him —even though he’s in the big leagues now.”

In all, Shank collected 459 career hits, with 86 doubles, 181 RBI and 259 runs scored.

Asked what he was most proud of, Shank said, “That’s a good question. I would say just being a 28th-round pick and making it for as long as I did. I didn’t think I could do that, let’s put it that way, especially after my first season. It wasn’t very good. I was thinking that might be my one chance and then maybe another year or so after that.”

Shank obviously made a positive impression on Pulaski fans with his two triples off of McCarthy. And he opened some eyes among the Mariners’ front office throughout his career.

On lookoutlanding.com, writer Kate Preusser references Tacoma Rainiers Media and Communications Manager Brett Gleason, who describes Shank as a “model ballplayer, someone who shows up early, works late, does everything he’s asked to do with a smile, and overall treats baseball as a job he’s very lucky to have.”

Andy McKay also holds Shank in high regard, as the Mariners’ Director of Player Development wasted no time making a job offer to him.

“He told me if I wanted a coaching position, he would hire me today, essentially,” Shank said. “That was the day I called and told him I was going to retire. I’m obviously very grateful for that, but I’m just not ready. I just need time away for now. Whether I go back to it in the future, I don’t know. But it’s very nice to have and it means a lot for them to have thought highly enough of me to offer that.”

For now, Shank will be content keeping tabs on a couple of his friends, including outfielder Ian Miller, who is batting .294 in Tacoma, and DH Dario Pizzano, who is hitting .301 with the Travelers.

“Those two are probably my closest friends in the organization,” Shank said, “so I check up on them every night to see how they did.”

He also regularly tunes in to Phillies games.

“I still love baseball,” Shank said. “I don’t dislike baseball in any way.”

Even though he never got an at-bat at Seattle’s Safeco Field, Shank leaves the game satisfied.

“If you had asked me when I first got drafted if I’d be disappointed if I didn’t make it to the big leagues, I would have said yeah,” Shank said. “But today, no. I’m OK. I gave it everything I had and stopped when I felt like I just couldn’t do it anymore. I have no regrets.”

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