By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to LIDucks.com
CENTRAL ISLIP –It was about three hours before Game Three of the Atlantic League Championship Series was scheduled to get underway, and Zac Treece couldn’t help but to stop by the “Waddle In Shop” to pick up some gear from the team that’s given him his best opportunity yet.
He’s just hopeful that he’ll finally get a championship ring to go with it.
The 27-year-old undrafted righty reliever out of Ouachita (AR) Baptist University was a surprise, late addition to the Long Island Ducks postseason roster after spending his entire 2016 season as the closer for the Frontier League’s River City Rascals.
“(General manager) Mike Pfaff does a great job with communicating with the other leagues and staying in touch with the other GM’s and managers, and his name came up,” said Ducks skipper Kevin Baez about the process of acquiring Treece.
“He was pitching well for them, and he was a guy on or radar. We wanted him to be a part of our team. They went to Game Five and lost with his team, so he’s battle-tested. He pitched in the playoffs and he closed for them. We knew we had a good one coming.”
Indeed they did.
Treece, who has never pitched in affiliated baseball over his five-year professional career, has lived up to the hype that comes with a 3-1 record, 1.86 ERA and 22 saves with the Rascals by spinning three consecutive scoreless outings in the postseason to start his stay with the Ducks.
It was an opportunity that Treece was eager to seize.
“This year, I’m going to go play winter ball over in Australia, and that was the first door that opened,” Treece said. “My manager never really mentioned any other teams to me during the season – I guess he wanted me to stay focused, and I appreciated that – so I stayed locked in until the end. But when we lost Game Five of the Championship Series, it was kind of, ‘What do I do next?’ He told me after the game that I had an opportunity to go play in the Atlantic League, and I was definitely on board with that.”
Treece appeared in Game One and Game Five of the Atlantic League Liberty Division Series against the Somerset Patriots, as well as Game Two of the Championship Series against the Sugar Land Skeeters and has combined to allow just one hit and one walk while striking out five in two and two-thirds innings of work. He’s provides an intimidating presence on the mound with his long, flowing locks and reliance on a devastating backdoor slider that’s boosted by incredible deception generated by a low three-quarter delivery.
“I’ve always thrown that way,” he explained. “My high school coach tried to change me, but it was always comfortable. He tried to raise me over the top, but I had some shoulder impingements a little bit, and it kind of set me back. After that, I kind of went back to the arm slot I’ve always been at. It feels good, I don’t really notice a difference and I don’t feel like I’m dropping down. It’s always been kind of funky.”
The opposition being unfamiliar with Treece, combined with a unique delivery and late release he says has created more late life on his pitches, has given the Ducks a big addition to an already stout core of relievers.
“He looks like he gives some righties some fits, but he’s pitched well against lefties too. He’s closed, so he’s faced both,” Baez said. “He throws strikes, keeps the ball down and his arm angle is deceptive. He’s a competitor, that’s one thing I’ve seen. The first day he got here, he said, ‘Whenever you give me the ball, I’m ready.’ That’s one thing that you can’t teach, you have to have that in you. It was nice to see him respond that way.”
Added Treece: “They don’t have a scouting report on me. And if they did, it doesn’t show what you’re looking at out on the field, it’s different looking at it on paper. It’s a big advantage, I’m sure.”
Although Treece has certainly been a key, late acquisition, Baez has had to balance getting the 6-foot-3, 195 pounder innings possibly at the expense of others who have helped the team get to this point.
“I’m sure some guys’ egos might be (hurt)…but we told them at the beginning of the playoffs that egos are out the door,” Baez said. “It’s about who’s doing well towards the end of the year…we have an idea, but it’s about how guys are doing towards the end of the season, and you try to go with the hot hand.”
Long Island can only hope that Treece’s hand can remain just that -- hot, in a quest to once again come back from an 0-2 deficit and claim their third championship in five seasons.
But for Treece, it would be his first.
“This is it, this is where I’ve wanted to be for the last five years of playing professional ball,” he said. “I had the opportunity (to win) with the Rascals; we had the opportunity two years in a row and it didn’t work out. But I’ve been hungry. I think it was God’s way of telling me to keep working, because you never know where you’re going to be next.”