By, Brandon Rebboah
Note: Summer and baseball have always seemed to fit together perfectly. For fans of the game, summer is a time to enjoy the sights, sounds and atmosphere of America's pastime, but for college baseball players, it is a time for development. College players across the country, including members of the Santa Clara baseball squad, have already left for their summer experiences just weeks after finals as they begin preparation for the 2013 season.
After a much-improved 2012 campaign on the Mission Campus, Bronco ball players now occupy rosters throughout the nation in summer leagues that are helping them grow as players. Santa Clara is represented in nine different leagues from the Bay Area to New England, while others play for independent teams. The "All Summer Long" series, in its second season, will chronicle the Broncos as they play in various summer leagues nationwide, and in Canada as well.
Slippery Rock, Pa. – Zach Looney, who will return for his junior season on the Bronco baseball team in 2013, is getting the opportunity to hone his skills behind the dish while also experiencing a new part of the country. The Bronco catcher is spending his summer in Slippery Rock, Pa., playing for the Slippery Rock Sliders of the Prospect League. The Prospect League offers college players an experience similar to the minor leagues because of the use of wooden bats and an extensive travel schedule spanning Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.
Last summer, Looney played in the Texas Collegiate League for the East Texas Pump Jacks in preparation for his sophomore season. During his second season on the Mission Campus, Looney hit for a .274 average while posting a .374 on-base percentage in 31 games including 21 starts.
This year Looney's move to Slippery Rock allows him new challenges to work on his offensive approach as well as his work behind the plate.
"Offensively I have been trying to focus on having more consistency from at-bat to at-bat," said Looney. "I want to improve on my pitch recognition and pitch selection to try and add consistency. I also want to put more focus on the execution game from bunts to controlling the bat. Summer games are a great way to get game-like reps."
This summer season is especially important for Looney who missed part of his sophomore year due to injury. The rigors of the college season and the balance between rest and development during summer is something that Looney is being very mindful of.
"It is great getting back on the field after some lost time to injury," said the soon-to-be junior catcher. "You never want to miss games because of an injury so any time you can get back on the field is a thrill. It has opened my eyes to how much I love this game and getting to play it everyday. I think it is important to make each rep important and being realistic to what your body can and cannot do. You have to listen to your body and be mindful of what you feel like. When you add the meaning to each rep you will be able to improve without having to do so many reps that your body gives out. It is always an adjustment."
The current Bronco and Colorado native is a long way from the West Coast, but he's not alone. Looney's host family has gone to great lengths to make him feel welcome, and having two Santa Clara teammates also playing on the Slippery Rock squad helps the transition as well. Soon-to-be senior shortstop Justin Viele and rising junior left-handed pitcher Max Deering join Looney.
Looney certainly has made the most of his short time already. The Bronco catcher leads the Sliders with a .366 average, although has logged just 41 at-bats in 11 games since joining the team late due to finals. He also has four RBI, a homerun and a stolen base.
Even with three current Broncos on the Slippery Rock Sliders, the Prospect League is giving Looney a chance to play against talent that he hasn't seen before. The Prospect League caters to a contingency of players from the Midwest and East Coast. The Prospect League is filled with collegiate talent from the Midwest and East Coast, but there are other West Coast Conference representatives. Two teams, Slippery Rock and Danville, hold all of the WCC representatives; Danville has seven WCC players including incoming freshmen or sophomores from Pepperdine, San Diego and USF.
"It is definitely a different atmosphere here on the East Coast but in a very positive way. It is fun to experience a new lifestyle and surrounding," said the Bronco catcher. "The people in Slippery Rock are so kind and hospitable. Our host family is amazing and have gone out of their way to make sure we feel at home."
Defensively, Looney is using his summer reps to learn more about commanding the field, especially calling pitches. With a stacked Santa Clara catching trio, Looney is looking to gain as much knowledge as possible to translate over to the 2013 season.
"I want to continue to learn the game of baseball in aspects like controlling the field and calling pitches. Summer leagues give a great opportunity to call pitches and really take on the role of field general."