SCOREBOARD Making up for the disappointment
by Jim Hague
Jul 22, 2008 | 4038 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gil Zayas was pretty sure that he was going to receive a call from some Major League Baseball organization last month. After all, Zayas, the former St. Joseph of the Palisades standout and West New York resident, had just completed a fine career at St. John's University, even though he slumped somewhat as a senior for the Red Storm.

But Zayas' size, strength, and power was certain to get him a look-see from some major league organization. Even some local scouts were sure that Zayas would get drafted.

However, the call never came. Zayas, a former two-time Hudson Reporter Player of the Year (2002 and 2004) and three-time All-Area honoree during his high school days with the Blue Jays, spent two full days near the telephone and near his computer, hoping that his name would be mentioned with some organization. But it never happened.

"It was pretty disappointing," Zayas said. "I have to admit that. I never got drafted. A couple teams talked to me and told me that they were interested, but they never called. I did have a pretty bad year at St. John's [batting .260 with three homers and 28 RBI]. I guess they looked at it that I didn't have a good senior year. I don't know what happened. I guess that's just baseball."

Zayas said that there was no logical explanation why he struggled so much during his senior season with the Red Storm.

"I hit the ball hard, but right at people," Zayas said. "I don't know what happened. I was really hoping that I would get drafted and that some team would give me a shot. If a team picked me, I would have signed for anything, just to get the chance to play ball. I spoke with a couple of scouts and they told me that they had me on their list and I didn't get picked. I guess those things happen."

At age 22, Zayas was wondering whether he had reached the crossroads of his baseball career. The lifelong dream that the young man had ever since he arrived in Hudson County from his native Cuba, when he was 10 years old, was slipping away.

In the previous years, Zayas did everything he had to do to get noticed by the scouts, playing in the best summer leagues in the country, like the Coastal League and the Atlantic Coast Baseball League.

"They were great leagues and I played every game every summer," Zayas said.

More importantly, those leagues were played with wood bats, not aluminum, so scouts could determine Zayas' natural power.

"It was a good learning experience for me, a professional aspect in every way," Zayas said. "I thought it would all work out for me."

But the draft came and went, so Zayas was a baseball player without a team.

"Right after the draft, I kept working my butt off, keeping in shape, just in case something happened," Zayas said. "Just in case someone wanted to give me a shot as a free agent."

Zayas made a few phone calls and found out that the Atlantic City Surf, an independent team in the Can-Am League, was looking for a third baseman. Zayas' former teammate at St. John's, Joe Burke, is a member of the Surf, as is Jersey City native Jim Wladyka, the son of local baseball guru Joe Wladyka.

"When Atlantic City called me and told me they needed a third baseman, I was ready to go," Zayas said. "I was excited about it."

Zayas went to a tryout with the Surf, with former Detroit Tiger and Yankee slugger Cecil Fielder looking on. Fielder is the manager of the club.

"After the little workout, they signed me right away and told me I was going to be their third baseman," Zayas said. "I hit my first home run within the first three games and I'm playing every day. I'm working every day, trying to get better."

Zayas' professional career has only been two weeks old, so he's a little slow at the start, batting just .208 with one homer and eight RBI in 14 games. It's all part of the learning process, something that Zayas is accepting. He's playing for a former All-Star in Fielder.

"It's unbelievable," Zayas said. "He's a great guy and a hitting doctor. He knows his stuff and has been very supportive of me. It's just awesome playing for him."

Zayas also feels at home, playing on the same team with former Red Storm teammates Wladyka and Burke.

"Jim was a senior when I was a freshman, so it's good to know someone like him here," Zayas said. "Joe Burke is a good friend. I really felt like I belonged here, like I was part of the team right away. I'm the youngest one on the team, but everyone has been very positive and very helpful. They're all giving me a lot of guidance. They've really made me feel welcome."

Now, all Zayas has to do is perform.

"I'm just thankful for the opportunity to play every day," Zayas said. "Who knows what the future holds? I'm just going to continue to work hard and play hard."

Zayas had to excuse himself from the phone. The Surf was boarding a bus to Canada for a long road trip to Ottawa and Quebec. Such is life in the minor leagues.

But Gil Zayas has a chance. He has a team, has a position, has his dream intact.

"I'm doing what I know to do, which is play baseball," Zayas said. "I didn't know if I was going to get that chance a month or so ago. I'm just happy to be playing. I'm just glad someone has given me a shot."
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