PBR Player of the Year: Oak Park's Zack Weigel



By Sean Duncan

What does Zack Weigel need to do to get some recognition around here? Seriously, you’d think the kid could get some love after he opened his junior year with a 30-game hitting streak, and finished his first full varsity season with a .500 batting average against top-level competition.

OK, if Weigel’s offensive prowess didn’t do it for you, how about the left-hander one-upped his hit-streak on the mound by tossing 15.1 consecutive innings of no-hit baseball this spring?

Remarkable streaks aren’t your thing? Well, surely you’ll appreciate his spotless outfield play, how he can cover both power alleys with his speed and instincts. Or maybe you’re more into the unquantifiable intangibles, such as leadership and toughness, all the while just being one of the guys?

Certainly then you must’ve noticed Weigel in the Class 4A state championship game, gutting through a start where he clearly didn’t have his best stuff, leading Oak Park-River Forest to its first state title since 1981.

Ah, yes, that’s when it dawned on you, while Weigel was hoisting the championship trophy over his head, surrounded by his best friends, his teammates, that he indeed was Illinois’ most-deserving Player of the Year in 2012.

It just took you longer to realize.

“At the end of the year, when you think about how many ways he impacted the game, the sum of the parts add up,” said Oak Park coach Chris Ledbetter. “He’s good at everything but he doesn’t have that wow factor. He’s not going to throw 93 on the mound. He’s not going to have that one at-bat that you will notice him.

“But Zack made an impact in every aspect of the game, every game.”

The 6-foot, 175-pound Weigel might not be the most high-profile Prep Baseball Report Player of the Year recipients, but the two-way talent certainly earned being in the same list as some of the most dominant talents Illinois has produced recently, such as Waubonsie Valley’s Michael Bowden (2005), Benet’s Connor Powers (2006) and Highland’s Jake Odorizzi (2008), to name a few.

“I didn’t care I didn’t get a lot of recognition,” said Weigel, who is signed at Seton Hall University. “I didn’t get a lot of notice by the scouts, but I just kept putting myself out there. I don’t know if it was frustration; it was more motivation. I tried to keep minimizing my mistakes. It made me better, to be honest.”

Across the board, Weigel helped the Huskies finish their dream season at 30-9-1. Offensively, he led the Huskies in nearly every category. He batted .431 with 14 doubles, five home runs and one triple. He drove in 41 runs, scored 43 and tallied 47 hits while striking out only four times all season.

On the mound, Weigel anchored the staff by going  7-1 with a 1.71 ERA. The left-hander used his four-pitch mix to strike out 61 and walk 19 in 52 innings. His record included a no-hitter against Downers Grove North, a six-inning no-hitter against York (had to leave the game with leg cramps), a one-hitter vs. Evanston, and two two-hitters, including a 1-0 shutout in the supersectionals against Highland Park.

“Pitching is fun, but I like playing the outfield and hitting,” Weigel said. “But if the team needs me to do it, then it’s fine. I like doing it. … Last year, I was the No. 2 or 3 guy. I had a lot of success on the mound – it was pretty surprising. I wasn’t expecting to be that dominant.”

Weigel’s impressive all-around statistics only tell half his story. The other half could be adequately summarized by what transpired on June 9 at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. First, let’s go to the bullpen before the game.

“He didn’t throw one strike,” said Ledbetter. “Five or six balls rolled all the way down to the dugout. He was feeling for everything and he was getting frustrated.”

Said Weigel: “I probably had the worst bullpen session of my life. I just had to get loosened up. I knew I had to gut it out and get through it.”

Later in the season, Weigel had experienced some tenderness in his elbow, which required him to rest it for some time. Ledbetter was concerned that perhaps Weigel wasn’t speaking up, that his elbow hurt worse than he let on.

“I love those situations,” Weigel said. “I wanted the ball.”

Never mind his brutal bullpen session, Weigel came out and battled the hottest team in the state, conference rival Lyons Township. He gritted out a complete game, allowing seven hits and three runs while striking out four and walking two. He pitched out of several tight situations, and after he held Lyons scoreless in the top of the seventh, with the game tied 3-3, Weigel found Ledbetter in the dugout.

“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I gave you everything I can. I can’t do it anymore,’” Ledbetter said.

As it turned out, another pitcher wouldn’t need to relieve Weigel. Oak Park scored in the bottom of the seventh to pull out a 4-3 victory in one of the more exciting championship games in recent memory.

The championship punctuated an up-and-down season that saw the Huskies ranked in the top 10 early in the spring, only to struggle mid-season during conference play, resulting in a third-place finish behind West Suburban Silver champion York and Lyons Township. The mid-season struggles bonded the Huskies as a team, Weigel said.

“We came together as a team,” he said. “There were no egos on the team. Everyone knew their role and had one goal in mind. … On and off the field, we’re best friends all the time. We just clicked. Anyone could talk to anyone. That was just over time. Everyone had confidence in each other, and we came together and enjoyed what we had together.”

Ledbetter has coached his share of high-level prospects in his 12 years as head coach. He said that Weigel’s rounded package of athletic gifts and baseball intangibles make him a rare breed.

“He’s that kid you hope as a coach to be fortunate to have another kid like him,” Ledbetter said. “But unfortunately, he may be one of those once-in-a-lifetime type of kids.”

Prep Baseball Report Players of the Year

2012 – Zack Weigel, OF/LHP, Oak Park-River Forest HS

2011 – Sam Travis, 3B, Providence Catholic HS

2010 – Shane Conlon, LHP/1B, Naperville Central HS

2009 – Nick Tindall, C, O’Fallon HS

2008 – Jake Odorizzi, RHP/SS, Highland HS

2007 – Jake Smolinski, INF/RHP, Rockford Boylan HS

2006 – Connor Powers, 1B/3B, Benet Academy HS

2005 – Michael Bowden, RHP, Waubonsie Valley HS