By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
No more No. 13 in 2013 or any other season of Bulldog baseball.
Zakery T. “Zak” Wasilewski, an All-State standout for the Tazewell High School baseball team where he overcame two significant injuries including Tommy John surgery in 2011 to become a record-setting pitcher-designated hitter, had his THS number “13” officially retired Friday in ceremonies at the school. Wasilewski is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jay organization.
“It’s a great feeling to be here, back at Tazewell, having my number retired in front of my friends, many of them my teammates last season,” grinned Wasilewski, who was drafted earlier this year by the Blue Jays in the 10th round as the 445th overall pick.
Wasilewski, 19, at first signed a letter of intent to play college baseball at national powerhouse University of South Carolina but changed his mind when the pros came calling.
“I was honored to be drafted. Playing professional baseball is something I have always wanted to do. There were a couple of bumps along with way but I never considered stopping. You never quit on your dream. For the 2013 season, I will either be playing at Vancouver, or in Michigan, or in Bluefield. I would love to play here, in front of my family and friends and get that hometown support.”
He got a great hand from the hundreds of students, family, and fans at school.
“This is a special day,” said veteran Tazewell baseball coach Lou Peery. “Zak is not only a talented athlete but a dedicated person. He made the most of his ability but he also showed tremendous determination to overcome injury and reach his goal. He did not disappoint himself, his family, or his community. He has given all-out effort to make it to this point in his career.”
Wasilewski is the second pitcher and third Tazewell player overall to perform for a professional team. Billy Wagner was the 12th pick overall in the first round of the 1993 major league draft and finished with 422 major league saves, fifth best in MLB history. He earned 1,196 strikeouts in 902 innings as ace relief pitcher in an All Star career, finishing his career in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves with 47 career victories and a 2.31 earned run average.
Jack Compton, another Bulldog All State player, signed a free agent contract and played briefly during the 2000 season for the Appalachian League Martinsville Astros.
“It is a high honor to have a number retired in our program,” notes Peery. “The ultimate criteria for that to happen is to sign a professional contract. Zak not only put together a fine high school career but he has now advanced to the next level.”
Wasilewski made honorable mention All State as a freshman, earned first team honors as a sophomore, second team as a junior and first team again this past season. He performed as a pitcher, designated hitter, and outfielder during that span. In addition, he was a four-year Southwest District and Region IV first team honoree, earning SWD and Region IV Player of the Year as senior. He was also a first team Coppinger Tournament selection four straight years.
Peery added, “Zak showed his determination when he made the all state list as a freshman. Some players would have been satisfied with that, but he never was. He kept working hard to get better every year. That is a very impressive quality for a young person to have.”
Wasilewski compiled a dazzling worksheet at Tazewell from 2009-12. He finished with a .504 batting average with 142 hits in 282 career at-bats and a record 25 home runs. He scored 133 runs, drove in 116, and stole 61 bases. The flame-throwing left hander posted a 6-1 record for THS in his final campaign.
Principal Rodney Reid said, "Zak created this opportunity for himself and we are all happy for him. We hope he continues on the path to success."
Bulldog athletic director Tom Keene added, "We look forward to Zak continuing his career and doing well."
“I loved playing at Tazewell, playing for Coach Peery and the Bulldogs. I want to keep going and make baseball my career at the professional level,” notes Wasilewski.
He bounced back successfully from the left elbow surgery and now his fastball is back above the 90-miles-per-hour range. He also worked his way back from an ACL tear with a dedicated rehab effort.
“Despite both of those major injuries, Zak never quit,” noted Peery. “When his left arm was operated on, he came out to the field to lift weights, work his lower body, and lift with his good arm. He kept on with conditioning after hurting his leg. He had a goal and set out to accomplish that goal.”
Wasilewski, who thought he might have a chance to pitch for the
Bluefield, instead worked his first professional season in Florida. The 6-2, 220-lb. pitcher hurled 21.2 innings for the Jays with an 0-3 record featuring 21 strikeouts and 19 walks. He fashioned a 7.89 earned run average based on 21 runs allowed including 19 earned on 30 hits.
He is the son of Tom and Karen Wasilewski of Tazewell. His sister, Karlee, is a freshman at Tazewell.