Zack Weigel arrived at Seton Hall in the fall of 2012. By his own admission, offers from Division I schools to play college baseball were not flying through his doors like the pop flies he would eventually catch at Owen T. Carroll Field.
Seton Hall was the school that gave Weigel, from Oak Park, Ill., a chance. Weigel delivered with two All-Big East Second Team selections, as he played an integral part in a four-year stretch in which Seton Hall twice finished 18 wins above .500 and once finished 24 games over .500.
Weigel returned to Seton Hall in early 2018 – a year-and-a-half after graduating – to be a part of the program again, only this time in a managerial role. Now the Director of Baseball Operations, Weigel spoke over the phone with The Setonian’s James Justice, during one of the baseball team’s recent road trips.
Growing up, when did you realize that you loved the sport of baseball, and how did that come about?
So, it kind of started [with] my grandpa actually. When I was young, he would always play catch with me with squishy balls, stuff like that. I think it was around the age of 2, honestly. So, it started with my grandpa, my parents definitely got more and more involved. As I grew up, I don’t know if there was really an exact moment in time where I knew I loved the game, but, just being around it, starting from a young age and being able to play, just kind of always loved doing it, and I felt like it was almost natural.
So, you’re from Illinois, not far outside of Chicago? What was it like transitioning to Seton Hall? Because, obviously not just the place was different, but a lot of your teammates were from South Jersey, Pennsylvania. What was it like acclimating to a new group of people, and a new environment?
You know, it was actually easier than I expected coming in. Being a freshman, I know it’s a new experience for everyone. But, you know, having a group of guys that you’re already going to be close with, just because you’re going to practice, you’re going to lifts, you’re having the same classes, so you’re with them…almost 24-seven, is nice. That definitely made the transition easier. We’d joke around about the Chicago accent that I have, which I don’t think’s a thing, but, some words we say different; so we spent some time in the dorms discussing that. But, I thought it was a really easy transition; the coaching staff and everyone were very accommodating for everything, and, having those guys, those group of guys, and then having upperclassmen who were able to, you know, show you the ropes, made it a real smooth transition, I feel like.
So, you’re from Illinois, would you happen to be a Cubs fan?
Yeah [laughs] before they won it.
What was that  World Series like? It must have been crazy.
Yeah, I mean, it was nice, because I was home when they won it. The city itself was on a, months-on-months celebration of it. You know, I went to the parade, and it was flooded with people just so happy. It’s crazy; it’s not just the fact that they won it, it’s also how they won it, and kind of the team they were. That’s almost like a team you want to be similar to, where they’re just resilient, they never gave up, they always had each other’s backs, they were playing for each other. So, it was definitely fun being there and celebrating it, but it was also, from knowing a little bit more of the baseball side, being able to appreciate that as well.
Going back to your transition to Seton Hall; you came in freshman year, the team was 37-19, 8-2 in the Big East, and you were able to step right in. You batted .326, that was second-best on the team. How were you able to immediately transition to playing college baseball?
You know, it took a whole fall, and it took, just being able to kind of just go out there and play. And, you know, there’s no real pressure, I didn’t feel like, being a freshman. I was trying to enjoy the game, and I knew that if I couldn’t do the job that there was people behind me that could and other teammates could do the job. So, I just kind of went out there pretty free and willing and, just kind of performed the best I could, play the best game I could, and you know, everything kind of clicked for me then. It was nice, that team was an unbelievable team, but it also helped, having confidence too.
I mean, I ended up, we had a senior outfielder, Ryan Sullivan, who was really helpful in just getting that transition from playing on the bench to starting in some big games. So, him having that confidence in me, and everyone having confidence really helps; you play your game and feel relaxed, not having any stress and being able to go out there and enjoy it.
How did you take the lessons that you got from Ryan [Sullivan] and utilize them when you were an upperclassman?
Just trying to remember back when you were a freshman and what certain guys did for you, and, how you want to do that for those guys, so that they can learn. So, when I was a senior I was trying to remember what the seniors before had done and how they were able to lead, and their different leadership techniques. And then, when you’re in that leadership role, being able to know that people learn in different ways, and it takes different leadership styles to, you know, get through to them…Honestly just things like, giving that true confidence in the younger players, or whoever it is, is the ultimate knowledge you can give them, because, if someone knows that a senior is confident in you, you’re just going to play that much more relaxed and easy going; and, when nothing’s on the line, you just enjoy it.
You had a lot of success over the course of your college career, some great teams. But I’d be remised if I didn’t ask about the Big East Tournament, where it was a tough stretch, and you guys, especially your senior year, went out in a tough way. How much would it mean for you to be part of the program this year, and have the team get over that hump, win two games in the tournament and take home the trophy?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t even think of it for myself, I think of it more for the guys, like the seniors especially. To let them know that, ‘Hey, go do something that, you know, we weren’t able to do. And, to let them know to enjoy every moment, because once you go, you’re going to miss it, you’re going to want to come back. So, it’s more for those guys to just experience it. And, just talking to, you know, some of the older guys who won it in 2011, them saying how that was the best time of their lives and all that stuff. So, you definitely want the current guys in this team to have a great chance at winning, and to get that feeling.
What was it like last year, playing independent ball for Schaumburg in Illinois? You did really well, you batted .315 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs in 348 at bats. And then, after that, you decided to put the bat down. What was your mindset going into that? Did you see playing in the high minor leagues or even the major leagues as an aspiration or were the minor leagues, independent ball, just something that you wanted to experience for a little bit?
Yeah, I mean, I played in 2016 after I graduated for a little bit; same team, same independent ball organization. And I was just happy at that point to, you know, be able to continue playing the game that I love. So, it was great that they, you know, took me on. I ended up tearing my ACL that year. So, this year, this past summer, especially coming back and playing was just a triumph for me. And I was just excited, happy to be there, because, the rehab and the injury and the pain, it was just tough. So, being able to come back and just enjoying it, having a little different mindset; not putting so much pressure that I have to get picked up by an affiliated organization. So, I was just able to enjoy it this past summer.
And, I mean, every kid, grows up dreaming, World Series, Game 7, full count, two outs, bases loaded. So, obviously that was a dream, but, I’ve exceeded expectations, where Seton Hall was one of the few Division I schools that offered me; I didn’t think I was going to go Division I, so then I got that ability. And then, being able to continue at a professional level was just an added bonus. So, you obviously are a competitor, and you want to continue to compete at a high level, but, when you’re able to continue your career where…some guys weren’t as fortunate, for whatever reasons, you got to be pretty grateful and thankful for that.
Was that your first major injury, the ACL?
Yeah, it was. Umm, I mean I had bumps and bruises here and there, but, yeah, ACL was the first big injury I had.
How did it come about, was it on the field, and how did it happen?
Yeah, I was playing center field, and there was just, you know, a ball in the gap. Me and the right fielder were both coming in on it, and, kind of last minute took a peak at each other and realized that we were a little closer than we should be (laughs). Umm, and I just tried to get out of the way and catch the ball at the same time; overachieved a little too much, and I think my leg went one way and my knee might have gone the other.
Oh man, and that was playing your first year in independent ball?
Yeah, correct, it was probably, I think 30 or 40 games into my…post Seton Hall season.
And so, you were able to come back and you were able to play really well. What was the process of coming back to Seton Hall like? And when you left Seton Hall and you moved back to Illinois, did you ever foresee yourself coming back to Seton Hall and coming back to live in the New York area?
Yeah, you know, I’ve got a lot of friends out here. And I think for my degree, we actually had someone do a very similar position that I’m in now; a couple years ago it was Jon Prosinki. You know, he played affiliated ball for a couple years after Seton Hall, and then he came back, my senior year actually, and was Director of Baseball Operations and finished getting his masters, and is now in an accounting firm.
So, just with my degree, I knew I might have to come back. It wasn’t right after graduating in my mind at all…but after the ACL injury, I realized that, you know, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. So, you know, Coach Sheppard and all the coaching staff here were really helpful with allowing me to come back and help out…get my masters as well, and, I was thankful for that. I didn’t know it would happen in this way at all, but, I’m glad I’m back, and I’m glad to be helping out.
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.