© Chuck Duboff
Any baseball team that has championship aspirations has to have a solid bullpen; without one, too much pressure is put on the starting pitchers. In 2012, the Winnipeg Goldeyes won the American Association championship; they were anchored by a solid bullpen, which put it all together in the playoffs. One member of that bullpen was Zach Baldwin, the Big Lefty, who Rick Forney could count on to get left handed batters out.
Down in West Virginia now with his fiance and daughter, Zach is running a baseball academy and golfing not quite as much as he used to. I caught up with Zach this week and asked him about his golf game, his family and about his time with the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
1. How’s the golf game? What are the courses like down there compared to up here in Winnipeg?
The golf game isn’t too bad. I haven’t been able to play as much this year as normal. I just bought a house, in the process of getting my baseball academy up and running and having a 9 month old daughter doesn’t allow for much time to practice, let alone play. I get out about 1-2 times a week, if I’m lucky. But when I have played, I have played pretty well. Courses here are much more hilly and much less wind. Some days at Quarry we would be playing in 20-30 mph gusts ,and as a high ball hitter, that’s never fun. Conditions wise, very similar. Different grasses here.. a lot of Bermuda here and more bent grasses there. I will say this. Quarry Oaks is a great track and very challenging from the tips.
2. You missing playing ball? How are you keeping busy now?
I definitely miss playing ball.. Everyday I miss it. Ive been working at a baseball academy here since 2006, and I just had the opportunity to purchase the academy ,so I did and now I’m doing all the behind the scenes work to make my business legal and get it up and running
3. What’s your baseball story? Your earliest memories of baseball till your Goldeyes days?
I started playing at a very young age. I started pitching with my dad in our yard and it just kind of evolved from there. He was a good player in high school and had a few offers to play collegiately, but back in the day he had to have money to support himself and family, so he went to work, not playing, but if it wasn’t for my dad introducing me to the game, I don’t know if I ever would’ve played. I was all in on golf at a early age and baseball was on the back burner for a very long time. As I got to high school I started to realize I had the ability to be pretty good. I didn’t grow and develop until my junior year of high school. I went from 5’9 to 6’5, so that instantly made me a better pitcher. I started to throw harder and develop a pretty good curveball. I had great success my junior and senior years and that led me to Coastal Carolina (college world series team; I had to throw that in there). first time ever they have been to the college world series. After three years at Coastal struggling baseball wise I decided to transfer. theres more to that story but Im gonna keep that to myself. I transferred back home to WV state. A very good Division II school and figured it out. I went 19-0 in two years there and that got me drafted by the Nationals in the 31st round. After two good years with them, they released me and like a lot of of other players, I’m still not sure why they released me. Then that led me to Winnipeg.
My earliest memory of baseball would have to be my 12 year old all star team, playing in the southeast regional in Florida and pitching the opening game, beating Florida and striking out 15.
I was released in mid January and immediately I started getting calls. Fargo was on me hard because of Doug being a West Virginia guy and knowing my college coach really well and then Tom Vaith called and he and I hit it off well. Honestly, he sold me on the fishing. I knew the park was fantastic and the city was fantastic by talking with some indy ball guys. but it was definitely tough to steer away from a WV guy in Fargo and come to Winnipeg. Im so so, so thankful I made that decision and it was definitely the right one.
5. Whenever I saw you coming into the game, I always thought to myself, “there comes the big lefty.” What did you learn over the years, in terms of pitching, from Rick Forney?
Honestly Rick kept it very simple. Throw strike one and then attack, especially against lefties. I wasn’t a power guy, but I had a good secondary pitches I could throw for strikes. The main thing I learned from him was trust. I would have some stretches where I was awful and he still had trust in me. He never gave up on me. There were a few times where I thought I was gonna be released, but it never happened. Knowing he had trust in me made my job much easier
6. As a fan, I know how great it was to see the team win the AA Championship…What was it like as a player winning the championship?
It was amazing. It was my World Series. I feel very blessed to have won a championship in Winnipeg.
7. Tell us about your home and where you are living now…
My fiancé and I are living in Huntington West Virginia. We just bought our first house together. Its a fairly typical home for our area, but we are so happy and in love with the house and the neighbourhood.
8. Given that the AA is independent baseball, what was it like playing in front of big crowds in Winnipeg? By comparison, did you find it difficult getting up for a game when it seemed like it was just a friends and family night in other ballparks?
The big crowds in Winnipeg were awesome; it was never hard to get up for a game at home. As a player it makes coming work so much better. No one wants to fail in front of 7000. I’m sure some players had trouble getting up for games at parks that have 100 people, but I never had any issues with getting up to pitch. I had a coach tell me once ” Zach you never know who is watching.” and I always had that in the back of my mind.. As much as I loved Winnipeg, the main goal was to get back to affiliated ball. Not being a power guy, I couldn’t afford to take a night off mentally.. just in case that one guy was there and liked me that night..
9. Tell the fans in Winnipeg about your fiance and that cute little one in all your pictures.
The cute girl is Avery Grace Baldwin. She is my world now. Its hard to understand until you have a family, how much love you have for your children. I’m so lucky and so blessed that she is healthy and getting bigger and bigger everyday. Secretly I hope she is a golfer, HAHA.. I hope one day to be able to bring her to Winnipeg and show her a big part of my life.
10. Better golfer, you or Andrew Collier?
I think I can take Andrew, he’s a good player, but as an athlete, I don’t like to say anyone is better than I am at a certain sport, especially golf. To elaborate more on that, Andrew and I played quite a few rounds together. But, Rick Forney and I played many, many rounds together at Quarry Oaks. As a golfer. he was pretty good. If he would play more, he could be a low handicap player. Both Rick and Andrew- easy money.
11. What was your favourite MLB team growing up? Favourite player? Favourite player today?
I was a fan of the Seattle Mariners because of Ken Griffey Jr. Loved him as a hitter. Maybe prettiest swing ever. I always watched Maddox and Randy Johnson pitch. Love how they had two different styles and both dominated. Favourite player today would have to be Clayton Kershaw. He is just flat out filthy. And he keeps his name out of the news.
12. Any final words for the fans in Winnipeg?
Thank you, thank you, thank you. You made my stay in Winnipeg very, very special. That city and organization hold a special place in my heart. I wish we could’ve won a few more championships for you all. I hope baseball continues to thrive up north in Winnipeg and I’m looking forward to coming back in the coming years to see some old faces and friends. Again, to the Winnipeg Goldeyes organization and Fans THANK YOU!!!