As the saying goes, “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
For Maryland junior outfielder Bobby Zmarzlak, that statement couldn’t better describe how he approaches the game of baseball.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound outfielder from Stamford, Conn., is reserved and quiet at first blush. But when it comes to baseball, he allows his play on the field to speak for itself. His bat has often helped set the tone for a Terps team that is 30-7 entering play at Illinois April 22-24, on pace for one of the best seasons in program history and looking for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I’m trying to stay ultra-focused every at-bat,” Zmarzlak said. “I feel like I’ve been doing well with situational stuff and doing my job when I’m called upon. I’m here to do what I can to help the team win.”
Zmarzlak has been known for his bat throughout his baseball career. That bat is a big reason why the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in the 40th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.
However, Zmarzlak decided to forgo signing in favor of attending Maryland. He struggled out of the gate during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, hitting just .185 in 10 games with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
While he struggled to find a groove, the knowledge that he was good enough to get a call from a big league team boosted his overall confidence.
“It was awesome,” Zmarzlak said. “It gives you a lot of self-confidence knowing that MLB teams are interested in you and want you.”
Though he had a low batting average, he posted a .405 on-base percentage and an .849 OPS, both positive numbers from which to build.
Maryland assistant coach and hitting coach Matt Swope helped Zmarzlak tweak his hitting approach heading into the 2021 season with a focus on controlling the college strike zone. He ended up hitting .286/.398/.536 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 31 games last year.
Zmarzlak’s willingness to adapt and change to get better immediately caught the attention of head coach Rob Vaughn, who saw the selflessness in his game.
“What I’ve seen from him in his career is a lot of growth in every facet of the game,” Vaughn said. “Bobby takes everything in stride and has a mature approach to everything he does.”
Zmarzlak is hitting .273/.411/.485 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs through 37 games this year entering the Illinois series. The success he’s found at the plate has given him a great deal of confidence that has translated into the other facets of his game.
“I ended last season on a hot streak,” Zmarzlak said. “Over the course of the season, I made adjustments. Those adjustments have definitely carried into this year and have helped out with my success.”
What has also seemingly helped out Zmarzlak is his demeanor on and off the field. Vaughn said his outfielder plays the game with respect and goes about his business with a neutral mindset, and as such is able to adapt to different situations as they come.
“That’s the beauty of Bobby,” Vaughn said. “If you see him after a game, you would have no idea if he went 4-for-4 with four home runs or 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He’s not a super emotional kid and that allows him to deal with whatever life or baseball throws at him, take it in stride and keep moving through it.”
That was put into practice last summer, as Zmarzlak went up to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the most prestigious collegiate wood-bat summer baseball league in the country.
Zmarzlak was set to serve as the designated hitter for the Brewster Whitecaps. Vaughn had conversations with Zmarzlak heading into the offseason about finding an opportunity to play the field that summer.
That opportunity wasn’t necessarily there with Brewster, so rather than staying in the Cape Cod League, Zmarzlak came back to Maryland to play for the Alexandria Aces in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
“He was able to play center field every day,” Vaughn said. “Cape Cod is [a prestigious] summer league and for Bobby to have the humility to say, ‘It’s not about me staying in this league, it’s about me needing to get better this summer,’ that was huge. He takes his defense seriously.”
The summer ball switch has paid off in the field for Zmarzlak, as the Terps’ left fielder has just two errors this season.
This season, he not only has the added confidence and experience of playing out in the field, but he also has some chemistry among his teammates, specifically two — sophomore Luke Shliger and junior transfer Nick Lorusso.
They’re not only fellow Connecticut natives but are also former travel teammates of Zmarzlak while all three were in high school.
“I knew [them] before coming into college,” Zmarzlak said. “They’re some of my closest friends and it’s awesome playing on this team with them and it’s awesome to see what we’re doing in college.”
The trio is aiming to help Maryland reach the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season and host a regional for the first time in program history. If players like Zmarzlak can stay consistent the rest of the way, a regional in College Park could very much be in the cards.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Originally published April 20, 2022