Flying High

By JOE McFARLAND

Every baseball player has a routine or superstition.

It might be something simple like the number of bat swings before an at-bat or not touching the painted lines while running out to the field. Or it might be something more – shall we say – unique, like licking your bat (Yasiel Puig) or drawing three crosses on the mound before each inning (among other quirks from Turk Wendell).

High River’s Tucker Zdunich doesn’t have any zany regimens he abides by, but there is one word that is central to his baseball thesis: intent.

“It starts from stretching and then, when I get into throwing, I also make sure I throw every throw with the right intent so that when I get into the game, I know my throws are going to be as hard and accurate as they can be,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories via Twitter message.

That mindset continues when the outfielder heads to the plate with Reinhardt University of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

“I like to stick to the big part of the field for my approach,” Zdunich continued.

“Whether it’s batting practice or front toss or just taking dry hacks and visualizing, I always work on staying there to help me get prepared, which then allows me to focus on timing up the pitcher.”

It seems to be working for the sophomore. Through 26 games, he leads the Eagles in doubles (six), triples (three), home runs (eight), runs batted in (30) and walks (21), while he’s fourth in batting average (.369).

TROJAN TRIUMPHS

In his first season at Reinhardt, Zdunich is picking up right where he left off with the Colby Community College Trojans.

The outfielder began his post-secondary journey by hitting .335 with eight home runs and 37 RBI in 2018-2019. He then got off to a tremendous start the following season by hitting .361 with four homers and 20 RBI before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down.

READ MORE: 2020 ADS All-College Team

He returned for his last season with the Trojans to hit .279 with eight dingers and 29 RBI, something he wasn’t overly impressed with.

Zdunich admits he got off to a slow start and put too much pressure on himself, but was able to relax more in the second half of the season and the positive results followed.

“Colby was the greatest experience I’d had in my life so far,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast last summer.

“Just the friendships made and playing really good baseball in a competitive conference, where every game was a dogfight.”

He also had the chance to learn from a couple of fellow Western Canadian products who have since gone onto bigger things: Wetaskiwin’s Matt Coutney has been a standout with Old Dominion University while Saskatchewan’s Logan Hofmann was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“They were so locked in and driven, it was pretty awesome to watch,” Zdunich said. “They were really good role models for all the guys and you could really tell there was something special with them.”

They also helped inspire him to dream bigger.

GAINING CONFIDENCE

Zdunich returned to the familiar surroundings of Okotoks in 2021 to star with Dawgs Red during the abbreviated Western Canadian Baseball League season.

In 33 games, he slashed .306 with five home runs and 14 runs batted in.

“It was a great experience getting to play with my old high school teammates again and playing in front of lots of friends and family along with the great Dawgs fans,” Zdunich said.

“I gained a lot of confidence in my game by having a pretty successful summer.”

Tucker Zdunich (7) fistbumps with teammates as he’s introduced before a game against the Lethbridge Bulls. (Photo: Ian Wilson)

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound outfielder then spent the majority of his winter training at Dawgs Academy in hopes of staying consistent and keeping his approach intact. The Academy is also where he spent five of his teenage years honing his craft.

“I’m super-grateful now, as an alumni, to be able to come in during the offseason to get my work in,” Zdunich said.

“I was able to get in my weight training and sprinting to make sure I was in as good of shape and as strong as I could be, plus I threw a lot and got a lot of swings in.”

It all comes back to intent, something he picked up from Dawgs coach Jeff Duda.

“I remember we were doing the throwing program and he always told us to make every throw with the right intent,” Zdunich remembered.

“I noticed a lot of improvement in all aspects of my game after that because I focused on all things baseball-related with the right intent and it really boosted my improvement.”

DREAMING BIG

In heading to Reinhardt, Zdunich wanted to come to a school that he enjoyed as much as Colby.

He also wanted to contribute to a successful program, and after a chat with his parents, former Dawgs coach Allen Cox and Colby coach Ryan Carter, he took the plunge by joining the Eagles.

“Right when I got down here on campus, I knew I would really like it down here and I have,” said Zdunich, who played his minor ball with the Okotoks Outlaws..

“It’s been a great transition with a great group of guys, the coaches, and the awesome field we get to play at.”

He is now focused on helping Reinhardt making it to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, but he also has a few personal goals.

“I would like to be an All-Conference player and, if I perform well enough, hopefully an NAIA All-American,” Zdunich said. “I’ve been feeling good at the ballpark so hopefully I can achieve those goals.”

From there, his intent returns back home with a return to Okotoks to re-join the Dawgs this summer.

“I’m super-excited to be coming back to Okotoks,” Zdunich said.

“I’m really looking forward to the WCBL being more ‘back to normal’ and getting to playing in front of the amazing fans at Seaman Stadium and spending time close to lots of friends and family as well.”

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