Fans using merely literal vision see only one person at third base when the Cyclones are in the field, but those baseball aficionados gifted with more figurative sight can see three persons at the hot corner for Brooklyn — Zach Lutz, and standing behind him, his parents.
The younger Lutz was born on June 3, 1986, coming into this world with a terrific baseball advantage, a father named Yogi.
“Nobody knows my real name,” said Yogi Lutz before confessing that his given name is Sterling.
The senior Lutz was a catcher as a youngster and he rooted for the Yankees (hence the nickname). He went on to catch for Reading HS in Pennsylvania, and then played semi-pro ball in the Lebanon Valley League.
Later, Lutz became head coach of the baseball team at Alvernia College in Reading, where his teams won numerous Division III championships.
But he wasn’t the only Lutz family member involved in the success. His wife, Vickie, an administrative assistant at Alvernia, was the team’s unofficial mom.
“The kids in the baseball program are sometimes away from home for the first time, and their real moms aren’t around, so the boys on the team come to me with some of their problems and I’m glad to help,” she said.
In the meantime, little Zach Lutz was living at the Lutz home in Mohnton, a few minutes from the college and playing in various kids’ leagues, but he wasn’t anything like the strapping 6-foot-1, 200 pounder that Cyclones fans see at Keyspan Park.
“He was always the smallest and fattest kid on the team,” said his dad. “But he could always hit. Then later, at 15 or 16, he began to grow.”
After Lutz finished his highly successful career at Governor Mifflin HS, it became time to choose a college. He could easily have played Division I ball, but he chose Alvernia.
“It doesn’t matter where you play, small college or not,” said Vickie Lutz. “If you’re good enough, they’re going to find you.”
Finding him wasn’t that difficult. As a junior in 2007, Lutz was selected as the Division III Player of the Year. In the final NCAA statistics that year, Lutz was seventh in average (.467) and second in slugging percentage (.883).
The Mets drafted him in the fifth round, and he started last season with the Cyclones. Fans know what happened next: After only two at-bats in the season opener, he left the game with pain in his right foot. X-rays showed a broken bone — and it put him out of service for the season. He couldn’t even put weight on his ankle for six months, and he had a bone growth stimulator inserted into his calf.
But the injury didn’t deter Lutz.
“We’ve had a few players from Alvernia play pro ball, including Wade Miller, who made the majors,” said Yogi Lutz. “So we’ve had talented players, but I’ve never seen anyone with Zach’s desire.”
In fact, while Zach was injured, the elder Lutz hit him ground balls while he was on his knees, just to keep up his hand-eye skills.
His father wasn’t the only parent working out with Zach, as Vickie Lutz got into the act as well.
“During Zach’s rehabilitation, he couldn’t stand on his injured foot,” said his mother. “So we would go into the backyard, and I would throw him little plastic golf balls, and he would hit them with a small stick while he was kneeling on the grass.”
Now that Zach is mostly recovered, his parents often make the two-and-a-half hour drive from Reading to Keyspan Park, and when they can’t make the games, they listen to Warner Fusselle’s classic broadcasts on their computer.
But it’s not always easy being the parents of a pro baseball player.
“Last week, because of injuries to other players, Zach had to play second base — probably the first time he’s played second since high school, and he didn’t get to a ball, and a fan was yelling at him,” explained Vickie. “But my husband reminded me that he’s a professional athlete now, and we have to understand that there will be comments. But the Brooklyn fans have been just great, and we love that he’s playing here.”
Lutz has more than just playing in Brooklyn, he’s leading the Cyclones in hitting at .340 (13th in the New York–Penn League), and he’s leading the league in on-base percentage at .476.
He credits his mom and dad — “the greatest parents.”
So look carefully when Zach Lutz is at third base. You’ll certainly see his parents behind him there as well.
In tribute to his distant forebear, Ed Shakespeare ends each column with some thoughts in iambic pentameter. This week’s entry is a paean to that most American of holidays, July 4. It’s called, “Independence Day — Hooray!”
July the Fourth — It celebrates a win.
But what if fickle fortune favored Brit?
Would Nathan’s contest’s hot dogs slide within
The scope of Chestnut’s gullet? More to it,
Another hot dog eater named Babe Ruth;
What of his homers? — sticky wicket here.
The man could also pitch. And so, forsooth,
If Britain won — The Babe? Star cricketeer!
Ed Shakespeare — a distant relative of the famed Bard of Avon — has been covering the Cyclones since their inception. He is also the author of “When Baseball Returned to Brooklyn: The Inaugural Season of the New York–Penn League Cyclones.”