Myrtle Beach Pelicans starter Zach Hedges isn’t your typical minor-league pitcher.
Of course he’s focused when he needs to be and takes his craft seriously every day he shows up to work, but there’s another part to his game that shapes his overall body of work.
For the California native, a mixture of hard work and having a whole lot of fun is necessary for on-field success.
His theory is simple: stay loose and relaxed on days off in order to keep the tank full on days he pitches.
“Oh man, I just like to have fun. I’m a very positive and energetic kind of guy,” Hedges said.
“When you have great teammates and you’re in an organization that you like, it makes it pretty easy… I think to get through this kind of season, for me, I just try to find the fun stuff and smile each day. Keeping it fun, keeping it loose and when it’s your time to work, you go to work.”
Pitching roughly every six days, Hedges has plenty of time to live a laid-back life at the ballpark.
When he starts, his attitude is reflective of what he calls “the bulldog” mentality. But when he’s not throwing, there’s plenty of time for him to be the energetic, unorthodox clubhouse leader that he is
Some days, he organizes pick-up kickball games. Others, he roams around the clubhouse looking for someone to share a few laughs with.
If he’s not pitching that day, you can be sure to find him somewhere with a smile on his face and plenty of joy to spread around.
“It’s so important to balance it out,” he said. “When I have time after practice, I just like to relax, have some food, play cards and stuff like that. I just have fun with it because this is a game, you’re supposed to have fun.
“I think it’s so important to relax because mentally, at this level, you have to be so in it… It’s important to give yourself a rest, refresh your body and sleep. Whether it’s going to a driving range, sleeping in and watching a TV show, kicking the soccer ball or playing cards, whatever works for you I think that’s huge.”
This season, Hedges has taken the Carolina League by storm, mowing down hitters and cruising through his first 12 starts. The 23-year-old has a 6-5 record paired with a 2.47 ERA, holding the opposition to just a .230 average against.
He’s in his second full season in pro baseball, quickly becoming a fast rising prospect in the Cubs organization. After posting a 4.16 ERA in South Bend in 2015, Hedges’ game has taken a dramatic turn in the right direction. Statistically, he’s one of the best arms Chicago has in their lower levels.
“This offseason, I wanted to come back much stronger and get my mechanics more consistent so I could find out what kind of pitcher I need to be,” he said, emphasizing his dedication during offseason training.
“So for me, I know I can pitch to contact very easily and get outs quick, or I can go and try to strike out every guy, but then I can only get maybe five innings in with the pitch count. [This year] I’m trying to get out of that inning as quick as I can.”
As Hedges navigates his way through his second full year as a pro player, there is one thing that he hasn’t improved on during his time in Myrtle Beach: his very famous cooking skills.
If there were a “most likely to be a gourmet chef” award given out to one guy on the 2016 Pelicans, Hedges would run away with the first-place prize.
Whether it’s barbequed salmon, non-traditional breakfast foods or even a classic home-cooked meal, Hedges is well-versed in the art of cooking.
“I’ve always liked cooking,” he said. “We got a barbeque when I was in early high school. I’m from Southern California, so we have great summers. So, I’d always put stuff out to cook out there, steaks, chicken, fish, pineapple, you name it… Even in college, I’d cook all the time.
“I think it’s more the relational aspect of it. I really like when you can cook and have a meal with someone, and sit down, chat with them and make some memories.”
If you talk to anybody around the Pelicans, they’ll tell you that Hedges is one of their favorite people to chat with.
He’s witty, outgoing and sometimes a bit of a goofball — but it’s an effective style, and that’s all the Pelicans coaching staff is concerned with.
He’s consistent, he pounds the zone and he brings plenty of positive vibes to the Myrtle Beach clubhouse on a daily basis.
It’s very clear that Zach Hedges is here to make his mark.
And while he may be losing skills in the seafood preparation department, he’s certainly making up for it on the diamond with his superb dedication.