Boise Hawks' Mark Zagunis adjusting to professional life

tphibbs@idahostatesman.comJuly 9, 2014 

Boise’s Mark Zagunis was an All-American catcher at Virginia Tech.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com

In pursuit of cell service outside the lockers tucked underneath Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, Mark Zagunis paced shoeless in his knee-high socks carrying his phone in one hand and a half-eaten sandwich in the other.

Life at the ballpark is full of juggling techniques.

"I'm starting to get used to it," Zagunis said. "Everyday is a little bit easier."

Selected in the third round of the MLB Draft from Virginia Tech, Zagunis played his final collegiate game May 17. One month later, he inked a $615,000 payday from the Chicago Cubs.

The abrupt change of lifestyle can be overwhelming. No longer scavenging for lost change as a student-athlete thanks to a new six-figure salary. Attending practices rather than classes, trading southern humidity for dry Idaho heat and forgetting about leisure time. It's all part of the minor-league transition.

"Getting used to being at the ballpark from 12:30 to about 11 o'clock at night everyday, you've got to find a routine that works," said Zagunis, a soft-spoken 21-year-old. "It would be good to have more time with your friends, but I realize the quicker you realize that this is a job, the easier it will be and the more fun it will be."

That includes life on the road. There aren't direct flights in short-season baseball.

"It's definitely tough traveling with a bunch of guys on the bus. It can get cramped and long bus trips can get annoying," Zagunis said. "But once you get into a nice hotel and have food around, it's not too bad."

After a brief stint in Mesa, Ariz., Zagunis joined the Hawks in late June, batting .375 after hitting safely in his first eight appearances. He has five RBIs and four stolen bases.

Zagunis has many similarities to Chicago's No. 4 overall selection, Kyle Schwarber, who was promoted to Kane Country following a five-game statistical rampage in Boise in June. Zagunis signed significantly below his allotted slot value, and after slugging .330 with 39 RBIs in 53 games during his junior season for the Hokies, he was a 2014 Johnny Bench Award semifinalist, which is presented to the best Division 1 catcher.

But he's primarily played left field for the Hawks. Schwarber did, too.

"They also saw me as an outfielder," Zagunis said. "I did come off a long season of catching a bunch of games; they might be giving me a little bit of a break. Wherever they put me at, I'm grateful to be out there."

Zagunis finally experienced his first off day with the Hawks Monday. He floated the Boise River after dining Downtown. Perhaps he'll find time to spend some of the money he's earned one day, too.

"I haven't really bought anything yet," Zagunis said, "but probably the first thing I'll buy is a new car."

Looks like figuring out which model is the next step to the minor-league lifestyle.

HAWKS 11, HOPS 4

Boise leaped above the .500 mark for the first time since the opening week of the season. Jeffrey Baez continued his dominance at the plate with a three-run homer in the fifth inning, and later added an RBI double. Rashad Crawford chipped in three RBIs. Starter Tyler Ihrig, who said he "did laundry" and "went and saw Transformers by myself" on his off day on Monday, improved to 3-0 with six strikeouts in six innings of work. Game 2 of the three-game series is today at 7:15 p.m., Boise now trails Hillsboro by two games in division race.

Trevor Phibbs: 377-6424; Twitter: @IDS_Phibbs

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