New Brave Zack Short grinded through college days without practice field, batting cage

Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short flips the ball toward second base on an infield single hit by Oakland Athletics' Esteury Ruiz during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short flips the ball toward second base on an infield single hit by Oakland Athletics' Esteury Ruiz during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

NEW YORK – At Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, Zack Short and his teammates did not have a practice field. For games, they used the stadium of the Bridgeport Bluefish – a local independent ball team – but the conditions were not great. They did not have a field on campus, so they went elsewhere for practice.

“Literally town parks,” Short said. “We had a schedule of where we were practicing.”

And if you wanted to do extra hitting in the batting cage? Well, then you had to wait until 11 p.m., when the school’s fencing team was done practicing in the auxiliary gym. There, a drop-down net on court 4 served as the “batting cage.” Short would often hit from 11 p.m. to midnight, and sometimes until 1 a.m.

“It’s cliché, but I’m happy that I came up like that,” Short told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Everything now is – I don’t want to say icing on the cake, because I’m not content – but having a (batting) cage at my disposal has been like, ‘Woah.’”

In those days, Short toiled away, his Major League Baseball dreams in the back of his mind. Short is one of three players from Sacred Heart to make it to the majors. Something that makes Short’s ride even more impressive: He had only one offer out of Kingston (New York) High: Sacred Heart.

The afternoons and evenings at random fields around different suburbs, the late nights in the “cage” on court 4 – all of it built him.

“It was a grind, but I knew what I wanted to do from that age,” Short said. “So it was like, you’re gonna have to figure it out, because the guy 60 feet, 6 inches away doesn’t care if you’re practicing or not. That was kind of the mindset I had my whole college (career), and even now.”

The Braves on Thursday acquired Short from the Red Sox for cash considerations. The Red Sox had designated Short for assignment – the second time that has happened this season. Since opening day, Short has been with the Mets, Red Sox and now Braves. It is only May 10.

This is the life of a backup infielder – unglamorous and uncertain. But as Short lays out the difficulties of his situation, he continues making something clear: He’s not complaining.

“There would be a lot of people that would want to switch spots in my shoes, as cliché as that is,” he said. “And it’s hard to put that into perspective sometimes. But being on the bench somewhere or being passed around in the big leagues is a lot better than the alternative. But, you keep working, you never know what can happen, in that you hear a lot of peoples’ stories in their lives or in their careers where they weren’t expecting something to happen and then they took full advantage of it, and went from there.

“That’s kind of what keeps me going every day. If you kind of sit and sulk, the game knows – you’re gonna get exposed pretty quickly. You try to be the best teammate you can be, and whenever your name or number is called, you’re ready to go.”

In spring training with the Mets, Short – who debuted in 2021 with Detroit – incorporated his offseason adjustments, which worked well. He played almost every day. He found a rhythm. Then the season came, and he didn’t play much. He understood it. But it’s difficult to find your footing when the opportunity is not there.

Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short celebrates after catching a line hit by Los Angeles Angels' Zach Neto to seal the team's 5-3 win, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

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Before the trade, he had one hit in 18 at-bats. He’s on the Braves because they traded Luis Guillorme to the Angels.

“The fact that he can play short was a big deal right there because any time you can get shortstop depth, I think it’s big, because it’s hard to come by, it’s hard to acquire that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Short. “When he was available, I think that’s probably the thing that attracted him to us, is the fact that he could play short.”

When the Braves traded Guillorme to the Angels, Short didn’t even see the Braves as a landing spot. The trade took him by surprise a bit. Once he processed it, he knew this would be a different opportunity – even if, like other stops, the playing time won’t be there. The Braves, he said, have World Series aspirations. They’ve been to the postseason “a zillion times in the last however-many years.”

Short said there’s value in his bench role. “I’m just gonna try to be that best teammate, being the best and most prepared that I can be, and whenever my name or number is called, I’ll be ready to go,” he said. Like Guillorme, Short probably won’t see the field much unless there’s an injury.

“I was very fortunate to come up with Detroit and play in the big leagues where even if you’re not playing, you’re playing in that system – where you’re pinch-hitting, you’re learning how to get ready to go in for a defensive replacement,” he said. “And that wasn’t really the case in the last two spots that I’ve been in, and I don’t think it’s going to be the case here. I know how to prepare. And that uncertainty, you don’t know when your name or number is gonna be called. And when it is, you gotta be ready to go.”

Again: He’s not complaining. He’s not begging for playing time that won’t be there. He understands his role.

New York Mets' Pete Alonso (20) and Zack Short celebrate after the Mets defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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Someday, with some team, Short hopes to be an everyday player. It will feel extra gratifying because he knows what he’ll have experienced to get there.

Short said he’s been told ‘No’ a lot in his baseball life. He’s been designated for assignment. He’s been put on the backburner for other players. “It’s not anybody’s fault,” he said. “If you don’t like it, play better, at the end of the day.” But these things happened.

“It adds a little bit more fuel to the fire to keep going in times like this where I’m being passed around every other week,” Short said. “But you hope that when that time comes, you’re ready and you succeed, it’s gonna hold a little bit more (merit).”

Now, Short is with Atlanta. This is the latest stop in his career – a journey built by everything he’s gone through to this point.

“When guys (like that) come up, they appreciate everything,” Snitker said. “Nothing’s ever been handed to them. They’ve had to fight and claw to keep their head above water, and to survive. That kind of tells you a little bit about the makeup and drive and determination of a kid like that. You have a lot of respect for him.”