Ever since the coronavirus pandemic halted baseball back in March, hundreds of players across the country have been forced to find ways to occupy their time from home as they continue to train and stay in shape. It’s been a relatively uneventful stretch on that front for some, but for two young pitchers, it’s been overwhelmingly productive.
Twins left-hander Mitch Horacek and Cardinals righty Anthony Shew linked up during quarantine to form In The Zone Development, a two-man web development agency, and though they’ve been in business for just a few weeks, they've already landed multiple clients.
Both Horacek and Shew already had some experience in website creation, programming and coding prior to the country shutting down, but neither had realized the trade beyond a few independent projects. Given the seemingly endless supply of free time brought on by the lockdown, they were able to develop those skills further and take them further than they ever thought possible.
“When the pandemic hit, it was just, 'What can I do from home every single day?’” Horacek said. “Because I can't play baseball. I mean, the Minor League season's [suspended]. So what am I going to do?”
While it seems as though the pairing was a match made in heaven, it actually took some luck for the two to find each other. Toward the end of last month, Horacek had a tweet go viral after voicing some frustrations over the break in baseball. Unexpectedly, many users responded with frustration of their own.
“A lot of people were coming at me saying, like, 'Hey, you should get a job. What are you doing? Like, stop complaining, get a job like the rest of us,’” he recounted. “And so I was like, 'For all those people out there saying, 'Get a job,' I actually am looking for work. If you need a website made, hit me up.'”
Almost instantly, Horacek’s inbox was flooded with web development inquiries. He was quickly overwhelmed; as a relatively novice developer, he knew he wouldn’t be able to tackle the scores of requests waiting in his DM's on his own. That’s when he thought back to Shew, whose Twitter profile he’d stumbled across not long ago and discovered was also a programmer himself.
“At that point I was like, 'Damn, I need some help with this,'” Horacek said. “And I remembered seeing Anthony's profile. I remembered seeing he was a web developer, and I knew that he was a better web developer than I was, so I was like, 'Man, I've got to team up with this guy. I've got so much work I don't know what to do with it all.'”
Shew had a number of projects under his belt by then, including a custom jersey design platform and a website creation tool for small restaurants. But while the past experience was there, he didn’t have a ton of active projects. That availability aligned the stars for a partnership with Horacek, who had no shortage of potential clients.
“I was filling in his gaps and he was filling in mine honestly,” Shew said. “He was saying, 'I have so many leads but maybe not the technical skill for it.' And I was like, 'Well, I have no leads but I probably have the technical skill for it.' So it just kind of made for a pretty natural match."
Part of what drew Horacek to Shew was the Cardinals pitcher’s work with Adopt a Minor Leaguer, a nonprofit organization that connects Minor League players with fan sponsors who send small amounts of money, food and other gifts to the player they’ve “adopted.” Shew serves as the organization’s chief technical officer, maintaining its website which he created while also providing a voice in company matters from the perspective of a player.
Working in as important a role as that would be exciting regardless of the company, but the fact that he’s able to help make a difference in the lives of players and on the game he loves as a whole makes it that much better.
“For me, if we as Adopt a Minor Leaguer can help a player perform better, then that's where it starts to matter. … I hope to see it on the field and be like, 'We helped that guy be a better player. That guy's a big leaguer right now, and our 150 bucks a month while he was in the Minors, hopefully that mattered to him,” Shew said.
While Shew’s work has probably received more buzz, Horacek has plenty of experience in the field as well. As a Dartmouth alum, he explored several different paths in offseasons past to broaden his horizons beyond the game, including even once taking the LSAT exam to possibly attend law school. He took a couple coding courses while in college, but as an engineering and economics major, he didn’t sink his teeth too far into the skill.
That is, however, until this last offseason. Back home in Colorado, Horacek decided to create a website for Push Performance Gym, the facility where he trains during the winter. He did it for free -- all he was looking for was a project to work on and the accompanying experience. He definitely got that, but he also received from the project the knowledge that this was something he wanted to pursue further.
"It's really cool,” Horacek said. “The reason I got into engineering in college was because I like building stuff. ... It's really cool to have a final product that you're proud of. And that's the allure to engineering that I've always had, and while I didn't study web development in college, building things is a first principle that really got me into that discipline in the first place."
The practical experience the pair carries has certainly been attractive to potential clients, but it’s their background as pro ballplayers that has really provided them an instant bill of credibility. They’ve already taken on a handful of accounts and are in discussions with more businesses -- including a bat company as well as some college baseball teams and camps -- with deals that could be reached sooner rather than later.
"It's a lot like developing a girlfriend,” Shew joked. “We're on the third or fourth date with people."
Looking ahead, they’re in the process of developing a polished platform for youth, travel ball and college teams as well as training facilities to use to create their own personalized websites. Once that launches, they expect to see their client base grow substantially.
“I think that we've got a lot of potential there,” Horacek said. “There's a lot of baseball teams and baseball gyms across the country that need a site. And so I think we could offer a solution to their web presence problems.”
And beyond simply helping their company, they think the platform will help grow the game of baseball within the communities of the teams using it as well.
“That would add to the baseball culture,” Shew said. “Instead of the youth teams around the country not having that digital presence that they would hope for, maybe it becomes a norm that everybody's favorite website is the local baseball team.”
So while the next time they see game action is up in the air, Horacek and Shew are grateful to have this opportunity to pursue in the meantime. And even after they return to the diamond and begin to play out the rest of their baseball careers, they’re confident that they’ll still have In The Zone in their lives.
“The sky is the limit,” Shew said. “I think we can do this for a long time.”
Jordan Wolf is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @byjordanwolf.