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Zach Messinger: Balancing Books, Golf Clubs, And Baseball

July 7, 2024

Bridgewater, New Jersey - You know the guy in the golf ball-scooping tractor at the driving range who all of those practicing their swings simultaneously take aim at? That was once Zach Messinger. Fresh off a trip to the College World Series in 2021 during his breakout junior season at

Bridgewater, New Jersey - You know the guy in the golf ball-scooping tractor at the driving range who all of those practicing their swings simultaneously take aim at? That was once Zach Messinger.

Fresh off a trip to the College World Series in 2021 during his breakout junior season at the University of Virginia, Messinger spent his summer working at a high-end golf course outside of Richmond.

Messinger, a lanky 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher who made Honor Roll at UVA and had a 3.97 GPA in high school, was acting as his own agent in negotiations with MLB teams ahead of the 2021 MLB Draft. He was in advanced discussions with the Yankees, but they couldn't find middle ground on a price tag.

While awaiting his fate in the draft, Messinger worked on the operations staff at Kinloch Golf Club, one of the highest-profile private courses in the mid-Atlantic.

“I would help clean up balls at the driving range, take care of the practice area, valet cars, wash cars—I was doing it all,” Messinger said.

He also drove the shuttle transporting members across the lake that separates the front and back nine holes. Frequent passengers included three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and former NFL star quarterbacks Michael Vick and Ron Jaworski. Messinger approached Verlander a couple of times to pick his brain, but never revealed his identity as an MLB Draft prospect. “He doesn't need to know who I am,” Messinger joked.

Fully intending to return to Virginia, where he had two years of eligibility remaining, Messinger was making his rounds on a blazing hot July afternoon when his phone began to blow up with congratulatory calls and messages. He was oblivious to which team had drafted him until he checked the draft tracker website and saw the Yankees. The pieces had fallen into place in the earlier rounds allowing them to meet Messinger’s price, and they selected him in the 13th round with pick 393.

As his phone continued to ring, Messinger received a call from his boss on his walkie-talkie. “It was 105 degrees outside… someone on hole 15 had passed out, so I had to go pick him up,” Messinger recalled. “So I help this guy and his caddy into the cart, drive him up to the (clubhouse), get him in the AC, and I walk up and say to my boss, ‘I just got drafted by the Yankees. I don't think I can come into work tomorrow.’”

That was Messinger’s last day working at the course.

Messinger never thought he’d play baseball for a living. Like many kids who grew up in Chandler, Indiana, a small town outside Evansville, basketball came first. “Basketball was the first sport I played. It was my first love when I was eight, nine years old,” Messinger conceded. “Baseball was just something I could do.”

That changed during the summer heading into his freshman year of high school when Messinger received a call from a local 15U travel baseball coach who needed an extra arm for a tournament in Georgia. Messinger obliged.

At that point, Messinger had never even thought about the idea of college, let alone playing college baseball. “I was trying to figure out what being out of middle school was going to look like for me,” Messinger joked.

But Messinger pitched so well in the tournament, heavily attended by collegiate scouts, that by the time his flight home touched down in Indiana, his inbox was flooded with interest from Division I coaches across the country. “Things kind of blew up from there,” Messinger said. “That's when my parents and I started to look around like, ‘this is real.’”

A team captain in both basketball and baseball at Castle High School in Chandler, Messinger shipped off to the University of Virginia. He put up modest numbers his freshman season on the mound with the Cavaliers, who won the national championship in 2015, logging 29 innings where he struck out 21 batters and pitched to a 4.03 ERA.

Then COVID hit during his sophomore year.

“That was kind of a breaking point for me,” Messinger said. “I can either sit around on the couch and just wait and see what happens, or I can make something of all this free time.”

With some help from his dad and his triplet brothers Eli, Tyler, and Lucas, the Messinger family built a pitching mound and plyo wall in their backyard, and a home gym in their garage. “We got after it… those boys pushed me every day,” Messinger recalled.

And it worked. Messinger returned to Charlottesville in the fall equipped with a fastball that touched 97 MPH. “I ended up coming back having put on 20-lbs of good weight. Velo went up, my body was recovering better, I felt stronger, and it was a really big turning point in my career,” he said.

Messinger’s junior season saw him go 3-2 with a 4.89 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 57 innings pitched. Despite having pitched less than 100 innings in his collegiate career and having two years of collegiate eligibility remaining, Messinger inked a $225,000 contract to join the Yankees.

“I was very convinced that I was going to go back for another year of school,” Messinger recalled. He even had the text message written out to Virginia Head Coach Brian O’Connor, telling the five-time ACC Coach of the Year how excited he was to return the following season.

Messinger was assigned to Class-A Tampa to begin his professional career in 2022. The organization drafted him as a reliever, and he made the first 15 appearances of his professional career out of the pen for the Tarpons, where he pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 22.2 innings of work. When a spot in the Tarpons' starting rotation opened up in May, the coaching staff approached Messinger about becoming a starter, and Messinger, who started 11 total games throughout his time at Virginia, was all for it.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Messinger admitted. “The workload was going to be a big jump, especially in the middle of the season, but it was something that I was open to and felt like I was ready for.”

Messinger finished his first pro season with a 4.30 ERA and 112 K over 83.2 IP. While navigating the grind of a professional baseball season, Messinger worked towards completing his Media Studies degree at Virginia, taking online classes from the Tarpons clubhouse and cafeteria after batting practice and during rain delays.

He graduated with high honors following the season, and after completing his degree was assigned to High-A Hudson Valley out of spring training in 2023. In his first full season as a starter, Messinger came out of the gates blazing. In 11 first-half starts, Messinger fanned 68 batters in 55.1 innings of work and posted a strong 2.44 ERA. He appeared in ten more games for Hudson Valley before a late-season promotion to Double-A Somerset.

Messinger started one game for the Patriots to close out the season, going 4.1 innings of two-run ball in New Hampshire vs. the Fisher Cats with seven strikeouts in his Double-A debut. He also came out of the bullpen in game one of the Eastern League’s Northeast Division Championship, striking out six in four innings.

The following offseason was important for Messinger. He married his wife Kinsey, whom he met in Richmond in 2020, and the two moved to Tampa together. Tampa, home to the Yankees' Spring Training and player development complex, allowed both Kinsey as a wedding planner for hire and Messinger as a pitcher to accelerate their careers.

Messinger would arrive at the Yankees facility at the crack of dawn, putting in work alongside the team’s minor league staff. “Being able to go to the complex and be around the coaches every day was a really big blessing,” said Messinger. “I found a routine way back in December that has kept me healthy.”

Being in what he described as the best shape of his life entering spring training, Messinger got the Opening Day nod this season for Somerset and has been one of the best pitchers in the Eastern League. Over his last 11 outings since the start of May, the Yankees No. 21 prospect has posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 57 innings with 62 strikeouts. He currently ranks among the Eastern League leaders with a 3.60 ERA (10th), 92 strikeouts (1st), 85 innings pitched (3rd), .211 average against (6th), and a 1.14 WHIP (5th).

“I'm chasing something every week. One tiny little thing I can take from the last start to build on for the next start,” Messinger credited as the key to his success. “I think that's what keeps me busy, keeps me going, keeps me focused.”

Messinger also credits his academic discipline off the field for his success on the mound. “Scouting reports and analyst meetings, that stuff fascinates me. It makes a lot of sense in my head,” he said. “When I'm on the mound, it's just one-on-one. It's a chess match.”

Messinger’s meticulous work ethic has also caught the attention of the Yankees' pitching brass. “(Messinger) is one of the best workers in the organization,” Yankees Senior Director of Pitching Sam Briend said. “One of the most focused guys… he’s able to accept failure and use that to be able to leverage the next step.”

“(He’s) so detailed in the way that he goes about his work from a preparation standpoint,” Patriots Pitching Coach Brett DeGagne added. “To be able to go and punch out 10 or get deep into games is super impressive, and I think it's just a testament to his preparation every day.”