Zak Taylor is keeping the dream alive
The dream lives on.
Zak Taylor is still playing baseball — professional baseball, to be exact.
And he's pretty darn happy about it.
Taylor, a 2015 Sherwood High School graduate, and a standout player at Oregon State University, where he was the starting first baseman on the Beavers' 2018 national championship team, is still following his journey on the diamond.
And, the latest chapter of that journey has Taylor playing for the Gateway Grizzlies, a team based in Sauget, Ill. The Grizzlies are members of the Frontier League, a professional independent baseball organization featuring teams that have no affiliation with Major League Baseball.
"Honestly, it's been a great experience," Taylor said by phone earlier this week. "I've never been in the midwest before, and I'm keeping my playing career alive."
Alive, and, if Taylor has anything to say about it, thriving.
"Pro baseball has always been a dream," Taylor said. "I want to keep playing. I want to see how far I can take this. I still have a passion to play baseball."
The next step
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound, right-handed Taylor was a four-year starter at Sherwood High School and he played at Oregon State University for four years.
He saw his collegiate baseball career end on June 1, when the Beavers fell 4-1 to Creighton in an NCAA Corvallis Regional postseason contest (Taylor had two of Oregon State's four hits in that game).
"I was finishing up at Oregon State, going through finals week," Taylor said. "I then went undrafted (in the June Major League Baseball amateur draft). I thought, 'OK, maybe I can get a free agent contract.' That didn't happen, but I wanted to keep playing."
So Taylor reached out.
He got in contact with Andy Peterson, a former Oregon State player who was the infield coach for the Okotoks Dawgs, a team located in Alberta, Canada. Taylor also got the phone number for Gateway Grizzlies pitching coach James Frisbie from former Oregon State star Joey Wong.
"I called James Frisbie before school got out. I remember I was in Seaside," Taylor said. "He said, 'I don't know how things are going to go, but we might give you a call if we have a roster spot open up.'"
So, after graduation, Taylor went up to Canada.
"I figured I'd play all summer behind the plate, and then go to the independent league tryouts next year," Taylor said.
Taylor joined the Okotoks Dawgs, a member of the Western Canadian Baseball League, a league featuring college players.
In his first game for the Dawgs, an 18-1 road win over the Brooks Bombers on June 14, Taylor went 2 for 3 at the plate with a pair of home runs, two walks, three runs scored and two RBIs.
Later that night, Taylor got a call from Frisbie.
"He said, 'you can be our everyday catcher,'" Taylor said.
He joined the Gateway Grizzlies, and professional baseball, three days later.
Going with the Grizzlies
According to Taylor, he's been told that the level of play in Frontier League, where the Gateway Grizzlies compete, is comparable to short-season Class A Minor League baseball, such as the Northwest League, where the Hillsboro Hops play.
Taylor, who will turn 23 early in September, is the third-youngest player on the Grizzlies' roster. The oldest player on the team is right-handed pitcher Dakota Smith, who will turn 27 in October.
"We've got guys with so many different levels of experience," Taylor said. "We've got a large range of guys who have played affiliated baseball. It's cool to talk with these guys and pick their brains."
The team also includes outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr., who is the son of former Major League Baseball overall No. 1 pick Shawon Dunston, who played 18 seasons in the majors. Also on the team is infielder Gunnar Buhner, who is the son of former Seattle Mariners great Jay Buhner.
"Gunnar is awesome. He's a great team guy," Taylor said. "And I've met his dad. He's been to a few of our games."
Taylor's first game with the Grizzlies was a 3-2, 11-inning road loss against the Lake Erie Crushers on June 18. Taylor went 1 for 4 at the plate in that contest.
Taylor hit his first professional home run on Aug. 1, coming in a 4-2 win over the Florence Freedom, in a game played at Florence, Ky.
"That was a cool feeling," Taylor said.
For the season, through Monday, Taylor, in 48 games played, is hitting for a .233 batting average, with 38 hits in 163 at-bats. He has seven doubles, one home run, 12 runs scored and 14 RBIs.
And, maybe more importantly for Taylor, he's getting to play regularly at catcher. While as Sherwood High School, Taylor was a first-team All-Northwest Oregon Conference pick at catcher as a junior and a first-team All-Three Rivers League selection at catcher as a senior. But, at Oregon State, Taylor played mostly at first base, as fellow Sherwood graduate, and 2019 MLB overall No. 1 draft pick, Adley Rutschman played at catcher for the Beavers.
"That's what I came here to do," Taylor said of playing at catcher. "That's my niche. It wasn't too hard of a transition to go back to catcher. The hardest thing is the amount of games. But that's part of it. I came here to play every day."
In his 47 games at catcher for the Grizzlies, Taylor has committed just one error and has a .994 fielding percentage.
Life in the independents
While playing for the Grizzlies, Taylor is living with a host family in Sauget, which is located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo.
"It's awesome," Taylor said. "They're great people. They've got four younger kids and four players staying with them. It's nice to have a place here that I can call home."
While Taylor may have a home away from home, he's still had to adjust to life in the midwest.
"It's pretty flat here," he said. "And storms can come in unexpectedly. The worst thing is the humidity. But I'm starting to get used to it a little bit."
The bus trips are something else to get used to. The Grizzlies recently had a nine-and-a-half hour bus trip to Lake Erie after finishing a home series with the Windy City ThunderBolts.
"And, from there, we had a seven-and-a-half our trip down to Evansville," Taylor said. "It's just part of it. If it's an overnight trip, you try to sleep. Or you chat a bit, or crush some Netflix."
The Gateway organization also has had plenty of promotions with its home games, such as Star Wars Night, Jimmy Buffet Night, Professional Wrestling Night and Willie Wonka Night, just to name a few.
"We also have special jersey days," Taylor said. "They do a really good job with the promotions here. They absolutely make things more fun. They can be helpful, too. It can help take your mind off things if you're in a slump."
Taylor, and the Grizzlies, will wrap up their regular-season schedule on Sept. 1, when they host the Washington Wild Things.
It's been a season that Taylor has definitely enjoyed.
"Yes sir, it's been a blast," he said.
And he's already preparing for the offseason.
"I'm going to have my first full offseason that I've had in a long time," Taylor said. "I'm going to relax a little bit, but I know what I need to work on, and improve on. I need to work on my arm strength, and I have a goal to slug more doubles and home runs."
As for 2020, Taylor already knows what he wants to do.
"I want to play another year with the Grizzlies, if they'll have me," he said. "After that, I'd like to play for an (Major League Baseball) affiliated team."
It sounds like, if Taylor has his way, the dream could live on for a long time.
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