Ever since he was younger – little cannot be used as a frame of reference here – Zack Markle has always been told that he was too small to do anything. The Hoboken High School two-sport standout heard that he was too small and slight to be a good football player, too short to be a solid first baseman.
It was all about his height and size, or lack thereof.
“Since I always was the smallest guy, I had to work twice as hard as anyone,” Markle said. “I had to prove to everyone that I could be as good as the next guy. I always used that as a motivation for a lot of things. It’s been that way since I was growing up. I always heard that because of my size, I couldn’t play linebacker in football or I couldn’t play first base in baseball. But I’ve been a first baseman for 10 years. I know how to play there. So whenever someone tells me I can’t do something, that’s motivation for me.”
Markle stands about 5-foot-9 and weighs about 185 pounds soaking wet. It’s not exactly the prime size for a high school athlete.
But it didn’t deter Markle from being a two-year starter for the Red Wings’ football team, leading Hoboken into the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I finals against Verona last December at Giants Stadium. Markle led the Red Wings in tackles and was a defensive force all season.
When it came time for the baseball season to begin, there was Markle once again, ready to assume a position that is usually designated for players with size.
“He drove in 40 runs last year and pretty much saved the county championship game for us at first base,” Hoboken veteran head baseball coach Buddy Matthews said. “He’s a very good defensive first baseman and has made a lot of great defensive plays at first over the last two years.”
But before the 2009 baseball season began, Matthews asked Markle to take on more of a role.
“He was a part-time pitcher last year and had some experience there,” Matthews said. “I knew that with the way our team was coming together, we needed someone to step up and be a pitcher, because we really didn’t have anyone else with experience there. Zack said that he had no problem with being a pitcher.”
“When I was growing up, my Dad [William] taught me that I should always think about my team first,” Markle said. “So when Coach Matt asked me to be a pitcher, I was going to do it for him. I figured I had to do it. I think I’m always team first in everything I do.”
If Markle is all about the team, then what he’s achieved lately has been of the unselfish variety. He’s coming to the end of his brilliant high school career and he’s pretty much put the Red Wings on his back, dragging the team collectively to the finish line.
“It’s all do-or-die now,” Markle said. “We have to win now. If we don’t, then it’s over. I am not ready to end my career just yet. I want to keep playing for as long as possible.”
Over the past week, Markle has been doing a little bit of everything to keep the Red Wings on the right track. As a pitcher, Markle has won his last two starts, including a big win over St. Mary’s of Jersey City Monday. As a hitter, Markle has been unconscious, delivering clutch hit after clutch hit.
In the past week, Markle has collected 12 hits in his last 20 at-bats (a .600 clip), including a homer, three doubles and 11 RBI.
For his efforts, Markle has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Markle has been downright steady all season. He’s batting .455 for the year with three homers and 19 RBI. He’s also a perfect 12-for-12 in the stolen base category.
“He’s deceptively quick,” Matthews said.
As a pitcher, Markle has a 4-2 record in 35 innings, striking out 32. He gives the term “versatile baseball player” a new meaning.
“When you look at Zack, he’s not the best player,” Matthews said. “But he’s the best leader. He’s the same way in football. When Zack talks, people listen. He has definitely shown the way this year, pitching all the big games, pitching and hitting his heart out. I swear, he’s one of the best first basemen we’ve ever had.”
Markle said that he has enjoyed his recent hot streak.
“I’m seeing the ball better lately,” Markle said. “I’m also more of a player who enjoys playing when it’s warmer. Whenever the weather heats up, that’s when I get going. I hit better and play better when the weather is better. I know I’ve been playing better and I feel better about the way we’re playing. We’ve been on a little bit of a run.”
The Red Wings have won six of their last seven games, coinciding with Markle’s hot streak.
Markle knows that he will play baseball next year on the college level. He’s headed to Richard Stockton College to major in physical therapy and mathematics, certainly a unique mix of majors.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with school, but I will figure it out when I get there,” Markle said.
Matthews said that it has been a pure joy coaching Markle.
“He’s the type of kid who isn’t blessed with the most talent and he will do whatever it takes to win, to beat you,” Matthews said. “In football, baseball, it never mattered to him how big he was. Nothing was going to stop him. He was always going to give his all. I think he’s the type of kid that everyone wants to root for, because of who he is and how hard he works. As a coach, you wish you had a whole team of kids like Zack Markle. If you had a team full of kids like him, you could just sit back and watch. He would make your job easier.”
Added Matthews, “He’s willing to do anything, play different positions, even try something new. I’ve never had a problem with him.”
Obviously, there are no problems now, because Markle’s doing a little bit of everything and the Red Wings are winning, thanks in a major part to a player like Zack Markle. –Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.