From a young age, Baseball was all that Penn State Greater Allegheny Senior Zack Pollack (Cecil, Pa./Cannon-McMillan) wanted to do. He never played any other sport competitively and focused every spring and summer on getting better at the game and improving his skills on the field.
His love for the game came from watching his brother play through little league. Pollack grew tired of sitting on the bench so he took the field himself starting his journey through the life of a baseball player.
“I started playing [baseball] a little bit younger then everyone else I grew up with because I had an older brother,” said Pollack. “I couldn’t stand watching him play and not playing myself. Ever since I was around three or four years old baseball was my life. It was really the only thing I wanted to do for my whole childhood.”
Growing up in Canonsburg, PA, Pollack worked tirelessly every summer to keep getting better at the game he loved. He had tremendous support from his family who were always looking to help in anyway they could whether that be being present at the games or something as simple as throwing the ball in the back yard.
“None of [my baseball career] happens without my parents,” said Pollack. “There is a lot that both of them did to make sure that I could play any baseball at all let alone two years of college baseball. My dad paid for lots of hitting lessons and was a coach on some of my teams when I was younger. My mom helped me to live close to campus, whenever I made the decision that I wanted to play she did a whole lot and still does a whole lot to make sure I was able to do that.”
Early on in his baseball career, pitching was Pollack’s strong suit and he got by with his hitting skills. It wasn’t until he went on an 0-20 streak at the plate when he started to focus on his hitting mechanics and improving on the offensive side of the ball.
Pollack would go to Cannon-McMillan Assistant Coach Brandon Dittmar who had been his coach for the five seasons prior to his freshman year in high school. The two worked together almost every day over a string of five years where Ditmar helped Pollack to channel his energy and use it to be a competitive player at the plate and on the field.
“[Dittmar] really taught me how to be a competitor above all else,” said Pollack. “He really taught me how to be a true competitor and just a gritty scrappy ball player. I think that is part of my personality because I always play with a lot of emotion. I have always played very hard and I think that he had a big part in teaching me that.”
During his four seasons as a member of the Big Macs, Pollack helped his team to reach the WPIAL AAAA playoffs in both his Junior and Senior year. The infielder and pitcher was named the captain of his team during his senior season and led his team to the WPIAL AAAA Quarterfinals before losing to Moon 5-3.
As he searched for a college to continue his education, baseball was not on his mind. He suffered an arm injury that ended his pitching career, and he was looking for a place where he could get a solid education and prepare him for a future without baseball.
After initially going to another school, Pollock came across Penn State Greater Allegheny as an option to pursue his education. He took a campus tour with former baseball coach Jim Chester and was nervous to start but fell in love with the campus once he settled in and made it his home.
“I was healthily skeptical at first, but as I settled in I fell in love with [PSUGA,]” said Pollack. “GA really has become a home for me. Having small class sizes and having a small campus it really creates a unique, comfortable, and just awesome environment to not only be a student in but to be a student athlete in.”
For his first two years at PSUGA, Pollack stopped playing baseball all together as he settled in and focused on his studies. He was commuting back and forth everyday going to school and then going to work. However, a voice in the back of his head kept telling him to return to the game he loved and finally, during his Junior year, a switch flipped and he found his way back on the field.
“I missed [baseball] over those two years,” said Pollack. “Baseball was my life from being three years old almost everyday up until my last day of high school. I remember there was just one day when I was in the car driving to work and I was thinking ‘what am I doing?’ ‘why am I not playing baseball?’. Then a switch flipped and it was full speed ahead to start playing baseball again.”
After being completely away for the game for two seasons, it would be a long road back for Pollack and that is when he turned to a familiar face who brought professional experience to the table. Longtime Washington Wild Thing Chris Sidick had coached Pollack for 10 seasons and offered to help get him back into playing shape.
Sidick is a Frontier League Hall of Famer who had a career .285 average with the Wild Things over seven seasons. The Cannonsburg native helped Pollack work with his swing and helped him improve as a hitter as Pollock was getting ready to make a comeback in the sport he loved.
“[Sidick] was a big part of me playing college baseball and getting me back into the game after two years off,” said Pollock. “He was incredibly selfless in helping me for so long and he definitely influenced my success as a hitter.”
In his two seasons with PSUGA, Pollack found a lot of success on the field finishing with a .359 average while driving in 21 RBI in 45 games played. His breakout season came just this past year where he hit .404 during the regular season and finished the year with a .468 on base percentage.
He was awarded a 2018 Penn State University Athletic Conference All-Conference Honorable Mention and a 2018 United States Collegiate Athletic Association 2nd-Team All-American Award.
Throughout all the success that he has seen in a Lion uniform, Pollack is grateful to have gotten the opportunity to play baseball at the college level and be surrounded by a great group of teammates who he will never forget.
“I don’t think I have ever been closer to a single group of guys in my life then my fellow seniors and I’m going to include Dylan [Ernst] in there as well,” said Pollack. “On the field and off the field I don’t think I have become closer to a group of guys in a shorter amount of time and they know me better then anyone knows me. It has just been really special to play with them.”
Pollock’s baseball career maybe over, but he hopes to stay connected to the game in anyway he can. One of his mottos is there is always something you can be working on whether it be in the classroom or on the field and this is the message he passes on to the next generation of PSUGA Baseball Players.
“It sounds pretty cliché, but my advice would be to just do the work,” said Pollock. “You don’t want to be the guy that is ineligible because of their academics so you have to do the work in the classroom so you can be on the field. At the same time, you have to make sure you are keeping up in the weight room and getting all your extra work in because that’s what is going to separate you from having a good career and having a great career as a student athlete.”
Pollock embodied what it meant to be a hard worker on and off the field at PSUGA. With his playing days over, he now shifts his attention to completing his degree in Psychology and moving on to the real world. No matter where he goes, baseball will always be with him and the lessons and values he learned on the field will translate to helping him help others for the rest of his life.