Tags: Feature Sports Story
April 04, 2012 | 07:26 AMPELL LAKE — Three years ago, 10-year-old Zach Ditzenberger was just an average little league baseball player.
What happened over the next year changed his game forever.
Ditzenberger, now 13, went through a dramatic growth spurt, sprouting eight inches to 5-foot-11 and quickly becoming one of the state's premiere young baseball players. Not to mention he now towers over his father.
Since last summer, Zach has been invited to the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility in Florida and has taken a leap from Genoa City Little League to a 13U tournament team out of Madison. A power pitcher, Zach is reaching the mid-70s with his fastball from a regulation 60-feet-6-inch pitching mound, and he hit a ball at the Pirates camp that bounced once and hit the 410-foot sign.
Don Ditzenberger said Zach's growth spurt has been the biggest difference in Zach's abilities.
"He's a completely different looking kid," Don said. "Once he figured out his body after the growth spurt, he went from an average little league baseball player to one of the standouts. That was the biggest thing. He's taller than me. I'm happy he made it past me, but I'm not sure where he got it from. It made baseball a lot more fun for Zach, and he saw if he put the work in, he could be pretty good."
"Before, I was kind of big and chubby," Zach said. "I was happy everything changed. My face slimmed up and I became faster."
It all started last summer when Zach saw an online video for a national baseball tryout set for August in Chicago. Zach attended the Under Armour Baseball Factory camp and made quite an impression. Out of thousands of 13-year-olds across the nation, Zach was selected as one of 60 and the only one from Wisconsin to attend Pirates City, a four-day event in November in Bradenton, Fla., at the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility. Don said Badger High School varsity assistant Steve Osborne helped Zach prepare for the Florida camp.
"Luckily, we have Steve Osborne doing a lot of work with Zach," Don said. "Steve is a former catcher in the Minnesota Twins organization. Every week during the summer, he helped Zach. The first question we heard when got down to Florida was 'Who's been working with him?' Osborne took him from a little league pitcher to where he's at now."
In Florida, Zach was one of the biggest kids there but had the second-fastest 60-yard dash time. Don said the family was able to do some sightseeing and enjoy the ocean during the four-day camp.
The Under Armour program guides potential players through high school and makes sure they take the necessary steps if they want to play Division 1 college baseball. And Zach has some big goals. He wants to play Division 1 college baseball at the University of Texas or South Carolina, the two-time defending national champions. Don said the camp in Florida really validated Zach's talent.
"It was great to see him being on the field with kids at that level," Don said. "He's a good 13-year-old ballplayer that deserves to be playing at that level. If he got nothing else out of it, he knows he can play with those kids. They loved his pitching mechanics and his hitting, and now Zach is a lot smarter about his game."
Over Christmas break, Zach attended a Badger High School baseball camp and was discovered by a coach from the Madison Hitmen, a 13U tournament team. He will play with the Hitmen this summer instead of Genoa City Little League. The Hitmen play in tournaments which can qualify them for the Little League World Series.
"We want to help him as best we can," Don said. "We have to drive to Madison and back twice a week, but it's worth it. Zach works his butt off, and it's nice to see a 13-yr-old wanting to make himself better."
Zach, who hit 15 home runs last summer during the little league season, is starting to practice and train for the Hitmen. He is also gearing for another Baseball Factory camp, July 8 through 11, in Kansas City. The event will give Zach an opportunity to attend the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Kaufman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals, and the MLB All-Star Game Fan Fest. Zach was one of 35 13-year-olds invited to the event, which will includes games against top-notch competition and tutelage from college baseball coaches.
"The program itself is a way for kids to get introduced to college-level coaching," Don said. "Zach has some pretty lofty goals, and he can get that high level of coaching by the time he gets to high school. He can showcase his talents and get himself noticed."
"I want to see how all of my training has paid off," Zach said. "I have been training three or four days a week recently."
A lifelong love
Don is a Big Foot High School graduate and played catcher for the Chiefs. He made sure Zach was playing baseball at a young age.
"Zach started when he was 3 years old," Don said. "We started with a big plastic bat and an oversized ball. Zach would hit that ball for hours."
Last year's banner season helped Zach become a baseball nut.
"I was doing pretty good last year," Zach said. "It sparked everything."
Zach has shown plenty of dedication every since. He lifts weights and does conditioning drills based on a workout provided by the Baseball Factory. Zach even participated in Badger High School's voluntary offseason workouts leading up to the current spring season. He took infield practice and threw off the mound every Wednesday from January through March.
"I want to at least play college baseball," Zach said.
In school, Don said Zach earns mostly As. His favorite subject is social studies, and he has participated in his school's Geography Bee.
Though still very young, Zach dreams of one day being a major league baseball player. What about when his playing days are over?
"I would love to be a baseball player," Zach said. "But I want to be a gym teacher when I'm done playing. I like teaching other people how to play sports and other activities."