By Matt Rigby
University of Nebraska
July 18, 2017
When Cotuit pitcher Zane Collins awoke on July 4, 2017, he did so to a slew of congratulatory messages, flowing in deservedly so, from far and wide.
But there was one message that Collins, fresh off of orchestrating a 117-pitch complete game masterpiece the night before, filed away in a place all its own.
“I was so happy for Zane, but more than that, I was proud. I told him that what he did was something that people in the Cape Cod League will be talking about for years,” said Alex Sogard, Collins’ pitching coach at Wright State where Zane plays his college baseball, and the man on the delivering end of that special text.
Perhaps the message resonated so much with Collins because without Sogard and his guidance, Collins’ journey to this point may not have even been possible, for more reasons than one.
The bond between the two is one born partly out of necessity. When the two met in the fall of 2016, Collins was an utlra-agressive, yet erratic sophomore coming off a great freshman season at Wright State, but looking for more. Sogard, on the other hand, was in his first year coaching college baseball, and in need of a pupil.
That role of pupil would prove to be a perfect fit for Collins.
“When I first met Zane, I could tell right away that he’s the type of pitcher who walks a fine line. He pitches off adrenaline, and I think I could see that sometimes it was getting him into trouble on the mound,” said Sogard. “So we went to work.”
“Coach Sogard immediately started working on getting me to relax,” said Collins. “I can be a really high intensity guy on the mound, and right away he would just start relating to me in ways that he knew would make me relax and not put too much pressure on myself.”
That ability to relate shouldn’t come as much of a surprise either, because although their personalities may differ slightly, the similarities between Collins and Sogard are plenty.
“Neither one of us really ever profiled as a huge prospect. But Zane is a tremendous worker. He’s a blue-collar kid, and I’ll take those every day,” said Sogard. “I always try to tell guys from experience that if you work hard, you don’t have to be the stud on the team. As long as you have a uniform on, they’ll keep giving you a shot, and it’s up to you to make the most of it.”
And make the most of it Collins has.
After initially receiving just a temporary contract with the Kettleers to be a left-handed, bullpen arm, Collins has turned his opportunity into a Cape League all-star nod. In another similarity between the two, Sogard needs no explanation as to the significance of Zane’s achievement, as he too was once a Kettleer in 2008.
“I played in the league, and so I understand the significance of just making it there. But for Zane to be able to say that he’s a Cape League all-star is a memory he will have forever,” said Sogard. “I just told him to enjoy the moment when he broke the news to me.”
Collins’ success to this point isn’t merely a tale of his mentor helping him as a pitcher. The connection between the two goes well beyond their careers, their work ethics, their southpaw deliveries, or their love of the sinker—a pitch that Sogard threw, and that Collins has begun to perfect.
The relationship seeps through into the lives of each man off the field as well, with each of them finding a teaching moment for the other at each step along the way.
“There’s no way I would be where I am as a pitcher today without Coach Sogard,” said Collins. “But most of that is because he’s taught me how to be a man—how to deal with adversity, how to believe in myself, and how to be consistent.”
As a first-year coach, in a sport that all too often mirrors life, Sogard understands already the importance of teaching that consistency to the young men who pitch for him.
“I call Collins and Ryan Weiss [another Wright State pitcher who was recently named to the Cape League all-star team as a Hyannis Harbor Hawk] probably once a week. I make sure to check on them, and I’m really close with both,” said Sogard.
But Sogard never forgets what he can learn from Collins as well.
“When I was playing I wanted a coach that I could trust. Zane never lets me forget the importance of that trust. He knows that I’m here for him,” said Sogard. “He also has been there for me though as I learn on the fly. Zane is one of those guys that I’d ask about how I’m doing, and he would always be honest with me. Honesty is something that allowed us to click so fast.”
That honesty was perhaps never more apparent than after the praise from Sogard reached Collins following his complete game.
“I was obviously happy, but I knew what might happen next too. I’m having the summer of my life, and I just told Coach Sogard that I didn’t want this to mean that I had to go home,” said Collins.
“I told him not to worry about me being upset, because I was excited for him more than anything else,” said Sogard. “I told him we would cut his workload a bit, but that honest feedback would keep him up on the Cape.”
As the Kettleers move down the home stretch of the season, Collins certainly doesn’t appear to be headed home anytime soon. After the first 30 games of the summer, the Cotuit southpaw has himself tied for the Cape League lead in wins and sixth in earned run average.
But when the time does come for Collins to return to Wright State and begin his junior season, he knows that he and Sogard will be right back to work, and right there in each other’s corner.
“Coach is a great guy, and a great teacher. He’s worked so hard with me, and I know that we’ve only scratched the surface with our relationship,” said Collins. “I can’t wait to get back to work and see what the next step is.”
No matter that next step may be, both Collins and Sogard know that with their careers so similar, it’s only fitting that they take it together.