Former suburban pitcher finds his calling in coaching
Ask any player in the minor leagues for the ultimate goal, and 99.9 percent are likely to say making it to the majors.
Matt Zaleski is the rare exception.
Certainly, the right-handed pitcher was thinking about performing on baseball's biggest stage as a kid growing up in Arlington Heights and Glendale Heights.
That mindset didn't change when Zaleski was a star pitcher at Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison and at Indiana State.
But after being selected by the White Sox on the 30th round of the 2004 draft, reality started setting in.
"I always felt I would make a better coach than I would an actual pitcher, just because I didn't have the stuff a lot of the other guys had," Zaleski said.
He did have enough stuff to spend 11 seasons in the minor s -- all in the Sox's system.
But even when he was at the highest minor-league level, Class AAA Charlotte, for a staggering six seasons, Zaleski never got the call to join the White Sox.
"No, not at all," Zaleski said when asked if he was ever bitter. "I laugh about it with my friends, family and all the coaches I've gotten to know throughout my time here. I didn't really have the stuff to pitch at the major-league level.
"I was OK with that. I was happy enough that they kept inviting me back to spring training and giving me an opportunity to continue to pitch. I was fortunate enough to make a team every year. That's not easy."
While pitching for Charlotte, AA Birmingham, high A Winston-Salem, low A Kannapolis, even for Joliet in the now defunct independent Northern League, Zaleski started realizing his ultimate goal in the game: coaching.
Now 34, Zaleski is nearing the end of his first season as pitching coach for the White Sox's Advanced Rookie Great Falls affiliate.
"I really enjoy this," he said. "I think this is one of my callings. Even when I was pitching, I could see what was going on with another guy's delivery, understanding what pitch should be thrown to certain hitters, analyzing mechanics and all that kind of stuff. I'm grateful to the White Sox for giving me the opportunity to share all the knowledge that I've learned throughout the years."
Current Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodon was promoted to Charlotte in August of 2014, two months after he was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.
As luck would have it, Zaleski's locker was right next door.
"He was in professional baseball for a long, long time and he knew so much about the game," Rodon said. "Good dude, an awesome teammate. He was always having fun, and he just enjoyed being in the game. You could kind of see he was going to be a coach."
Being in the game as a player, and now coach, has been extra special for Zaleski because he has always been with the Sox.
"It's exciting," said Zaleski, who now makes his off-season home in West suburban Plano. "When I got drafted, I was really happy about it, my family was ecstatic about it. I grew up a White Sox fan. My whole family was die-hard White Sox fans.
"Just to be able to continue working for a great organization like the White Sox is phenomenal. They've been great to me every step of the way."
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Scouting reportWhite Sox vs. Philadelphia Phillies at U.S. Cellular Field
TV: WPWR Tuesday; Comcast SportsNet Wednesday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Pitching matchups: The White Sox's Carlos Rodon (3-8) vs. Jake Thompson (1-2) Tuesday; James Shields (5-15) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (8-12) Wednesday. Both games start at 7:10 p.m.
At a glance: The Sox face the Phillies in interleague play for the first time since 2013, and the first time at home since 2004. The White Sox opened their nine-game homestand winning 2 of 3 vs. Oakland over the weekend. Rodon is 1-0 with a 2.00 in 3 August starts. Jose Abreu is batting .361 with 5 home runs and 11 RBI over 18 games in August. Tim Anderson has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games. Third baseman Maikel Franco leads Philadelphia with 22 home runs and 72 RBI.
Next: Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field, Thursday-Sunday
-- Scot Gregor