By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend
Chad Zurat ’14 sat nervously, his eyes and ears glued to the television. The former Penn State Behrend standout pitcher waited anxiously with hopes of hearing his name called in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft.
Day one went by, and nothing.
Day two followed.
Then came day three.
A total of 1,215 baseball players were selected in the 2014 MLB Draft from June 5 to 7.
Zurat was not one of them.
After waiting helplessly for three days, he would now have to wait some more.
“I was hanging on a limb, I guess you could say. After a month, your hopes kind of waver a bit, and it’s hard to keep thinking it’s definitely going to happen,” says Zurat, of Clearfield, Pa., who compiled a 2.54 earned-run average while going 8-2 in his senior season with the Lions.
When the call came, Zurat says he was shocked and speechless.
He was at his accounting internship at Little Pine Resources in Clearfield on July 11 when he received a phone call. He was surprised to get a phone call during work but was even more surprised when he heard the voice on the other end of the line — Colorado Rockies scout Ed Santa.
“He introduces himself and says, ‘Well, we have an opening on our team, are you still interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course I am,’” Zurat recalls. “After five minutes, he calls back, and says, ‘Congratulations Chad, you’re a member of the Colorado Rockies organization.’”
It couldn’t have been a better home for Zurat, who says he became a fan while watching the team win 21 of 22 games in September 2007 en route to their first World Series appearance.
Within 12 hours, Zurat was on a flight to Pasco, Washington, where he would join the Tri City Dust Devils, the Short-Season Single-A farm team of the Rockies. He moved in with a host family, Dan and Chrissy Charron and their two sons, 12-year-old Daniel and 10-year-old Andrew.
Some might find the experience overwhelming, but Zurat was on cloud nine.
“I was so excited that I didn’t care at all. I was just ready to get on that plane and get out there on the baseball field,” he says.
He got his wish soon.
On July 13, just two days after that initial phone call from Santa, Zurat made his professional baseball debut against the Spokane Indians. In three innings of work, he allowed four runs (three earned), seven hits and struck out three batters.
“In my very first outing, I could tell that the talent was a decent step up from what I was used to,” Zurat says. “They take advantage of mistakes at this level. If you leave a curveball up in the zone or leave a fastball in the middle of the plate, you’re going to be snapping your head back and watching the ball go to the fence.”
Zurat would make adjustments and his performances improved. In his last three outings, he compiled a 3.60 earned-run average, walked zero batters and struck out six.
Penn State Behrend baseball coach Paul Benim coached Zurat for four years and believes the best is yet to come.
“Chad’s a great kid and a tremendous teammate. He never let his own head get in the way,” Benim says. “He just kept working, and he kept getting better. I think he’s only going to get better as he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his arm and never threw a lot of innings.”
Zurat’s next chance to impress the Rockies organization will come in February when he heads to Scottsdale, Arizona, for spring training. It will be the first time that he will have an opportunity to meet and play with some of the Rockies current stars, including shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
Zurat is going to try to remain professional, but says it will be a challenge.
“I haven’t met them yet, and the day I do, I will speechless right off the bat,” he says. “The fan is going to come out at first just because I’ve watched these guys play for the last seven years and they’re my favorite players. I have to work with them though, so there does still have to be a little bit of professionalism.”
In preparation for spring training, Zurat will begin a new lifting and running program this week. He will then start throwing again in December.
Until then, Zurat will be back working for Little Pine Resources doing contracted work. As an accounting graduate, Zurat has a nice Plan B should a professional baseball career not pan out.
He’s going to relish this opportunity while it lasts though.
“When I go to work, I look at a baseball field. I’m not looking at a cubicle all day. I get to come and play baseball. That’s all I need. It’s so much fun,” Zurat says.
Quick Hits with Chad Zurat
Family: Tom and Kristen Zurat (parents); Chelsea Brincka (sister)
Pitch repertoire: “Fastball, curve, change. I added the changeup this summer. I had been working on one, but I couldn’t get it to work. Our pitching coach worked with us a bit, and I finally found a grip that I could feel comfortable with, and it was a good pitch for me at the end of year.”
Thoughts on living with a host family: “They were just excellent people. I really enjoyed hanging out with their sons too. They were always fun to be around during the day when we didn’t have to be at the field.”
Why did you come to Behrend: “I didn’t even look at baseball for college. I was actually a basketball player. I came to Behrend because I initially wanted to pursue engineering, and I knew a lot of people from my high school were coming to Behrend. I emailed Coach Benim and asked if I could walk on. ”
Thoughts on Penn State Behrend baseball program: “It played a huge role in getting me to where I am now. Coach Benim did everything in his power to help me out, and he does everything in his power to help out any player he’s ever coached. I wasn’t even going to play baseball in college, but he gave me a chance. I can’t credit him enough.”
Coach Benim on the Rockies signing Zurat: “He was evaluated by 12 clubs, and I’m really happy that the Rockies gave him a chance. (Rockies scout) Ed Santa was here the day that Chad struck out 15 of the 21 batters he faced against Pitt-Bradford. His fastball sat at 93 miles per hour and touched 94 miles per hour, so he made quite the impression.”