There’s still hope for Asheboro ZooKeepers despite tough times

Andrew Grande hopes his time with the Asheboro ZooKeepers leads to other opportunities. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)


Injury stalls plans for ‘free agent’ in search of new team

ASHEBORO — No baseball team in the Coastal Plain League is probably ready for the season’s second half more than the Asheboro ZooKeepers.

It’s bound to get better.

The college summer league has had unfortunate stop-and-go nature for the ZooKeepers, both from a team perspective and an individual level.

The ZooKeepers were forced on the road and into several situations necessitating make-up games because of delayed renovations at McCrary Park.

Then there’s the case of Andrew Grande, a once highly coveted college prospect trying to get back on track. That’s what made Asheboro an ideal summer destination, though an injury has stalled Grande’s season.

“It’s a really good league,” Grande said. “You play against really good players every night, so it’s a really good place to get reps and help this team in Asheboro to win some games and eventually find a new home for myself as well.”

It has been somewhat of a whirlwind for Grande. He was set to play in in college for Rice, but the May 2021 firing of coach Matt Bragga created a change of course. That led Grande to a spot on Charlotte’s 2022 roster. 

“I was originally committed to Rice and they had a late coaching change,” he said. “Houston was a long way to go, so I was thankful for Charlotte picking me up late.”

Several weeks into the season, he sensed it wasn’t the right fit, entering the transfer portal.

Grande, who generally plays as a corner infielder or corner outfielder, began the CPL season with a clear objective. He holds a version of the NCAA’s free-agent status, eligible to be a redshirt freshman in 2023.

“It’s an odd situation,” ZooKeepers head coach Jeremy Knight said. “The portal has added an interesting dynamic (to summer ball).”

Landing with the ZooKeepers meant Grande could showcase his talents.

“Everyone here wants to play all summer and have a good summer experience,” he said a few weeks into the season. “Super thankful for Coach Knight. It has been a great place so far. Playing every day. Everybody kind of goes through the ringer a little bit the first 15 games. We’ve had so many make-ups.

“Just kind of getting back in the groove of things and seeing pitching every day has been the best part of it I would say. Seeing pitching and playing every day is the best reps you can have.”

It began well. He homered in the team’s first game at Holly Springs, a road game that took him relatively close to his Clayton home. His parents were on hand for that game.

Then after a dozen CPL games, a hip ailment caused him to miss the last two weeks of the CPL’s first half. Knight said it’s uncertain if Grande, a 6-foot-5 player with a powerful bat, will be back in the lineup. He had a five-game hitting streak during a stretch before taking time off.

Knight said Grande, who finished his prep career at Christ School in Arden, has been in contact with some colleges. Ideally, he’ll have more chances to the ZooKeepers.

“The swing has been up and down, which is something you expect for someone who hasn’t played that much (for the last several months),” Knight said.

The ZooKeepers hope to have Grande’s bat back in the lineup for the final month of the season. His team compiled a league-worst 3-20 record in the Coastal Plain League in the first half to go with some other disappointing non-league results.

By Bob Sutton