ZooKeepers need results to go with home comforts

Chase Waddell takes a swing for the Asheboro ZooKeepers during their game Sunday night against the Savannah Bananas at McCrary Park. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)


ASHEBORO — The Asheboro ZooKeepers are starting to feel right at home in their partially renovated ballpark.

To be sure, they’re glad to settle in at McCrary Park.

“Oh my Gosh, it looks awesome,” said pitcher Danny Heintz said. “The whole thing.”

Heintz has a particular perspective because the pitcher from the University of Pennsylvania also played in 2021 for Asheboro’s team in the Coastal Plain League.

Because of delays in construction on the first phase of the renovation project, the ZooKeepers had several games called off and were forced to begin their season with a steady diet of road games.

“It was tough,” shortstop Michael Zarrillo said. “We got through it. Now we’ve got a real nice home field.”

And there was a strong turnout for Sunday night’s game with a season-high crowd of 1,236 looking on.

So the ZooKeepers are nomads no more. Still, there are things to figure out. They dropped to 0-6 in home games with the 6-3 loss to the Savannah Bananas.

Without a home game until June 4, it created chaos with the schedule, combined with weather-related postponements.

“A lot of baseball in a short period of time,” Asheboro head coach Jeremy Knight said of the updated situation.

It has equated to a rough start for the ZooKeepers, who were called the Asheboro Copperheads until an offseason rebranding.

“It was kind of an adventure in the beginning,” third baseman Andrew Grande said.

There’s still plenty of season remaining, so now knowing that the facility, which has an artificial field turf and new dugouts, is up to snuff certainly should help.

“That takes a toll on you,” ZooKeepers catcher Chase Waddell, who plays for Barton, said of some of the uncertainty.

Yet Waddell said the situation shouldn’t have been unusual for most of the players. They’ve been on the road for years playing baseball.

“I’m pretty much used to it,” Waddell said. “I played a lot of travel ball growing up.”

Heintz said he was aware of the stadium’s renovations because members of his host family – Eric and Katie Hesketts along with children Avery and Aiden – sent photos to document the process.

“So I got updated the whole time,” Heintz said. “You knew it would be good with the plan they had.”

There are other parts of the ballpark that have intrigued some of the team’s new members.

“The ball flies out of here pretty good,” Waddell said.

The ZooKeepers lost to the Bananas despite starting pitcher Taylor Perret throwing six shutout innings and Bryce Marsh hitting another home run.

Marsh, a former Southwestern Randolph player now at Pfeiffer, homered in his third straight game and for the fifth time this season.

With 12 runs batted in across the first 12 games, Marsh had more than double the number of RBI of the rest of anyone else on the team.

“He’s head and shoulders above everyone else right now,” Knight said.

Knight said more consistent hitting is needed in the lineup and more reliable results from relievers. The ZooKeepers have had trouble holding opponents off late in games.

That’s largely why they won only twice in their first dozen outings.

“We’ve got to figure out what can get the ball rolling as a team,” Waddell said.

By Bob Sutton