ZooKeepers take winding path to slow start

Members of the Asheboro ZooKeepers hang out at the dugout at UNCG. (Photo courtesy of ZooKeepers)

GREENSBORO – College baseball players arrived to play a summer season in Asheboro.

So far, they’ve played only elsewhere.

That’s just part of the rough opening stretch of the season for the Asheboro ZooKeepers.

“It’s a little strange,” said third baseman Tanner Thomas, who plays collegiately for Longwood. “We’re very thankful that we have a place like this to play.”

He was referring to UNC Greensboro Baseball Stadium.

With a renovation project behind schedule at McCrary Park, the ZooKeepers have mostly played road games in the Coastal Plain League. They could be using the UNCG facility for select home games through June 21.

So the ZooKeepers played their ”home” opener Friday night at UNCG. The 3-0 loss to the Forest City Owls dropped Asheboro’s record to 0-5. In a rematch the next night at Forest City, the Owls won 6-5.

“We’re keeping a positive attitude,” ZooKeepers catcher Dallas Callahan, who played the 2021 summer season in Asheboro and is a UNCG product. “We’re piecing it together.”

That’s the message from first-year coach Korey Dunbar.

“We’ve got a young group of guys,” he said. “We’re going to continue to get better as we go once we start to figure things out.”

The Asheboro ZooKeepers line up with young fans for the national anthem prior to the “home” opener. (Photo courtesy of ZooKeepers)

Since the start of the season, some players have trickled in. For instance, Jake Holland, a catcher from New Mexico (and transfer who also played for Georgia Tech), was on hand for his first game Friday night.

Dunbar didn’t have pitching coach Josh Pike available until late in the week because of his commitments as a graduate assistant at North Carolina State.

Asheboro received a solid outing from starting pitcher Jacob Dienes, an N.C. State lefty. And by the ninth inning, the ZooKeepers had two runners on base when the game ended on Luke Holland’s lineout to second base.

“We’re not playing our best baseball and we’re in ball games,” Dunbar said. “We’ve got to do some work. I’m positive with these guys.”

Another scoring chance fizzled in the fourth after Dylan Driver’s lead-off double.

Thomas said he’s excited about playing the summer in the CPL after appearing in 44 games as a freshman for Longwood.

“We’re working every day and we’re constantly getting better,” Thomas said. “Little things here and there that aren’t falling our way. Everybody is trying to get kick-started.”

For Callahan, who played this year as a UNCG senior, he figured his playing days on campus had been completed.

“You play your last game here (for UNCG) and think you’re done here,” Callahan said. “And you’re back.”

About 100 spectators attended the ZooKeepers’ first game in Greensboro.

ZooKeepers general manager Melissa Godwin, who’s in her first season, is wife to UNCG coach Billy Godwin. She said she views the relocation of games as a short-term glitch.

“It’s a blessing to be able to use UNCG,” she said. “It definitely has been an operational challenge.”

Dunbar praised Melissa Godwin’s efforts to pull things together the past few weeks. The ZooKeepers have been able to use McCrary Park for practices while renovations continue on off-field fan areas.

“She’s making it a good experience and that’s what we want for the guys,” Dunbar said. “It’s going to pay off.”

By Bob Sutton