Anthony Zambotti caught senioritis last spring, but it was opposing batters who suffered most from the affliction.
The IUP pitcher, disappointed he wasn’t drafted after his junior year, responded with a phenomenal senior season that bordered on perfection. Zambotti carried a 9-0 record into his final appearance, only to lose for the first time when Edinboro pushed across an unearned run to seal a 2-1 victory.
The Oakland Athletics took note of such masterful mound work and selected Zambotti in the fourteenth round of the amateur draft.
“It’s something you dream of as a kid, to be drafted by a major league team,” he said. “For it to actually happen is a thrill.”
Big-league teams passed on Zambotti in the 2002 draft after he posted a 4-3 record and a 2.65 earned run average, but there was no overlooking him last spring. Zambotti stepped up and joined the Division II elite. In addition to his 9-1 record, he ranked second nationally in ERA (1.12) and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.33). Credit senioritis.
“Anthony realized this was his last go-round as a college pitcher,” said IUP head coach Tom Kennedy. “He has always been our No. 1 guy, but circumstances didn’t always lead to his having a whole lot of success. This year, he took it upon himself to make sure everything worked. And we used him a little bit differently. We started him on short rest more than we had in the past, so he had more opportunities.”
Zambotti took full advantage, putting up some eye-popping numbers. He led the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in ERA, tied for first in strikeouts (81) and shutouts (3), and held opponents to a .157 batting average, the second-lowest in the league. What’s more, Zambotti extended his school record for career strikeouts to 332 and finished with nineteen victories, a total exceeded only by Mike Sobota (21) in IUP history.
His dominance was such that Zambotti was named the PSAC West Player of the Year. He also earned All-PSAC West honors for the fourth time—the third as a first teamer—and made his third appearance on the NCAA Division II All-North Atlantic Region first team. In addition, Zambotti was selected to the Verizon Academic All-America third team on the basis of his cumulative 3.28 grade-point average as a computer science major.
“He’s the best player I’ve had, and not only because of his baseball accomplishments,” said Kennedy, IUP’s head coach since 1997. “He’s an outstanding student, he’s a solid citizen, not only in athletics but in the community, and he’s well-liked by his teammates, his coaches, secretaries, and administrators. Anthony’s just a very special young man.”
Especially when he’s standing atop the mound, gripping a baseball in his right hand. Zambotti was oftentimes overpowering this season: He one-hit Findlay (Ohio) and fanned eleven in a 5-0 victory, also blanked Assumption (Mass.) and Lock Haven, did not allow an earned run in two other complete-game efforts, and surrendered only eleven hits in his last four starts, covering twenty-six innings. Included in that torrid stretch was a three-hit 4-2 victory over a Slippery Rock team that had won sixteen of its previous seventeen games and would ultimately advance to the Division II College World Series.
“That was definitely the highlight of the season,” said Zambotti. “It was just one of those games when I had everything going for me. All my pitches were working well, and I could pretty much hit my spots. I was able to keep the batters off balance.”
Opposing hitters suffered all spring because of Zambotti’s case of senioritis. Determined to finish with a flourish, he responded with a near-perfect season. Zambotti later signed with the A’s and was assigned to their Class A Northwest League farm club, the Vancouver Canadians. Vancouver marks the launching point, he hopes, of a steady climb to the majors. The odds are decidedly against any given Class A player reaching the big leagues, but Kennedy can’t discount the possibility of Zambotti one day toeing the rubber at Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland.
“Professional baseball is a totally different world than college baseball,” he said. “It’s going to be a big, big test for Anthony, but he’ll go at it with everything he has. Yes, statistically the odds are against him. But if you know this young man, you would never bet against him.”
Especially when he’s standing atop a mound, gripping a baseball in his hand.