Standing out among the elite
Army's Price an exemplary leader on and off the field
Cadets enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy are expected to develop into exemplary leaders, but Zach Price stands out even among the elite students at West Point.
Army’s senior second baseman never dreamed about attending a military academy, but when the Army coaches showed some interest in his baseball talents, it was like the pieces of the puzzle for Price’s future came together.
The native of Cantonment, Fla., visited the West Point campus in the fall of his senior year in high school, and instantly he knew it was where he wanted to be. The Academy encompassed all things that were important to Price -- a great educational experience, the chance to play Division I baseball and an opportunity to hone his leadership skills.
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“I had some interest from some other schools in high school,” Price said. “I fell in love with guys on the team, and the place in general and what it stands for. Being a part of something bigger than myself was definitely drew me here.”
While Price certainly is not an imposing figure on the field, standing just 5’7”, Army head coach Joe Sottolano loved the youngster’s passion for the game and his even-keeled temperament.
Price made an immediate impact for the Black Knights, beating out a three-year starter in his freshman year and has been the team’s leadoff hitter ever since. He garnered Collegiate Baseball’s Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-America Team and 2009 Patriot League Rookie of the Year after batting .355 with 59 runs scored on the season.
The baseball component at West Point, however, was the easy part for Price. Like many cadets, military life was a bit of an adjustment.
“It was really different for me,” Price said. “I didn’t grow up with a military background. It was a change for me, but a lot of things that I valued before translated to this kind of lifestyle. The military side of it has helped me grow as a person and develop as a leader. It has amplified my weaknesses and strengths so I could work on both of those.”
Price has flourished at West Point, and not just on the baseball field, where he has claimed All-Patriot League honors twice. He has compiled a 3.73 grade point average as a Systems Engineering major, and has earned a spot on the Dean’s List every semester at West Point. This season he is one of the team’s co-captains, and role that suits him.
“When he talks everybody listens,” Sottolano said. “His work ethic is second to none. He and the other captain are the dirtiest players to leave the field every single day in practices or games. He loves the game, but most importantly, he loves his teammates.”
In addition, Price is an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and “I Am Second”. Despite limited free time, he has used Thanksgiving break multiple times in order to do mission work, including a 10-day trip to Nicaragua with the West Point chapter of “I Am Second” in conjunction with a church based in Georgia. The group visited multiple orphanages -- feeding the children and playing sports with them -- while improving the infrastructure of a church.
Because of his well-rounded résumé, Price was recently named one of 10 finalists for the Lowes Senior CLASS Award -- the first Army player to achieve the feat. The award annually honors a senior student-athlete with notable achievements in four areas of excellence -- community, classroom, character and competition.
“You may find people that would equal him as a great person. I don’t know if you’re going to find a better one,” Sottolano said. “He’s a very special young man, even amongst the elite people at West Point.”
The Black Knights (35-12) have a chance to reach 40 wins for the first time in program history, and have posted a stellar 18-2 mark in Patriot League action to earn their sixth regular season title in the last nine years. In late April, the Black Knights appeared in the NCBWA poll for the first time in history.
“It’s been fun to watch to be honest,” Sottolano said. “We lost a lot of great players last year, but turned around and the younger guys filled in. We’re not going to be the most talented team most of the team, or the most physical team, but we might be the best teams on the field in terms of being a team. We play very well together.”
“We’re not the kind of team that’s going to kill you with doubles, and triples and home runs,” Price said. “We’re not a team that is going to overwhelm you with size and be intimidating. I think what we really do a good job of is doing whatever it takes to win ballgames. We’re scrappy and pesky team that battles for every pitch and uses the smaller aspects of the game like bunts and the hit and run.”
Price is a key reason for Army’s incredible success this season. He is batting .320 with a team-leading 41 runs scored, and boasts a .996 fielding percentage.
“He’s a tough out,” Sottolano said. “He’s a scrappy, hard-nosed player. He plays the game the right way.”
After closing out the regular season with a double-header versus Bloomfield on May 5, Army will be the top-seeded in the Patriot League tournament that begins May 12 with a three-game semifinal series against Lafayette.
The Black Knights will be vying for their first Patriot League Championship since 2009, as well as an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, something Price would like to accomplish one more time in his final season in an Army baseball uniform.
“We’re playing for the name on the front, not the number on the back because of the nature of us being in the military and all the things that come with that,” Price said.