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A change in lifestyle was soon followed by a change of scenery for professional baseball player and Wilson product Zach Houchins.
Some two weeks after his wife, Andie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Crew Michael, on April 25, Houchins, a third baseman for the Mobile BayBears of the Class AA Southern League was released (May 8) by the Los Angeles Angels, the parent club.
Houchins was placed on the injured list to be with his wife for the birth of their son in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Upon his return, Houchins played two games and, the next day, was informed he was being released.
“Man, it was a roller-coaster of emotions,” Houchins said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Houchins batted 2 for 4, doubled and drove in a run for the Richmond (Virginia) Squirrels of the Double-A Eastern League.
“It was unexpected and I was unhappy about it,” Houchins, drafted by the Angels in the 13th round of Major League Baseball’s June draft in 2014, remarked. “My numbers were not good, but I was hitting the ball hard.
“I was kind of relieved, kind of shocked and kind of happy. It was awesome being at home.”
But the 26-year Houchins, in his sixth year in the minor leagues, was a first-time father without a job.
“I wasn’t really serious about looking for a job,” he admitted, “but I was thinking about what I was going to do.”
Houchins’ agent provided assurance.
“He said I would hear something from 24 to 72 hours,” Houchins commented. “I waited and didn’t hear from anybody. Finally, on the fifth day — Mother’s Day — I got a call from the San Francisco Giants. They wanted me to play for them and I accepted the offer.”
Houchins was assigned to the Flying Squirrels and, this week, has been on a tear.
He has batted .371, slugged three home runs and driven in 10 runs the last 10 games. When Richmond defeated Reading, 4-2, on Monday, Houchins hammered a two-run homer in a 2-for-4 performance. On Tuesday, he went 2 for 4 with a double.
Wednesday’s hit was a three-run homer in three official at-bats. He had four RBIs. Before boarding the team bus for a trip to New Hampshire earlier Thursday (get-away day), Houchins collected two more hits, including a double.
“It has turned around for me,” he contended. “The change of scenery was good. This is what Andie would want me to do; this is what Crew would want me to do.”
His parents (Mike and Lynn Houchins) and grandmother (Frankie Houchins) are delighted because the trip to see him play a home game is now four hours instead of eight from their Topsail Beach home.
In 18 games with Richmond, Houchins is batting .246 and slugging a respectable .462.
His career numbers are certainly respectable. In 567 games, Houchins owns a .263 norm, .429 slugging percentage, 118 doubles, 14 triples, 69 homers, 341 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He has compiled a .985 fielding percentage.
With the BayBears, Houchins was proclaimed a Southern League all-star in 2016 and 2017 and a postseason all-star, also in 2017. Furthermore in 2017, he was tabbed the league’s best utility player and the league player of the week on June 11.
Of his current tear, he explained: “It’s just something I’ve never done; I am sitting on pitches. Pitchers are getting into a routine with their pitches late in the count. It’s tough when you are sitting on a slider and they throw you a fastball. But it works if you stay with it; it has been working for me.”
Baseball became prominent in Houchins’ life as a freshman at Fike High. He continued his career at Hunt High, from where he graduated. The development process continued at Louisburg College, then East Carolina University.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Houchins finds himself rejuvenated and more optimistic since joining the Giants’ organization.
“Just one more year,” Houchins revealed of his career pro baseball plans. “I hope I can keep doing well and keep moving up. As long as I get a chance, I will keep playing this game. I want to keep forcing their (major league organizations) hand.
“I’m here; it’s a new beginning. It’s a lot of fun right now.”