Catching is incredibly strenuous, both on the body and on the mind. A catcher must be on the same page with a pitcher, stay in the crouch to receive pitches, frame as many as he can to be called for strikes and get up and down over 150 — sometimes 200 times — per nine innings.
And that’s just on defense.
Such a premium is put on the glove behind the plate that any sort of offense, for the most part, is considered a bonus. That’s why junior captain Zac Susi has been such an important part of UConn baseball’s successful season.
The Southington, Connecticut native leads the Huskies with a .328 batting average and a .410 on-base percentage. He is also second on the team with 24 walks.
“I just try to do whatever I can to get on base,” Susi said. “I have great guys hitting in front of me in [left fielder John] Toppa and [shortstop Anthony] Prato. Every time almost I feel like they’re on base and I have one of the best power hitters in the conference right behind me, protecting me. So it’s easy to hit when I’m hitting between such great guys.”
Both Toppa and Prato, who have been hitting No. 1 and No. 2 in front of him for a lion’s share of the season, have helped get Susi big holes to hit through with their speed.
Head coach Jim Penders is not afraid to get aggressive with his best contact hitter, frequently calling hit-and-run when Susi is at the plate with one of the two on first base. Often, he will ground one through the right side and the runner will take the extra base, standing on third.
“They do a great job and they like to run. That helps me out,” Susi said. “The pitchers are always thinking about them over there at first and that gets me more mistakes.”
A big part of his numbers come from Susi reaching base safely — whether it be because of a hit or a walk — in all but one of his 52 games. He reached in his first six games, the last five of which were with a base knock.
Susi was held to an 0-for-5 in the series opener with North Florida on March 2. He has appeared in 45 games since and has reached in each one of them, 39 of which have included at least one hit.
“He’s a really good offensive player,” Penders said. “It’s been amazing how he very rarely chases out of the zone.
“He’s done a fantastic job getting on base and being a leader for us.”
For a catcher, it’s easy to break down physically, more so than players at other positions. Getting in and out of the crouch is more physically taxing than playing defense at other positions and the extra gear can help keep a catcher more hot, contributing to more weight loss via sweat.
For Susi, it was no different in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. In 2017, he peaked with a .348 batting average on April 9 against Memphis, but finished at .286, going cold over the final month of the season.
Freshman year saw a similar fate, finishing with a .250 batting average after getting as high as .279 before the series with Tulane April 1-3.
“Last year and my freshman year, I was very focused on the defensive side of the game,” Susi said. “I think this year I took a little more responsibility in my offensive game.”
Instead, Susi’s .335 average after the first semifinal of the American Athletic Conference tournament against USF was the highest he had been at since .339 after March 13’s win over Coastal Carolina in just his 13th game of the season.
“He is beat up, he’s battling. He’s stronger than he was a year ago, he knew he needed to get stronger,” Penders said. “He’s been able to withstand it.”