By Darryl Mears

Knuckling down

Perth Heat pitcher shares his winning formula

Perth Heat
Photos: SMP Photos

When his friend George Barber took the outfield catch that sealed the Australian Baseball League Championship in January, Zach Staniewicz sprinted onto the ground to join in the celebrations like every other player from Perth Heat.

Winning their fifth championship in seven years (including '08, '09 Claxton Shield wins), Perth Heat has dominated the ABL to a point where the term 'dynasty' is being used.

Zach, 28 from Verplanck, New York, was watching from the bullpen at the time but the fact that he was even there was nothing short of a baseball miracle.

Zach Staniewicz
New York-born pitcher Zach Staniewicz played for Perth Heat in the 2013/14 season

"In 2012 I got to work with (MLB) Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and then threw for a military team for a couple weeks. With Phil's help, in January 2013 the Baltimore Orioles signed me at the age of 26," he explains.

"It's rare for someone to get signed at that age and without professional experience."

He is knuckle ball pitcher but has only been using that pitch for the past two years. Prior to that he used the standard fastball, slider, change-up pitches.

Zach played rookieball for the Gulf Coast League Orioles in Florida before heading to Perth Heat this year for further development, seeing it as a perfect opportunity to "miss the winter months and work on my craft".

As much as he loves baseball though, Zach sees he has been given an opportunity to play both the sport he loves and share what Jesus Christ has done for him.

"Before I got to know Christ I kind of went along the lines of being a good person and that was all I needed to do. That was until someone challenged me and asked me about my faith and I realised that I didn't have a relationship with Him," he says.

The challenge came as a shock initially because Zach had grown up in a Christian home and had assumed he understood what being a Christian was all about.

"Two verses that hit home with me were Ephesians 2:8-9, 'For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and not of yourselves, but is a gift of God, not by works so no-one can boast'," he recites.

"That kind of knocked my legs out right there and took the idea of 'being a good person was all you needed' and I took it upon myself to repent [turn away from sin] and really believe in Jesus Christ dying for us."

Perth Heat celebrates
FEB 8, 2014: Perth Heat celebrates their 5th national championship in 7 years

This commitment to Jesus changed how Zach approached life from then on because he understood that Jesus promised eternal life through simply believing in Him and honouring God in the way he lived.

"Now more thought goes into what I can do for Jesus rather than what I can do for myself," he says.

Professional sports can create traps that bring about the downfall of individuals, like pride and lust.

Zach recognises this and makes sure he remains in touch with the Lord through prayer, reading the Bible and staying accountable to other believers.

"They are really key components to staying faithful with Jesus. There's a verse that says you won't be tempted beyond what you can bear. That reminds me that God will give me a way out through temptations and sin," Zach explains.

Zach is not alone. He regularly finds Christians within the teams he plays for.

"It's funny how you can tell Christians in the team through the way they act and behave on the field and it sparks a conversation.

"The biggest thing is your actions and how you treat people on the team. The baseball atmosphere can be where Christ-like behaviour is not conducive, but when you start living for Jesus people recognise that and when you share with them you're a Christian they see what you're living for."

With an ABL Championship to his name now, Zach is hoping to return next season and continue his journey with Perth Heat, while working his way through the minor leagues in USA. Until then he plans on following the same game plan for both areas of his life.

"I don't think having a relationship and being 'Christ-like' is easy. Baseball you need to put the work in because you love it. Having a relationship with Jesus doesn't just happen. You need to spend time by yourself in the word and praying and spending time with Him. Like any relationship you need to do your part. Like baseball you put your work in and results will happen and you put the work in daily not just Sundays."

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