Eastside Diamond Hoppers first baseman Zack Gray awaits a pitch in a game earlier this season. Gray led the United Shore Professional Baseball League in home runs, RBIs and batting average, earning him the league’s first triple crown.

Eastside Diamond Hoppers first baseman Zack Gray awaits a pitch in a game earlier this season. Gray led the United Shore Professional Baseball League in home runs, RBIs and batting average, earning him the league’s first triple crown.

Photo by Matt Cripsey


Diamond Hoppers’ Gray captures USPBL’s first triple crown

By: Jacob Herbert | C&G Newspapers | Published October 2, 2020

UTICA — Just like Miguel Cabrera in 2012, Eastside Diamond Hoppers first baseman Zack Gray also captured a triple crown in his respective league.

Gray’s 6 home runs, 22 RBIs and .294 batting average led the United Shore Professional Baseball League this past season and earned him the first triple crown in the history of the league.

“Obviously, it felt good,” Gray said. “There were a lot of things that happened to make it possible — a lot people don’t see. It made me feel good, and it made me feel like work that I’ve been putting in worked. I was able to come out and perform to the level that I have always set for myself.”

Gray said he always considered himself a decent hitter, but knew he needed to completely rework his swing if he was to get even better at the plate. Before the season began, Gray worked with former Diamond Hoppers assistant coach Von Joshua, who spent 10 years as a player in the MLB with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres. Joshua also spent a few months as the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs.

Joshua now manages the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, who fell to the Utica Unicorns 11-9 in the USPBL championship Sept. 27 at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica.

Fixing Gray’s timing on his swing was the most pressing need that Joshua saw. The Beavers manager said Gray had a high leg lift, which often hindered his ability to make solid contact.

“If you’re going to have a leg lift, your timing is going to have to be perfect,” Joshua said. “The pitcher is trying to keep you off balance, and with that leg lift, you’re doing half the job for them. You can’t get any consistency, and that makes it easier for the pitcher.”

Aside from his leg lift, Gray also worked on his hand positioning and changing the base of his batting stance.

Joshua’s help and encouragement was the driving force behind the first baseman’s historic season.

“Every time I see him, I make sure to thank him and make sure he knows how thankful I am,” Gray said. “I don’t know if I’d be playing baseball right now if it weren’t for Von. He kind of saved my career.”

Gray knew he had a shot at the triple crown late in the season when the Diamond Hoppers played a double header against the Beavers.

In the first game of a double header with the Beavers Sept. 12, Gray put on a two-hit, 2-run, 1-RBI and 1-home run performance, which earned him player of the game and put him well on his way to a triple crown.

“It’s a very humbling thing. It’s very cool,” Gray said. “I’ll put an asterisk on it myself because we didn’t play as many games as normal. But it is cool that I was able to have an offensive season where I thought it was pretty complete. Obviously, I still feel I can do better now, but it feels good to have a well-rounded season.”

USPBL Director of Baseball Operations Justin Orenduff knew Gray was always a solid player. Orenduff said he noticed more than just a change in Gray’s swing coming into his second season in the league.

“Showing up to camp this year, he was physically stronger and was in great shape,” Orenduff said. “I think because he was here last year, he knew the expectations of what he needed to do this year, and he really put together a consistent season. It was a calmer look and a more confident look.”

With his improvement at the plate and his already solid skills in the field, it would be no surprise to his former hitting coach if Gray got a shot to play with a team at the Single A level.

“There’s no shortage of work ethic from him, and it finally paid off,” Joshua said. “Hopefully it pays off by getting him to the next level, as well.”