Sports Person of the Week
Vandale Shines on the Diamond and the Ice
Branford’s Zach Vandale is putting together a nice career as baseball and ice hockey player. Zach is currently a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall. (Photo courtesy of Zach Vandale )
Branford resident Zach Vandale is making a name for himself as a two-sport athlete. Zach, a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall, enjoyed a solid season with Branford’s 19-U team in the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association (CEBA) this summer and has also seen success as a hockey player.
When Zach was 15, he started participating in workouts with the Branford American Legion baseball program. Kyle Heins, the head coach of Branford’s Senior Legion team, noticed Zach’s abilities right away and asked him he was willing to make a leap in age levels.
Zach started playing for Branford at the 19-U level shortly thereafter and has been competing at that level ever since. Over the course of his career in Branford, Zach has started every game and played every position on the field, while posting a .317 batting average.
“The kid is unbelievable. He can play any single position. Zach is one of the most amazing athletes I’ve ever come across,” says Heins, who also coaches Branford’s 19-U CEBA squad. “He is the type of player I love to coach. He could play baseball anywhere. His versatility puts him above the top prospects. He is a great kid, he is great to work with. My last job is to get him back for one more year, but I think I can do it.”
Zach started playing baseball in Brooklyn, Connecticut at age five before moving to Arizona, where he continued playing through middle school. In the summer before his freshman year, Zach came to Branford and started working his way up the ranks. After joining Branford’s Legion program, Zach became a fixture on the field and realized that baseball was going to be a big part of his life.
“Once I got into Legion, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was getting more playing time, I had more confidence,” says Zach. “I had never played in the infield before, and I was the starting shortstop. I played all nine positions last year...It just instilled confidence in me.”
Although the American Legion baseball season was canceled this summer, Zach and his Legion teammates got an opportunity to compete for Branford’s 19-U team in the CEBA. While he was primarily a center fielder, Zach played all over the diamond and was able to reconnect with many of his friends.
“It’s always fun going back and playing with all my friends,” Zach says. “I got to play with Bennett Gentile, Danny Farricielli, and Jake Bodner. Those guys are some of my best friends from Branford. It’s always good to go and see them. We had a lot of good times. It’s always fun to go back and play and laugh with those guys.”
After attending Branford High School as a freshman, Zach reclassified and repeated his freshman year at Choate, where he’s a member of the baseball and ice hockey teams. Zach, who has been skating since he was three, earned a spot on the first line for the hockey squad in his sophomore season.
“As a freshman, I knew it was going to be a really big step up in skill level and, in hockey, speed and physicality,” says Zach. “There was a learning curve in both sports. It helped me. I learned to be patient, and that there’s going to be adversity and you have to battle through it. Playing at a prep school has turned me into the person I am today. It really shows you how to balance athletics and academics and how to be your own self-advocate.”
Zach was named a captain for the Choate hockey team as a junior and will serve as a captain in both hockey and baseball during his current senior year. After he graduates from Choate, Zach will be looking to play at least one of his two sports in college.
As he begins his senior year at Choate, Zach feels grateful for his opportunities to play both baseball and hockey and is excited to continue his athletic journey.
“It gives me a great sense of pride. I love what I do. The only reason I’ve gotten this far is because I love sports, and I love playing them,” Zach says. “I love sports, and I do a lot to prepare for the seasons. It would all be wasted if it wasn’t for sports.”