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MIKE CLARK: NWI Oilmen's Zamaurion Hatcher perseveres during his baseball journey
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MIKE CLARK: NWI Oilmen's Zamaurion Hatcher perseveres during his baseball journey

WHITING — Like everyone else, Zamaurion Hatcher has a pandemic story.

The Northwest Indiana Oilmen outfielder, who drove in the East's first two runs in Tuesday night's Midwest Collegiate League All-Star Game, graduated from Chicago Kenwood this spring after barely having a high school career.

He had his junior season canceled because of COVID-19 and had only an abbreviated senior year in the Chicago Public League.

In between, Hatcher wound up leaving the state to play last summer for Team Ohio Pro Select. He got the chance to showcase his skills during trips to Georgia and Alabama, among other places, but he also ran into some bad luck — literally.

"I hurt my shoulder," Hatcher said. "I hit a double down the line and I tripped over first base, I tripped over my own feet."

That led to a two-week layoff, about the last thing Hatcher wanted after not playing all spring.

"That was the toughest thing about last summer, my shoulder (injury), trying to get healthy," he said.

But dealing with adversity like that is actually what Hatcher may love most about baseball.

He started playing as a 4-year-old, signed up by his dad along with his cousin. Hatcher also played basketball and football growing up. But while his teammates wound up following different paths, he stayed the course in baseball.

"There's an age like 14 or 15 when you see a lot of players quitting (baseball)," Hatcher said, "That's the grind before the grind, You see a lot of players ... say they're done, give their retirement speeches: 'I can't do this anymore.'"

But Hatcher is all about the grind.

"There's just something about baseball," he said. "I feel like it will prepare you for life more. ... I feel like there's more adversity in baseball than football and basketball.

"You go into a slump, i mean a slump slump, you just want to quit. But you just can't quit."

Hatcher didn't quit. He persevered, both on the field and during a recruiting process turned upside down by the pandemic.

His plan is to attend junior college national power Wabash Valley (Illinois) for one season before transferring to Michigan — unless he happens to get drafted next year.

Hatcher grew up a Dodgers fan — his favorite player was Matt Kemp. But like most other South Siders, he appreciates White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson's game.

"I love the way Tim Anderson plays — the energy, he gets fans involved," Hatcher said. "He goes hard every game. It pushes me to go harder and harder.

"Because he's already there, and he's still going hard. I'm nowhere near there so I know I've got to go harder."

But as dedicated as Hatcher is to the grind, he's also just a kid playing a game.

"When I talk to people about 'Z,' the first thing I bring up is his personality," Oilmen manager TJ Marik said. "Every single day he's around, he ends up putting a smile on my face."

Hatcher's game — plenty of pop at the plate, plenty of speed on the bases — is easy on the eyes, too.

He's slashing .355/.466/.532 with seven extra-base hits in 15 games.

"There really isn't a ceiling for him," Marik said. "He shows up for early work 90% of the time. ... I think he's going to go a long way in this game."

Mike Clark can be reached at (219) 933-4197 or michael.clark@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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