However, junior Dan Zailskas has proven that his flexibility to play just about anywhere on the field is one of his most important contributions to the team.
“[Zailskas] is the guy that we can always count on on the mound, and the guy whose versatility can fit anywhere in the lineup,” Harvard coach Joe Walsh comments. “I don’t think that Dan cares where he is in the lineup, or where he’s playing, but he cares about helping the team.”
The Marshfield, Mass., native has shown flashes of greatness since freshman year, but already this season, Zailskas has made it clear that he is ready to take the field every day, both at first base and as a pitcher.
“We have so many talented players,” Zailskas says. “And since my freshman year I’ve been battling to get in the lineup. It has helped being able to play multiple positions.”
After almost tripling his innings pitched from freshman year to sophomore year and increasing his number of games started in the lineup, Zailskas has grown into his role as a utilityman and has shown himself worthy of a spot on the diamond, whether it is on or off the mound.
“Since his freshman year, you can see that he has become much stronger physically and he has also developed a solid approach to the game,” captain Harry Douglas says.
And unlike many baseball players at this high level, Zailskas is not only willing to play anywhere, but has proven his ability to make an impact wherever the coaches tell him to go.
“He is such a good athlete, he played three sports in high school,” Walsh says. “He’s just one of those guys that says ‘hey coach, put me anywhere I can help the team.’”
So where exactly does Zailskas fit best into the picture?
The Crimson has thrown the junior into the fray not only as a pitcher, but at third base, shortstop, and at first, where he has emerged as one of the team’s most solid defensive players. And for Zailskas, any of these opportunities to play the sport he loves has its highlights.
“There is nothing as satisfying as striking someone out, but at the same time playing first base and making a great play or hitting the ball hard is pretty satisfying as well,” he says.
Already in this young season, Zailskas has seen his hard work and willingness to move around the diamond make him an asset, with a solid performance in the team’s opening weekend against Jacksonville State.
Of the four games in Alabama, Zailskas started three of them at first base, and made an appearance on the mound. In the season opener, Zailskas provided Harvard with its lone run in a 1-4 loss for the Crimson, belting a home run in the eighth inning.
The third-year player turned around the next morning to notch two RBI and a run in the second game, in addition to pitching three innings. A well-deserved rest had Zailskas watching game three, allowing him to return vigorously for the Harvard win in game four, scoring a run and a collecting his fourth RBI on the weekend.
“It was great to see the hard work pay off,” Zailskas reflects. “I’ve been working hard all year and came right out of the gates, and hopefully it will continue for the rest of the year.”
With a white-hot start the junior has shown he can make a difference for the Crimson on the field and in the lineup, but for Zailskas’ teammates, his personality stands out as much as his performance.
“Zailskas’ attitude and intensity are his greatest attributes,” Douglas praises. “He’s fearless and he wants to win, whether he’s on the mound or at the plate.”
After the team compiled a record last season that would have left a sour aftertaste in most—ending at 10-30—it seems as though a veteran with so much intensity and a desire to reverse Harvard’s fortune will be a key component in bringing more success to the team this year. Zailskas’ fearless attitude, his talent that spans the entire field, and his team-first mentality ensure that the Crimson will not lapse into the same pattern of last season.
Although Harvard’s record from the weekend does not speak to the squad’s impressive showing, with Zailskas and others sparking the offensive effort the Crimson has much to be enthusiastic about for the remainder of the season.
“We have an extremely talented line-up with a bunch of guys who can put the ball in play,” Zailskas says. “I’m not the kind of guy that is going to hit 20 home runs or have 10 strikeouts a game. But I can help the team best if I can just do the little things right, like loading base runners, playing well in the field and getting the outs that we need when I pitch.”
So far this season the junior has performed all of his tasks flawlessly.
If Zailskas keeps up his level of play, the problem won’t be whether to start the utility player, but where to put him in the field.