Riley Zayicek has two long drives ahead of him.
The first? From UNC-Wilmington, where he’s enrolled in summer school and practicing with the baseball team, back to Charlotte. He grew up here and went to Lake Norman High School, starring on the baseball team in the process.
After his June graduation, Zayicek moved to Wilmington: lifting weights, going to class and preparing for the rigors of college baseball.
But for a special occasion, he can make the trip back home.
On Monday night at BB&T Ballpark, Zayicek will represent Lake Norman again in the Triple-A Home Run Derby. He’s one of two high school participants – the other is Charlotte Country Day graduate Trent Alley – who earned the right to compete after excelling in a May preliminary derby with other local students. His reward?
The chance to bat alongside six of Class AAA’s top hitters – and maybe even bring home the championship belt.
No trains, but planes and automobiles
Like his local derby-mate, Alley has a ways to travel before Monday’s contest.
But unlike Zayicek, he won’t be taking a car. He’ll need an airplane.
As a graduation present, Alley flew with his dad and older brother to La Frontera, Argentina, to go wingshooting. They left July 5 and didn’t get back until Saturday night, so Alley knew he needed to practice before the trip.
“The day before we left,” he said, “I went out with my dad and worked on the home run swing.”
On Monday he’ll get the chance to show it off – hopefully.
“I don’t wanna go up there and swing and miss, that’s for sure,” Alley said. “If that does happen, I’ll just laugh about it and move on.”
Local guys, lofty expectations
Despite going up against professional baseball players, both Zayicek and Alley said they expect to compete Monday night.
And for good reason.
Alley’s high school teammates voted him as their representative to the preliminary derby. Zayicek’s coach picked him specifically for that same qualifier, which he went on to win.
“I’m not just going there to hit and not compete,” Zayicek said.
Whatever happens Monday night, the experience of playing in front of thousands, as well as their friends and families, at BB&T Ballpark will be one to remember.
And then that second drive Zayicek has to make?
Back to UNC-Wilmington, right after the derby ends Monday night. Only this time, he’s hoping the trip won’t be alone.
He’d like to have the championship belt in the passenger seat.