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Amherst native, Detroit Tigers minor leaguer Kevin Ziomek retires

  • Amherst native Kevin Ziomek, shown warming up for the Connecticut Tigers in 2013, has retired from professional baseball. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst native Kevin Ziomek, shown leaving the dugout to warm up for the Connecticut Tigers in 2013, has retired from professional baseball. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst native Kevin Ziomek, shown signing autographs for a fan prior to a 2013 Connecticut Tigers game, has retired from professional baseball. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst native Kevin Ziomek, shown warming up for the Connecticut Tigers in 2013, has retired from professional baseball. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst native Kevin Ziomek, shown pitching in 2014 for the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps, has retired from professional baseball. FILE PHOTO

  • Detroit Tigers left-hander Kevin Ziomek throws during a 2016 spring training workout in Lakeland, Florida. The Amherst native retired from professional baseball this weekend. AP

  • KEVIN ZIOMEK

  • Amherst native Kevin Ziomek is shown pitching for Vanderbilt during a 2012 NCAA regional tournament game. Ziomek has retired from professional baseball. AP



@mikemoranDHG
Tuesday, April 04, 2017

At 25 years old, Kevin Ziomek did not think he would be doing something other than lacing up spikes, grabbing a ball and glove, and throwing fastballs and sliders from 60 feet, 6 inches.

But his left arm just didn’t do what it once did, which was carry him to within a couple rungs of Major League Baseball.

The Amherst native decided over the weekend to retire from professional baseball. His first and only major injury sidelined the Detroit Tiger minor leaguer. Ziomek had surgery last June to address thoracic outlet syndrome. He worked his way back to spring training, but the results weren’t there.

“I felt like I had done everything I could to put myself in position to succeed and unfortunately the arm didn’t want to cooperate,” Ziomek said in a phone interview from his Nashville, Tennessee, home on Tuesday. “My body was running out of gas and I could just tell it wasn’t there all of spring training. Just didn’t feel right. Didn’t have anything on the ball. Didn’t have that zip I used to have. I felt like I had exhausted every possibility I could, every option to improve it.”

Ziomek said his fastball, which at one time was in the mid 90s, was now in the low to mid 80s. He said he was 14 the last time he threw that fast.

“I did the best I could and tried to compete,” Ziomek said. “I had some OK outings and a real bad one. I just tried to stick with it for as long as I could but it got to a point where I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I just knew in my heart that it wasn’t there. I decided it was time to take the next step and turn the page and follow the next chapter of my life.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers.”

Ziomek’s surgery was performed by Dr. Gregory Pearl in Dallas. Ziomek was throwing again in August, took time off in October then got back on schedule in late November. He reported to Tigers minicamp in early February.

“I felt I had exhausted everything,” Ziomek said. “I could continue to pitch. They were going to let me go out there and continue to pitch, but I just didn’t feel like it was there. It got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t feeling comfortable going onto the field everyday knowing that I wasn’t myself.

“I did everything I could,” he added. “I worked my tail off in the rehab process. I listened to the doctors and the trainers every step of the way. Unfortunately there is so much uncertainty with the injury.”

Ziomek was invited to Detroit Tigers major league spring training a year ago, putting him on target for a potential shot at the major leagues later that season. He was sent to Double-A Erie for the start of the season, but he opened the year on the disabled list.

After a month and no appearances, Ziomek returned to High-A Lakeland where he made one start before surgery. He pitched 4-1/3 innings and allowed five runs with one walk and one strikeout in a loss. In 2015, he was 9-11 with 143 strikeouts, 34 walks and a 3.43 ERA over 154-2/3 innings at Lakeland.

His first full minor league season came in 2014 at Single-A West Michigan. He was 10-6 with a 2.27 ERA. He struck out 152 and walked 53 over 123 innings.

After leaving Vanderbilt in 2013, he made four brief appearances for the Class-A Connecticut Tigers.

Leaving the locker room for the final time was difficult for Ziomek.

“It was tough saying goodbye to my teammates, some of the guys I’ve been playing with for years. Some of the coaches,” he said. “I just tried to focus on some of the positives and all the amazing things baseball has done for me.”

Among the highlights were delivering Amherst Regional a state Division 1 championship in 2010, pitching Vanderbilt to within a round of the College World Series and being drafted twice. The Gatorade state baseball player of the year was selected in the 13th round of the 2010 MLB draft.

Foreshadowing a life that may not always have baseball in it, Ziomek elected to attend Vanderbilt.

“I did make sure to always prepare for” life without baseball, Ziomek said “I think I’ve always taken my studies very seriously in college and high school. I had the opportunity to sign professional out of high school and obviously turned that down. There’s a reason for that. No athlete wants to admit it, but it’s the nature of sports. Guys get hurt and injuries happen. … I always knew the day could come. I wish it came when I was 40, unfortunately it came sooner than I had hoped.”

Following his standout career at Vanderbilt, the Tigers selected Ziomek in the second round of the 2013 draft. He returned to Vanderbilt during the offseason to complete his business degree.

“I’m proud of everything I accomplished,” he said. “I’m really thankful for all the people who have helped me out and supported me and followed me from afar. … Its’ hard to feel disappointed because I know how fortunate I’ve been and to experience all these things. I’m disappointed I didn’t get the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. But in my heart I feel I could of, and I know I could of, it’s just unfortunately my body didn’t cooperate. I’m content with what’s happened because I can look back at this in 20 years and know I gave it my all.”

Ziomek said his favorite memory was being able to share his career with his family.

“The big one for me was being able to play in front of my grandfather and my father, my whole family,” Ziomek said. (His grandfather was the late Stanley Ziomek.) “Being able to experience all that success with them and knowing they were a part of it, too.”

Ziomek bought a home in Nashville earlier this year. He said he plans to relax, spend time with family and friends, and take a vacation. Ziomek wasn’t sure where his next career would lead. His said a return to the baseball on the business side is a possibility.

“Baseball’s not going to define me,” he said. “It’s been a huge part of the last 25 years of my life, for me and my family. I know there are a lot more things I’m going to be successful at. I’ve got a lot of good things to look forward to.”