Curveball Control Freak
Zac Gallen may not be able to use a brush like Leonardo da Vinci, but the 25-year-old pitcher can paint the strike zone with a baseball like an artist. The New Jersey native, whom the Arizona Diamondbacks picked up in a trade with the Miami Marlins in 2019, was a bright spot in the team’s shortened 2020 season, finishing ninth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award. Off to a strong start in 2021 (1-1, 3.04 ERA) while battling a sore elbow, the humble University of North Carolina product says his secret to success on the mound is always trying new things and picking his teammates’ brains. It could also have something to do with his hair, which he started growing out to da Vinci-like length last year. He spoke with us about his long locks and what baseball movies get right.
What’s it been like with the fans back in the stands?
It’s been awesome to see and interact with the crowds, and seeing younger fans getting into the game and throwing them a ball. It was getting monotonous with nobody there [last year]. The real crowd noise is so much better than the sounds they were pumping in. Some places had better crowd noises than others, but you could tell it was really artificial. At least we got to play last year and get some sort of a season. This year, hearing real cheers and boos is real fun.
I’ve always wondered if there are fun conversations on the mound like in Bull Durham.
Bull Durham is probably my favorite baseball movie. That probably has a lot to do with going to school in that area. I think Kevin Costner did some pretty good baseball movies. For the most part, I think movies like that are historically correct, but others like Trouble With the Curve are probably not as realistic in the ways the minor leagues operate and moving your way up to the majors.
I had a catcher when I was younger who would come up to the mound sometimes and ask me what we should get to eat after the game. Some guys like to keep it light, but I can’t say I’ve experienced anything like that in the big leagues. It’s a little more hyper-focused, but there are times when the catcher will want to give you a break and take your mind off of what’s going on. It’s never worked for me. I just want to get the guy out.
We have to talk about your hair. How long have you been growing it out?
The last time I got a legitimate haircut was January 2020, and I think it was Robbie Ray and Luke Weaver that said, “Let’s grow out our hair!” It’s become way longer than I expected, and I think I’m due for a clean-up in the near future. The guys were joking that it’s time for [the long hair] to go, but I’ve become attached to it. I don’t think I could cut it that easily because there’s been some success there.
Success in baseball is based on numbers, but are there other ways you measure accomplishment?
It’s hard not to go on numbers. That’s what makes the game tough. There could be times where you feel good and pitches are coming off your hand perfectly, but you could be having bad luck, and your numbers might not be great. For me, I look at certain numbers, but if I’m feeling good physically and able to repeat the delivery, I think that’s a recipe for success.