Nobody had more hits than Zack Raabe. The Gophers sophomore was one of the hottest hitters in college baseball, on pace to set the school record for batting average, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports last month.
It would have been easy for him to sit at home this month and sulk about what could’ve been.
Raabe was having a breakout season, leading Division I with 31 hits in just 18 games. His batting average was .463, ahead of the school record of .452 set by Mark Merila in 1994.
“It happened very quick,” Raabe said of the shutdown. “It was kind of a shocker.”
The standout infielder will have to wait until next year for another crack at history, but Raabe’s swing won’t get rusty. He trains at home with his father, Brian, a former Gophers All-America and Twins infielder. They also have access to a family friend’s private indoor batting cage nearby in Forest Lake.
Raabe played at Forest Lake High School with brothers Matt and Luke Wallner, and Matt — an outfielder in the Twins organization — is allowing Raabe and his father to use his home facility this spring.
“It’s a huge, huge advantage,” Raabe said. “But all this is weird for me. I’m usually playing baseball right now. I’m really just secluded in my own house, working out in my basement, going over there with him [at the batting cage] and doing homework. That’s basically my life now.”
A 6-5, power-hitting former Minnesota Mr. Baseball, Matt Wallner starred for Southern Mississippi for two years before he was drafted by the Twins 39th overall in 2019. He’s one of the organization’s top prospects.
Raabe was a three-year starter and Mr. Baseball finalist in 2018 at Forest Lake and was the Gophers’ third-leading hitter (.271) last season as a freshman.
“Having Matt being there and all those Division I coaches and professional scouts at our games in high school was a lesson for me,” Raabe said. “I knew they were watching me as well.”
Watching Wallner motivated Raabe to pursue his dreams of playing pro baseball, but he found that inspiration at home, too.
His father learned the game in one of Minnesota’s baseball hotbeds in New Ulm. After a standout career playing for longtime Gophers coach John Anderson in the late 1980s, Brian Raabe had a short MLB stint with three teams, including the Twins. He is now the head coach at Bethel University in St. Paul.
“His dad had a lot of information that he learned in his career that he could pass on to his son,” Anderson said. “Zack was trained and had better coaching prior to college than probably Brian had and was a little further along.”
Raabe’s home-schooling in baseball made him luckier than most players, which is especially true this spring. During this long break at home, his dad has helped continue the progress in Raabe’s swing from last year.
“We bounce ideas off each other,” he said. “He tells me how to handle things and what could happen after college, because we expect that’s a possibility in the future for me. So, he’s been awesome.”
Raabe improved his confidence and timing and increased his knowledge of pitches. He recovered from a broken foot in the summer to lead the 8-10 Gophers in hits, batting average, runs (16), total bases (41) and slugging pct. (.612) before the season was cut short. His 67 at-bats fall just short of the 75 needed to be eligible for the record books.
Still, Raabe’s hot start in 2020 showcased the potential to follow in his father’s footsteps at the U. The abrupt ending to this season hasn’t changed how hard he’s working to have a special career with the Gophers.
“It’s not just physical, because the pride and approach piece is huge,” Anderson said. “I think Zack is going to continue to be one of the leaders in our program moving forward.”