By Nicholas Hatch and Nathan DeSutter
Mequon, WI- Just hours before his first Major League hit, Minnesota Twins outfielder Zack Granite, eyes widened with youthful exuberance, silently stood inside the cavernous home of the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park. With his cleats firmly implanted into the well-trimmed sod, he tried to take in all of sights, sounds, and smells that came with the magnitude of his reality as a major league player.
Along the way, he hit some bumps in the road. He dropped further than he anticipated in the 2013 MLB draft, and had people doubting his 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pound frame and lack of home-run power. Nothing came easy, but from Little League to Major League Baseball, hard work and consistency are the two things that kept him going.
Zack Granite grew up in the tough-minded town of Staten Island, New York, where he played high school ball at Tottenville, leading his team to a championship victory his senior year. Viewed as a potent bat in the lineup, Granite signed with Seton Hall University to play baseball and ended up starting every single game his freshman year.
He ended that 2012 campaign with a team-leading .296 average, .387 on-base percentage, 61 hits, 39 runs, and 27 walks, and made the transition from high school to college look flawless.
The college baseball world usually overlooks Seton Hall as a baseball powerhouse, but a peek into those same Minute Maid rafters will reveal one famous Pirate, MLB Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio.
“It’s a really good baseball school, Granite said. “They’ve got really good tradition and good coaches there—it’s probably one of the best schools in the Northeast, and I’m really glad I went there.”
After another stellar year with the Pirates, hitting .302 over 171 at-bats as a sophomore, Granite made another key step in his road to the majors.
That summer, he ventured outside of his East-Coast home for the first time and landed in Mequon, Wisconsin, home of the Lakeshore Chinooks.
He had no idea that four years later, he’d become the Chinooks’ first MLB player and land himself in the Chinook history books.
“You hear a lot about the Midwest, about how there’s nothing there,” Granite said. “But, I thought it was one of the nicest places. Mequon, Wisconsin was gorgeous. I had a really good host family. It was a really beautiful park right outside of Lake Michigan.”
In what was the inaugural season of the Lakeshore Chinooks, there was plenty of experimentation and discovery, but the one thing that stuck with Granite, a 19-year-old diehard Yankee fan, was an East-Coast promise from Chinooks’ ownership. They wanted to make Lakeshore the Yankees of the Northwoods League.
“I think it was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve heard from a summer ball owner,” said Granite. “He wanted to bring in the best guys; he wanted to win games.”
The Chinooks, even though they’ve only been around since 2012, are a model of consistency and winning, as the team won the Northwoods League Championship in 2014 in just their third year of existence.
Granite also praised how much he learned and gained from his time with the team, saying it was a great experience, and that he wishes he could have played there longer.
“I was only there for a short amount of time. I was only there for about a month because I got hurt. I had a little hamstring problem that started in college and kinda took that into summer ball with the Chinooks, but it was really cool. I was kind of upset my time there was cut short due to injury, but I had a lot of fun, and I still keep in touch with a few guys that played there. It was a really good experience.”
When asked how his time with the team helped get him ready for the minors, Granite also stressed how much playing every day prepared him for the next step.
“Well that was my first time playing a lot of games in a short amount of time, so I thought it really prepared me for life in the minors and bus rides, stuff like that. You know, wood bats and playing every single night.”
“Playing every day, you don’t really get that anywhere else, so it was really good. I played like 25 games in about a month, it was kinda crazy how many games there are, so it prepared me a lot.”
Something that Granite also brought up was the Chinooks’ fan base, along with how nice it was playing at Kapco Park. “It was the opening year for the Chinooks, so it was really cool to get a lot of really good fans, and a really good atmosphere there and that field is really nice, so it was a really good experience for me, and it prepared me for the next step.”
The most telling part of Granite’s time with the team is that he doesn’t regret any time spent with the organization. He made sure to stress that he would, without a doubt, play for the Chinooks again.“From the Yankee comment alone, he wants to bring in the best guys, and if I were to play again, I’d definitely go to the Lakeshore Chinooks," said Granite.
One year later, Granite was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the 2013 MLB draft and started his minor league career in Rookie-Ball with the Elizabethton Twins.
After toiling between A and A+ ball, he eventually made his way to the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Twins’ Double-A affiliate, in 2016. “You know, Double-A, that’s a big jump from those lower levels. I had a really good year, and Double-A is a tough league. It was a tough league, the Southern League. I think I was tied for first in stolen bases, and you know, that’s my game. Anything I can do to help a team win, I did.”
With his toughest times behind him, Granite started to find his stride in Chattanooga. Over 584 at-bats, he had a .295 average, a personal-best four home runs, and a league-leading 56 stolen bases. “I stayed healthy all year, and that’s honestly the main part of it, is staying healthy. I was able to play 127 games out of 140, missing a couple games here and there. That’s honestly one of the most important things, is being that reliable guy, always being in the lineup.”
From his time at Seton Hall, to his time with the Chinooks, to his time in the minors, Zack Granite has always praised being a consistent and reliable bat in the lineup, two main reasons why he caught the attention of the big-league club.
The next season, in 2017, Granite was fast-tracked to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, and after continuing to excel at the top level in the minors, Granite received a phone call that changed his life. On July 8th, 2017, Zack Granite was called up to the Minnesota Twins.“It is a big dream of mine,” he said. “I had a pretty good year last year, and that’s when it started becoming a reality. [I said,] Hey, I got a really good chance of this. I had a really good couple months down in Triple-A, and I’m here now, so I’m just trying to live every moment.”
When he was first brought up, on a hot, cloudy afternoon in Minneapolis, Granite and the Twins were set to face the Baltimore Orioles. Granite explains his debut as a blur. Especially his first at-bat. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Granite, who’s known for his elite speed and defensive ability, saw his Hall-of-Fame manager, Paul Molitor, migrate from his usual in-game spot to inform Granite of a potential pinch-running duty.
However, Molitor had a different plan this time around. Instead of pinch-running, Granite was going to be making his MLB debut as a pinch-hitter. “I don’t even remember the guy who was pitching, Granite said, “He was throwing, 98, 99 mile-an-hour fastballs. I remember I barely saw the first two pitches, but I had an 11-pitch at-bat, and the crowd literally stood up and gave me a standing ovation after I flew out to left.” “It was the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.
Granite might’ve spoken too soon. The very next day, while making his first ever big-league start, the Orioles star third baseman, Manny Machado, lifted a ball to deep centerfield, and Granite chased it down, crashed into the wall, and landed himself on SportsCenter.
“It was really cool robbing a guy like Manny Machado of extra bases, Granite said. “It was huge for me, making a good first impression, especially with my glove. That’s the best thing I have. My defense. I take a lot of pride in my defense. It was a really cool moment, the fans really appreciated it“
Despite the bigger stage and tens of thousands of fans in the bleachers, Granite hasn’t felt overwhelmed. “Looking up, it’s a little bit different, there’s a lot more people in the stands, but other than that, it’s the same game,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep it simple and play my game and hopefully stay up here for the next 10 to 15 years.”
Through 14 games with the Twins, Granite is hitting .255 with a .327 on-base percentage, going 12-47 at the plate, and not to mention, he is currently riding a 7-game hitting streak. With Granite’s call-up arriving just before the MLB All-Star break, Granite says he, along with his teammates, is looking forward to the second half of the season. “Everyone’s been really cool. You know, it’s kinda good to get back, and everyone’s been really nice, and we’re looking forward to this second half. You know, we’re making a playoff push, not a lot of people expected that, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun playing in meaningful games this time of year.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Granite’s game is his professionalism. After talking with Zack, it’s not hard to see why this guy is in the big leagues. “I’m not really trying to make a big deal about it,” he said. “These guys are just normal people too, they just get to play a game for a living, so I’m just trying to keep it simple and have fun. Honestly, that’s the biggest thing.”
But, he will admit to being star-struck once in awhile. “First game, playing against Adam Jones, who’s one of my favorite centerfielders. He congratulated me when I was warming up, just saying congrats on getting called up and making my debut and all that, so that was really cool,” he said. Granite also could not deny he was in awe playing for Twins’ manager and Milwaukee Brewer legend, Paul Molitor. “I mean, it’s kinda crazy if you think about it,” Granite said. That guy has had over 3,000 hits, so whatever he has to say, I’m gonna listen, because 3,000 hits in the big leagues are no joke.”
Granite also stressed Molitor’s love of the game of baseball, saying Molitor is the ideal manager. “You know, he loves the game of baseball. We had a little meeting; he was just saying how on Tuesday he was already itching to get back here. That’s what you want out of your manager.” “That will be a memory I have for the rest of my life.”
Now, Granite’s goal will be to continue to make memories, set some records, and show baseball fans around the world that he’s here to stay.