By Harvey M. Kahn
Since the time Zach Kirtley was able to first swing a bat, he’d heard about local baseball hero Ken Hubbs. His grandfather, Danny Carrasco was a Little League and high school teammate of Hubbs in Colton. So when Kirtley was named the 2014 Ken Hubbs Award school winner at Redlands East Valley, it continued a family baseball cycle in the Inland Empire that began 75 years ago.
In 1954, Carrasco and Hubbs were members of the Colton Lion’s Club Little League team that advanced to the title game in Williamsport, PA. Kirtley’s uncles, Pete and Robert were noted semi-pro players who were on teams in Colton with Camilo Carreon. Kirtley’s great-grandfather began playing semi-pro baseball in Southern California in the 1930’s. Zach Kirtley’s father, Greg was standout player as well at Cajon and SBVC.
Kirtley didn’t win the overall Hubbs Award but winning anything associated with Ken Hubbs is a family honor. Kirtley will play Division I baseball on scholarship next season at Saint Mary’s College. He was a two-time, 1st team All Citrus Belt League shortstop. He called making 1st team All-CIF as a junior, the highlight of his high school career.
“I first started hearing about Ken Hubbs when I was pretty young and then as a freshman my grandfather started bringing him up a lot,” recalled Kirtley. “My grandfather is filled with baseball stories and I’ve learned a lot from him. When I was 10, he asked me and my friend to come over for a minute. He quickly turned on the Ken Hubbs Story called ‘A Glimpse of Greatness’ and had us watch it. It was the long, unedited version.”
Carrasco has been a member of the Hubbs Foundation since before his grandson was born. It was not discussed with other board members that Kirtley was related and Carrasco didn’t know about Zach’s selection until the last minute. Bloomington’s Uzoma Owuama was the overall Hubbs Award winner.
After his baseball playing days are over, Kirtley plans to be either a physician’s assistant or a high school pre-calculus math teacher. His 3.74 GPA Place him in REV’s top 15% among graduating seniors and good enough to earn extra scholarship funds for academics.
Kirtley feels he has a good chance at getting playing time at St. Mary’s this season. The college has a new coaching staff and is looking to build a championship around young players. Its starting shortstop graduated and Kirtley was recruited to fill the opening. He is in the first recruiting class of Gael’s new coach Eric Valenzuela. “Saint Mary’s is excited to have me and I am excited about being there,” said Kirtley, who feels that REV coach James Cordes prepared him for the future. Kirtley batted .387 as a junior and .348 as a senior. He was one of the best contact hitters in the Southern Section, striking out only eight times in 200 career at bats, while drawing 29 walks.
Kirtley was a hot commodity during his junior baseball season. He received “a couple of looks” from pro scouts and other college offers from Point Loma University, UC Santa Barbara, and Cal Baptist. He said that he learned the importance of being humble while in high school. “As a baseball player you must have a short memory. You can’t take things outside and bring them to the game.” Kirtley thinks it’s a good idea to try a few sports in high school. “If you find one sport that you excel, why not focus all your attention on that one.”
Redlands East Valley baseball coach James Cordes called Kirtley perhaps the most cerebral player that he has coached. “He is always thinking and knows what to do on the field. He is like a coach and at the high school level, you don’t find that,” said Cordes. He said Kirtley went from a junior varsity player as a sophomore to an outstanding shortstop as a junior due to hard work.
Kirtley’s rapid one-year improvement included a Los Angeles Times nomination to the all-state team. “Zach already had a beautiful swing. He grew into it as a junior. That growth spurt made him more powerful.” Cordes called Kirtley’s future an “unbelievable situation” that offers him the opportunity to get an education from a great institution. “Put that together with his family’s tradition and Zach will succeed in whatever he does. You can’t ask for much more than that,” said Cordes.