Originally published May 29
Zach Jarrett always had a special relationship with his grandfather. The two would spend hour after hour watching their favorite sport on television, talking about the details of what made someone good and the strategy for how to become the best. Zach Jarrett could never get enough.
It was no surprise, then, that Jarrett followed his famously athletic grandfather into the same sport he had once competed in at a high level.
Maybe more surprising is that he did not follow in the footsteps of the grandfather — or his father— who are both NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers.
But then racing has never held the same allure for Zach that it did for Ned or Dale Jarrett.
[caption id="attachment_1671" align="alignright" width="300"] Zach Jarrett, right, with his maternal grandfather Jack Spears. (Photo courtesy Kelley Jarrett)[/caption]
Baseball, the sport his maternal grandfather, Jasper “Jack” Spears, played with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, was Zach Jarrett’s first — and only — love.
Zach, in fact, has never even driven a race car.
“I just never had the urge to get in a car and go race,” Zach Jarrett said. “I just felt like something else was out there for me.”
That something else turned out to be a place on Charlotte’s baseball team, where Zach Jarrett is a sophomore who led the team with seven home runs and 32 RBI, and has dreams of being a professional athlete in a sport altogether different than the one his father — and much of the rest of his family — excelled in.
Oftentimes, when Dale Jarrett was out touring the country by driving in circles, capturing 32 victories and the 1999 NASCAR championship, Zach would stay with his grandfather, Spears, crashed out on the couch and watching baseball.
When Dale Jarrett would come back from his long weekends of driving, he’d play catch with Zach in the backyard of their Hickory, N.C., home. The Jarretts also had a small go-kart track in the land around their house, but Zach always wanted to go to the batting cage.
“I saw that didn’t interest him,” Dale Jarrett said of his son’s attitude toward racing. “My parents didn’t really push me there, either. So, I wanted him to have that same opportunity. I feel like that as our children grow up, you give them opportunities out there to kind of make their decision in their life. And this is what Zach has chosen: to try to play baseball. I really appreciate that, and I hope that it’s something he can do for a long time.”
Zach was gifted with some of his baseball abilities not only from Spears, but from his all-around athlete father. Before Dale Jarrett began his NASCAR career, he pitched and played shortstop for his high school baseball team. He also played quarterback and defensive back in football, and was such a good golfer that he turned down a full scholarship at South Carolina to pursue his own passion — racing.
[caption id="attachment_1672" align="alignright" width="162"] Dale Jarrett with Zach after a NASCAR victory. (Photo courtesy Kelley Jarrett)[/caption]
Dale Jarrett saw his son’s ease with baseball, his passion for the sport, and how willing he was to put in the hard work, and understood the attraction. He also saw that Zach had the tall, rangey build of a baseball player — especially when he sprouted up about five inches one year in high school to his current height of 6-4.
“All of a sudden, he had a spurt, and the next thing I know, I’m looking up to him,” the 6-2 Dale Jarrett said.
Zach Jarrett was such a standout in high school that he earned MVP honors his senior year and received interest from Washington, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Dodgers, before opting to attend college at Charlotte.
His freshman year happened to coincide with Charlotte’s worst season in a decade — 19-31-1 — but Jarrett hit .248 with two home runs and 17 RBI. This season, his average has dipped to .209 in another subpar year for the Niners, but his power potential was greater with his team-leading home run tally. His 49ers finished the season 19-29 and out of the Conference USA postseason.
All the while, dad has kept a close eye on his son from his perch at Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium at every game. Dale Jarrett watches every at-bat for his son, analyzing his swing and offering suggestions on how to adjust his stance and patience at the plate.
“He really does help a lot with that,” Zach Jarrett said. “Lately, he’s researched a lot more and looked at major-leaguers and how they do things, and tries to relate them to me. And we just talk about them and see what we can do to tweak and help things out if I get in a slump or something.”
Dale Jarrett, for his part, relishes the chance to focus not only on a different sport, but also on his son.
“I think that it’s made me understand and appreciate just how difficult the game is,” Dale Jarrett said. “Zach is in a position that he’s a better athlete than I ever was. He has the tools to get it done. I just love every day. If they would let me come in here two hours early, I’d be here two hours early at each game. This is kind of what my competitive spirit lives through, now -- going and being able to watch him compete.”
It’s in an entirely different sport than the one he competed in, but it’s a sport where Zach Jarrett has found his niche.
“The first time I met with Zach, I said, ‘We’re recruiting you because we think you can develop into a good baseball player. Not because of your grandfather and not because of your dad,’” said Niners head coach Loren Hibbs.
And that’s just the way Zach Jarrett wants it.
Video produced by Don Schick, a freelance producer based in Charlotte, N.C.