“I snapped my thumb and it was just hanging there,” Piazza recently recalled. “It didn’t hurt, but I’d never had a major injury before, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
Ultimately, the torn ligaments in Piazza’s thumb — an injury sustained following a collision with an opponent while running the basepath during a preseason scrimmage — sidelined him for the entire 2012 campaign. For as tough as watching his teammates from the dugout was, the experience proved invaluable for Piazza returning to form and earning All-Met honors as a senior this past spring.
Some might jokingly say that positive results on the baseball field are a given for a guy with the last name “Piazza” (for the record, Zach is not related to former MLB All-Star catcher Mike Piazza), but according to Huntingtown Coach Guy Smith, Zach’s strong play as a shortstop and pitcher is a product of hard work.
“A lot of kids work hard, but Zach goes over the edge with his training,” Smith said. “He’s ultra-competitive and never wants to lose. A lot of guys say they want to compete and win, but if Zach loses or doesn’t play well, he wants to work harder than ever because of his desire and will to win.”
These attributes surfaced during Piazza’s recovery process. Smith made Piazza into an interim assistant coach, having him help with drills and offer insight to his teammates — all while increasing his own wisdom as he saw the game from a different perspective.
“I think it really helped him grow as a person and as a player, and it helped us learn more about him as coaches,” Smith said.
After being wrapped in a cast for nine months, Piazza’s thumb was stiff as a beam. The lack of mobility made it critical for him to consistently, pull, push and stretch his thumb, a process that was as helpful as it was painful.
“I had to get back the motion in my thumb and a lot of times, the stretching made it hurt, but I was determined to get it back in the right shape,” Piazza said. “After a couple months, though, I got it back in motion.”
Then came perhaps the toughest part — mentally preparing himself to use his thumb in game situations. The first challenge came on a play in summer ball that required him to dive. Once Piazza got up with no pain and his thumb still in tact, he knew he was ready to put up the big numbers he hoped would come in his junior season.
Following an impressive showing as Huntingtown’s quarterback, throwing for 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes to the Maryland 3A title game, Piazza continued his success on the diamond.
Displaying patience and power at the plate, the senior hit a team-high five home runs and 32 RBIs to push Huntingtown to the Maryland 3A South region final. Along the way, Piazza signed to play next spring at Wake Forest, choosing the Demon Deacons over Maryland, High Point and Winthrop.
“The coaches knew about my injury but were still behind me 100 percent,” said Piazza, who garnered his Wake Forest offer in the summer of 2011. “This past season was a lot of fun with my teammates and was sort of a coming-back season for me. Now, I’m looking forward to making an impact at the next level.”
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