After being granted an extra year of eligibility due to the Covid-19 shortened 2020 season, Zach Gilles is entering his final season at Central Michigan. Gilles, the Chippewa Falls native, was a key piece to the 2019 Chippewas team that won the MAC regular-season and tournament titles on their way to an NCAA Regional appearance at Mississippi State. Gilles finished second on the team in hitting in 2019 with a .351 batting average, including six triples. Gilles, a terror on the bases led the team in stolen bases going 20-for-25 in stolen base attempts.

Recently, Gilles was named a Rawlings Big Stick Award winner in the Northwoods League. The award is given to the player with the highest batting average at each position. Gilles hit .366 playing primarily centerfield with the Mankato Moondogs this past Summer.

Recently Gilles took some time to answer some questions to be featured in our Rays Alumni Question and Answer session. It’s time to catch up with Zach Gilles:

Was your first couple of weeks at Central Michigan drastically different than what you were expecting heading into Division I baseball?

My first couple of weeks at CMU went pretty much what I thought it would be. Coming in I knew it was going to be a lot of work and was going to be quite the adjustment. The biggest difference I noticed and adjusted to quickly was time management. Managing school along with athletics was a big priority and I think that it helped me along with my success in the classroom and on the ball field. Another big adjustment was adjusting to the speed of the game at the college level.

You had a special team in 2019, What was it like to win a MAC regular-season and tournament championship and what was it like to experience playing in an NCAA Tournament?

That season was one of the best experiences of my life. Winning the MAC tournament and regular season was such an awesome, thrilling experience. Then playing down in Starkville for our regional was quite unreal. Playing Miami and beating them 6-5 was such an amazing experience. Then playing against Mississippi State in front of 15,000 fans was absolutely crazy.

What was it like when last season was cancelled due to Covid-19?

It was a horrible experience. We were down in Florida on our spring break trip when it happened. We had a game earlier in the day then after our game we were seeing how all other conferences were cancelling their seasons, then about a couple hours later we got a text in the GroupMe for a meeting. At the meeting our coach told us our season had been cancelled. It was absolutely devastating news, but when I heard I was going to be granted another year of eligibility, I was thrilled.

Could you give a brief “Day in the Life” breakdown of a normal day for you? 

A day in the life for me is waking up around 6:45am eating breakfast and then head to lift. After our lift I’ll have class until noon or 2pm, depending on the day. After class I’ll head straight to practice which will be around 3 hours. Then somedays I’ll have a lab or I’ll go do some homework. If I don’t have much homework, I’ll get some extra baseball work in and then later in the night I’ll relax and head to bed.

Is it difficult balancing school and baseball?

When it comes to balancing school and athletics, it takes a lot of time management skills and great communication with professors. During the season we miss a lot of class and you have to work with professors on missed exams, homework, labs, etc… Then you have to manage your time wisely and have your priorities set to be successful in academics and athletics.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before starting your first season of Division I baseball?

One thing I wish I knew before starting my first season of Division I baseball was knowing how to deal with failure. At the Division I level you will fail a lot and you can dwell on your failures and you just have to learn and get better from them.

What advice do you have for the younger Rays players who want to follow in your footsteps and play high-level college baseball?

My big piece of advice is to never settle and always outwork everyone. There are always others working trying to take your spot. But being committed to outworking everyone will get you on the ball field and playing every day.

What’s your favorite Rays memory?

It’s hard to choose my favorite memory with the Rays since there are so many, but if I had to choose I think it would be playing down in Nashville, TN. We had a ton of fun playing at Vanderbilt’s stadium and touring around the whole city. Also all the van rides are the things I much enjoyed while playing for the Rays.