O's Draft pick steers away from NASCAR legacy

Jarrett, son and grandson of racing champions, starred in college

June 14th, 2017
Zach Jarrett hit 13 homers and had 45 RBIs in his senior season at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. (UNC Charlotte)

BALTIMORE -- With NASCAR champions Dale and Ned Jarrett as his father and grandfather, one would think that Zach Jarrett was destined for life on the racetrack. But instead, it's the baseball diamond.

When Dale and his wife left for racing weekends, they left Zach with his other grandfather, Jasper Spears, who was a Minor League baseball player in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. From countless hours of playing and watching baseball with Spears, Zach knew from a young age he wanted to be a professional baseball player.

On Wednesday, Jarrett's dream came true when the Orioles selected the 6-foot-4, 220-pound outfielder in the 28th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.

"It's unreal," Jarrett said. "It's been a dream since I was a little kid. For the day to come, it's unreal. It's hard to believe this day is here. I'm ready to get started."

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"It's just an exciting day," Dale Jarrett said. "My dad and I were very fortunate in another sport, but, to me, this is one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to our family. My dad and I have won championships, been inducted into the Hall of Fame, but when you see your children achieve their goals and have success, it means more than anything."

Although NASCAR brought his family success, racing was never an option for Zach.

"I think that was his mom taking him wherever he wanted to go to avoid him getting in a race car," Dale said. "She's thankful for what the sport has done for our family, but this is her son. People get hurt in those things. She was glad to take him anywhere he wanted to go to keep him out of a race car."

It didn't take much to keep Zach away from race cars, because baseball was his passion since he was 6 years old after spending many weekends sitting on Spears' lap and analyzing baseball games on TV.

After playing for Hickory High School (N.C.), Jarrett, an outfielder, left to play at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he was named to the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll after his freshman year. As a sophomore, he led the team with seven home runs.

Jarrett had a standout senior season this spring with a slash line of .342/.398/.549 with 13 home runs and 45 RBIs, garnering some Major League attention. His roommate, infielder/outfielder T.J. Nichting, was also receiving Major League interest and, on Tuesday, was drafted by the Orioles in the ninth round.

"We always joked about us getting drafted by the same team," Jarrett said. "He was texting me as soon as [I was drafted]. It's pretty cool to know someone. There aren't many times where you get to play with someone for four years, and then go on and continue to play with them professionally."

Dale Jarrett said he couldn't believe that just a few weeks ago he and Zach were watching the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, play when UNC Charlotte came to Norfolk, Va., to play Old Dominion. They had no idea what they were watching was Zach's future.

"[Zach] can hit a little bit, has got nice power," Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said. "We think he'll be a good fit here."