Zaun calls an end to MLB playing days

GLENDALE — After suffering a shoulder injury that stemmed from a violent home-plate collision last season, Gregg Zaun found himself behind home plate for the first time Sunday during a spring training contest against the Oakland Athletics at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Ariz.

Zaun caught three innings and had two plate appearances. Shortly after the game ended, Zaun, a Glendale native and 1989 St. Francis High graduate, took off his equipment and tugged off his uniform for the final time before announcing his retirement on Sunday following a 16-year Major League Baseball career.

"I caught Sunday and I felt fine physically," said Zaun, 39, in a phone interview with the News-Press on Monday from Peoria. "Mentally, I wasn't that into it.

"I told [San Diego Manager] Bud Black and [General Manager] Jed Hoyer where my head was at and I wanted to make sure they knew I had their best interests [in mind]. I had a lot of fun playing and I'm happy it lasted as long as it did.

"It was an easy decision for me to make."

In 1,232 career games, Zaun batted .252 (878-3,489) with 194 doubles, 88 home runs and 446 runs batted in. He began his career in 1995 with the Baltimore Orioles after being drafted in 1989 and played for nine teams. Zaun helped the Florida Marlins win the 1997 World Series. He also played for the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers.

After handling most of the starting catching responsibilities with Milwaukee last season, Zaun suffered what looked to be a possible career-ending injury less than a month into season after he was involved in a home-plate collision and sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Zaun landed on the disabled list May 21 and his season was ruled over in June after undergoing surgery. He then publicly stated that he was contemplating retirement.

Zaun, who hit .265 with two homers and drove in 14 runs in 28 games with the Milwaukee Brewers last season, signed a minor-league contract with the Padres in early January and looked at finding a role with them. He played in several spring training games and appeared to regain stamina and strength in his shoulder.

"Everything was fine," said Zaun, a switch hitter and the nephew of former major league catcher Rick Dempsey. "I wanted to come down here and give it another shot.

"I feel good and I woke up fine Monday morning. I enjoyed what I was able to do on the field and I learned a lot from guys like [former manager] Jim Leyland and [former teammate] Brad Ausmus.

"Last year, I felt like I was swinging the bat well, even after starting off 0 for 21. Then, I had somewhere between 40-50 hits and things were coming together. That injury, along with some of the other ones I had, probably limited me from the stat part."

Zaun said he's entertaining the possibility of joining the Toronto Blue Jays broadcast team. During the past five postseasons, Zaun has served as an analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, a Canadian English-language cable television sports specialty channel owned by Rogers Communications.

Zaun said he'd consider being a commentator for the Blue Jays, who he played five seasons for and have their games broadcast by Rogers Sportsnet.

"I'm looking at some broadcast opportunities because I think that's where my future lies," Zaun said. "I got my feet wet doing the postseason broadcasts and I enjoyed it a lot."

St. Francis Principal Tom Moran, who coached the school's baseball team from 1989-90, said he had mixed emotions concerning the retirement of Zaun, who Moran coached during his senior season.

"It's days like this where you are kind of happy and sad," said Moran, who also coached former Major League All-Star Mark Loretta. "I'm really happy for him being able to start a new phase with baseball and he understands broadcasting.

"It's sad for baseball because I'll miss watching him play. It was always a thrill to get to watch him play.

"He stopped by the school before heading down for spring training and we sat down and talked for about a half hour. He went out there and gave it the best he could. At least he's leaving on his own terms and I'm happy for that. He's very well-spoken and he sure knows the game."

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