NEW BRITAIN - Zach Collier hadnâ€™t played in the Atlantic League in four years when the New Britain Bees signed him just before the start of the second half of the season. The outfielder played with the Lancaster Barnstormers in 2015, and back then, the Bees didnâ€™t exist, nor did the High Point Rockers, who New Britain is currently chasing in the Liberty Division race.
Still, aside from a few different uniforms and franchises, things seem pretty much the same to Collier as he concludes his first full month with the Bees.
â€śThe game is the same, but there are two new teams in new locations,â€ť Collier said. â€śIâ€™m getting used to the Trackman strike zone, but thatâ€™s been the only adjustment.â€ť
Collier has certainly been performing like a player who needed little time to adjust to his new surroundings. The 28-year-old was one of the top bats in New Britainâ€™s lineup through the month of July, and even after leveling off a bit in August, he still concluded his first 20 games with an OPS of .814 while stealing six bases to compliment fellow speedster Darren Ford atop the lineup.
Collier doesnâ€™t believe his quick transition has anything to do with a diminished competition level in the Atlantic League. Even after spending the past four seasons in the Washington Nationals organization and reaching as high as Triple-A, Collier credits his fast start to an already established familiarity with the landscape of the league, which hasnâ€™t undergone much of a change in competitive nature over the years.
â€śItâ€™s pretty much the same,â€ť Collier said. â€śThere are a lot of great players looking for affiliated jobs and the competition level is very high. Itâ€™s underestimated to be honest.â€ť
Collierâ€™s transition back into the Atlantic League has seemed effortless so far, but with the Bees, he wasnâ€™t given the easiest of tasks. Having just lost Alejandro De Aza to the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate, New Britain needed an everyday outfielder to slide into De Azaâ€™s role and do more than just show up every day. The Bees needed someone to regularly produce the way De Aza did, leaving New Britain with the second-highest batting average in the league among qualified hitters.
Fortunately for Collier, he knew what it took to fill in for a talent like De Aza, because he knew what it took to be a talent like De Aza.
â€śThatâ€™s my boy,â€ť Collier said of De Aza. â€śI played with him on the Nationals. Heâ€™s an awesome player. Heâ€™s been around the game a long time and Iâ€™m just fortunate to be here and continue to play where he did.â€ť
De Aza and Collier didnâ€™t become incredibly close in their short time together with the Nationals, but they were teammates long enough for Collier to pick up on the veteranâ€™s tendencies, and now in his old spot, he can celebrate De Azaâ€™s accomplishments while trying to replicate them himself.
â€śHe did his thing here and Iâ€™m happy for him,â€ť Collier said. â€śIf I see him Iâ€™d love to talk to him, but heâ€™s doing bigger and better things.â€ť
Collier hopes he can get there as well. Luckily, thanks to his former teammate, he knows what it takes, and heâ€™s already made a significant first step towards reaching that goal.
â€śYou have to have a player whoâ€™s willing to show up and play every day,â€ť Collier said. â€śThatâ€™s what I strive to do.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com