Passion key part of Zinter's return trip to Majors

Astros' assistant hitting coach willing to start from scratch

Passion key part of Zinter's return trip to Majors

HOUSTON -- Few men in baseball have had to grind for as long as Alan Zinter, who played 14 seasons in the Minor Leagues before finally getting his first taste of life in the Major Leagues when he made his debut with the Astros in 2002 at 34 years old.

When his playing career was over and he decided he wanted to become a coach, Zinter went back to the rugged life in the Minors and worked his way back to the Majors once again. The Astros hired him in early November to be their assistant hitting coach, giving him his first big league job.

"That's a deterrent for a lot of people at the end of their playing days is that they don't want to have to start all over again and go back to the Minor Leagues and ride buses and stuff like that," Zinter said. "I think a lot of people can't get past that. For me, right away, when I was done, I was like, 'I'm going to turn this into another career.' I love this game, I love this passion and everything I went through and my frustrations and struggles and my triumphs. I want to be able to give back to the players."

Zinter, 46, returns to the Astros after spending the last three seasons as Cleveland's Minor League hitting coordinator (2012-14). He worked as a hitting coach in Arizona's system from 2008-11. The El Paso, Texas, native has 26 years of experience in professional baseball.

"I knew it was going to be a journey, but I just enjoy it and obviously it was six or seven years and now I have an opportunity to get back to the big leagues," he said. "It's a grind, but the nice thing about it is at any level you're at in the Minor Leagues and you love what you' doing, you're helping kids -- it doesn't matter if it's Triple-A hitting coach, hitting coordinator or rookie ball -- you're able to make an impact.

"There's no guarantees how long I'll be in the big leagues, but it's baseball and I enjoy it. Obviously, I would like to make an impact at the highest level as a coach and continue to do that."

Zinter has the reputation of one of the most likeable men in baseball, and his reputation as a teacher is just as solid. He'll work closely with new hitting coach Dave Hudgens, and he's already begun pouring himself into video.

An assistant hitting coach is a relatively new role in the Major Leagues, and Zinter is grateful for that.

"I think if you dissect the job and obviously it's been done many, many years with just one coach, but what it does is it's going to help with time management and not push off things that could be done in the same timeframe," he said. "Obviously, I know there's been times when there's helpers in the cage or other people or younger kids that are there to flip [baseballs], but there's none of that extra eye of knowledge there is now."

Zinter was a first-round pick by the Mets in 1989 as a catcher and wound up having more than 5,500 at-bats in the Minor Leagues, even playing in Japan in 1999. His first career hit was a homer off Reds reliever Scott Williamson at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati on July 1, 2002.

Zinter's best memory from his playing career was when he flew into Milwaukee in 2002 to join the Astros for the first time and walked in the clubhouse, where he was greeted by coach John Tamargo.

"He said, 'There's the happiest man in America,'" Zinter said.

He shared a clubhouse with Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus and Lance Berkman -- guys who played in the Majors for years and at times made the game look easy. Because he had to work so hard to get where he was, Zinter has never taken it for granted.

"To be able to walk into that stadium and locker room and have the jersey there and be able to put that on and be a part of a Major League organization, that's nice," he said.

Zinter, who lives in Phoenix, praised his wife, Yvonne, for helping him pursue his dream of returning to the Majors. His 14-year-old son, Michael, and 11-year-old daughter, Franklynn, have been supportive and understanding as well.

"We had children in our early 30s, so we spent a good amount of time without children so [Yvonne] would go with me a lot on the road," Zinter said. "At times, she would get a summer job and wait tables at Outback Steakhouse or something like that. She was with me the whole time, so it's awesome that I'm finally able to make it to the big leagues."

Again.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.