Jesse Zellner has always played baseball in Western New York, and in that time he's adopted the hard-working mentality of his hometown.
The 2010 Tonawanda News player of the year continued his baseball career at Erie Community College after finishing a dream-like senior season at Tonawanda High School. But after 19 years and finding success at every level, Zellner is taking his talents down South.
Next season, Zellner will play first base and pitch for Central Missouri University in Fayette, Mo. after receiving a full scholarship for his final two seasons of eligibility.
"It's good baseball and it's good weather," Zellner said. "I've always wanted to play somewhere where it doesn't snow. (CMU) made the world series last season and we'll have a good chance to compete. The campus is beautiful and it's a good opportunity."
Zellner said his time at ECC went incredibly quick, but he is grateful for all the friendships he made. Having the chance to play locally, in front of family and friends, is something he's always appreciated.
In Zellner's freshman season, the Wildcats went on an unexpected post season run that ended in the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series with a loss to the eventual champion team from Texas. Zellner said his squad got hot at the right time, much similar to the run Tonawanda made in 2010.
"We weren't a great team but we clicked at the right time," Zellner said. "I learned I could play with anybody."
The Warriors went 21-3 to capture the Section IV Class B title, before reaching the program's first ever far west regional title game. Like Zellner's ECC team, the Warriors lost in the semifinals of the state final four. He said the decision to attend CMU was made with championship aspirations. He has experienced what it feels like to get close to the ultimate goal and thinks his team in Missouri has the pieces to finish the job.
Nate Brelend, Zellner's strength and conditioning coach at CMU, said the entire coaching staff of the baseball team is thrilled to have Zellner coming aboard. He said Zellner's athletic ability is off the charts, but it's who he is as a person that really caught his eye. The maturity level Zellner showed during the recruitment process played a big part in the scholarship offer.
Zellner noticed the difference between high school and college baseball during his first two years at ECC. Whenever he is back at Tonawanda he tries to impart the wisdom he's gained in college.
"In high school you take a couple hacks in the cage and go and take ground balls. It's a relaxed atmosphere," Zellner said. "College is an intense atmosphere. It becomes your entire life. You have to be determined."
Zellner looks back from time to time on his high school career and smiles.
"I really miss it now because the whole tribe, the whole two months was incredible," Zellner said "The support I got from the area was amazing, and all my friends came to the games. We did something at Tonawanda that no other team has ever done."