The tattoo on Zach Fisher's left arm tells all. "One family," it reads — a nod to the synergy he feels with his brethren on Towson's unsinkable baseball team.
"Me and couple of other guys got the tattoo in December, when the program was on the ropes," said Fisher, the Tigers' third baseman. "If baseball got cut [by school funding], I wanted something to remember these guys by."
Sure enough, in March, Towson baseball got axed. Then the state stepped in to save the program. Then, last week, led by Fisher's hot bat, the upstart Tigers (29-28) won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to reach the NCAA regionals. On Friday, Towson plays Florida Atlantic at 1 p.m. in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Though barely 5-feet-9, Fisher — the Tigers' leadoff hitter — has muscled up in the playoffs, hitting .476 with three home runs, including a grand slam, and 10 RBIs to earn the Outstanding Player award in the CAA tourney. Can he keep it up?
"There's no reason why not," coach Mike Gottlieb said. "Reggie [Jackson] was Mr. October; Zach is Mr. May."
Fisher's average has soared 23 points in the postseason, to .322. The homers were his first of the year. He has a glib answer for that.
"Why waste it in the regular season when you don't need it?" he said.
Few have toiled harder, on and off the field, to keep Towson baseball afloat than Fisher, from Perry Hall. An economics major and an academic All-American, he demanded answers last October when Towson officials recommended that baseball be dropped.
"The day we learned we were on the chopping block, I emailed the president [Maravene Loeschke] and asked to see her," he said. "I thought if someone could explain, in detail, why this was happening, then I would rest a little easier."
The son of a funeral director, he wasn't about to stand idly by while Towson baseball breathed its last.
For days, Fisher did his homework, crunching numbers and comparing Towson with other institutions that have baseball. Armed with pages of data and spreadsheets in a folder several inches thick, Fisher and a teammate, Cody Reeves, met with Loeschke and presented their case to keep the team.
"She said, 'It makes sense to me, what you have here, but I'm going to call in an expert and I promise to get this figured out,'" Fisher said. "I left there feeling great, like, oh man, she's the best. I was in — hook, line and sinker."
Then he met with the university's task force and did the same.
"Fish is good with numbers, and he handles himself well," catcher Andrew Parker said. "He's very responsible and was definitely the right guy for this. I don't think he's ever been in trouble, over anything, in his life."
He never sought the spotlight, said Fisher, 21, a graduate student with a 4.0 grade-point average.
"I didn't set out to be a spokesman," said Fisher, who still has a year of eligibility after transferring from Maryland. "But I didn't leave College Park, and sit out a year here, only to have this program cut."
As a freshman, he caught for the Terps, batted .243 and sparked them to a 10-5 victory over Towson — a win that snapped a nine-game losing streak for Maryland.
"Fish did a good job for us," said Bernie Walter, then director of baseball operations for Maryland. "But he wasn't going to play on a regular basis. Going to Towson was a terrific move. He helped galvanize the team and created the monster that's going to the regionals."
Fisher serves as a conduit between players and staff, Gottlieb said.
"When I want to gauge the mood of the team, I'lll go to him, because I know that a certain level of maturity will go into his answer," the Tigers' coach said.
It's a cross the third baseman bears, if only for the sake of team chemistry.
"Sometimes I just want to be another guy out there," Fisher said. "But I appreciate the fact that coach trusts me like that."
In hindsight, he's glad he changed schools. Last fall, Fisher won the Minnegan Scholarship Award as Towson's top scholar-athlete.
"I've been able to play every day, we've won a championship and we're in the NCAA regionals," he said. "Maryland hasn't even been to an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in, God knows how long .
"Plus, I'm still chasing the dream. The reason I'm in grad school is to play baseball. I want to be drafted and play in the pros."
Much of what Fisher has learned in recent months, he said, isn't found in textbooks.
"The world is a pretty scary place," he said. "It's kind of sad that I had to find out this way, but not everybody is a good person. But for as many genuinely bad people as there are — and there have been a few involved in this — there've been a lot of good people who have helped us through it.
"I've met a lot of influential people, like [Maryland] comptroller [Peter] Franchot. People with no stake in Towson baseball have worked tirelessly to help us, and I feel that I owe them so much, because we're still here."
Still playing. Still winning.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun