Saint Viator senior Zan Von Schlegell took his seat last week on National Signing Day, committing to play Division I baseball at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has great stats: a .381 batting average last season, four homeruns and 41 runs batted in for the Lions, and he racked up big numbers with his club team, Rake City Baseball in Burr Ridge.
Yet this talented infielder brought more to the table than playing on the Lions’ 35-3 team last spring. At the age of 18, Von Schlegell of Downers Grove was the starting shortstop for the Pakistan National Team, which competed in late September at the World Baseball Classic in Panama.
While Pakistan went 0-2 and did not advance out of the qualifying round, Zan belted a single and scored the first run in their game against Argentina, which turned out to be historic.
“I scored the first run for Pakistan in World Baseball Classic history,” Zan says, adding, “The World Baseball Classic is the baseball equivalent of the World Cup in soccer and is run by Major League Baseball.
“They really treated us like big leaguers,” he says. “Some of the players on other teams were professionals. Being able to play at that level was like a dream come true.”
In fact, the World Baseball Classic originally was sanctioned in 2006 and coexisted with Olympic baseball until 2008. In its new restructuring, member teams with the International Baseball Federation can field professional players, who must either live in their member country, were born there or have at least one parent from the member country.
In Von Schlegell’s case, his father, Hassan, is Pakastani and his grandmother came here as an immigrant. Young Von Schlegell is so proud of his heritage that he often includes a hashtag to Pakistan in his Twitter account. Which is how he was discovered.
Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, manager of the Pakistan National Team and president of its baseball federation is actively trying to grow the sport and raise its level of play. He started out by recruiting cricket players in Pakistan to convert to baseball, but for this year’s World Baseball Classic he began recruiting athletes with Pakistani heritage who were already playing baseball at a high level in this country and Canada. Shah began reaching out to find Pakistani players through social media.
Like the World Cup in soccer, World Baseball Classic is only played every four years and Von Schlegell looks forward to playing in it again, this time bringing his college experience to the team. All of which was not lost on his incoming coach at St. Thomas, Chris Olean, who tweeted:
🟣 Our final member of the 2023 NSD class hails from Illinois and was the starting SS for Pakistan at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers
— St. Thomas Baseball (@TommieBase) November 10, 2022