When Brian Zirkle first began his professional softball career in 2012, he had no idea he would become such an impact player.
The former Bishop McNamara baseball player has racked up numerous awards during the past eight years as a professional softball player, some of which include all-tournament team selections as well as multiple defensive tournament MVP awards.
Last year alone, Zirkle led the United States Specialty Sports Association, which features 52 teams, with 70 doubles and 20 triples while playing for team BadDraw/TBD/RapidFire, one of four of the 52 teams in the Major Division.
“It’s a lot of fun; we’re averaging 30 to 40 runs a game,” Zirkle said. “I’ve been considered one of the top centerfielders in the game for the past 10 years. Basically, I have a blast doing it.”
Surely that’s because Zirkle and his teams have been so successful during the years. During his career, he has helped lead his teams to an impressive 535-257 overall record, including 24 first-place honors and 22 runner-up finishes.
This past season, Zirkle hit .660 with 19 home runs and 124 RBIs, earning first team All-Conference honors. His incredible season helped his squad finish the season with seven tournament victories and four runner-up finishes. Zirkle’s offensive onslaught helped BadDraw/TBD/RapidFire finish first in points for the regular season, which led them to be the No.1 seed in the USSSA Major World Series in Viera, Fla., where they eventually finished third.
The league itself always has been tournament style with double elimination. Teams fly their players out either Thursday night or the next morning. Tournaments then usually consist of at least 32 teams that always are held on the weekends across America, with the top teams getting a chance to play on championship Sundays.
“It’s kind of like fantasy softball,” Zirkle said. “Every single year, the sponsors try and buy their best team. So, it’s kind of good for the players.”
Sponsors often shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit players. Zirkle’s sponsor is Easton, one of the major players when it comes to baseball and softball equipment.
“I’m an Easton-sponsored player; I have been for the past seven years,” Zirkle said. “It’s been awesome. The company is great; they take care of me and my facility really well.”
As for whether or not the softball league will take place this season because of the COVID-19 virus, the USSSA still plans to squeeze it in beginning in June.
“They are going to do whatever it takes to try and get this stuff in,” Zirkle said. “So, we have been postponed; we were supposed to open up in March in Vegas. I was supposed to already been to Florida and Texas as well. We are currently pushed all the way back until June 4 to 6, where we open up in Florida.”
The opening tournament in Florida will take place at USSSA’s headquarters in Brevard County. While preparations are being made there, the 37-year-old Kankakee resident is preparing in town.
“I run around the outfield like crazy for my team,” Zinkle said. “I’ve ran up to 50 miles in one weekend playing softball games, so I definitely have to come ready and in shape once the season starts because we can play anywhere from 6 to 10 games on any given weekend.”
Right now, Zirkle is working out from both his house and his facility, House Of Sportz. At home, Zirkle works on various body weight and flexibility training while at his facility, he gets his cardio and cage work in by hitting off a tee daily.
Zirkle founded House of Sportz, an athletic training facility located in Kankakee County, in 2014. He built it with the intent of giving elite athletes a special spot to get in additional training.
“The goal behind House of Sportz was for those people who want to put in the extra work, not just to do the mandatory practices,” Zirkle said. “The kids who want to go the extra mile — that’s what we basically gear House of Sportz on.”
Starting out as a training facility, HouseofSportz quickly gained traction with the travel baseball and softball communities during the years.
“A big part of us is the travel side of things,” Zinkle said. “We went from having three teams in 2015 to now, in 2020, having 13 travel teams. So, now I have over 160 kids from all over playing for me.”
The facility is meant for the elite student-athletes who want to surround themselves with people of similar skill sets. House Of Sportz has a deep staff featuring many qualified trainers who offer individual training sessions.
“I think kids who have played for us realize the value,” Zirkle said. “We are one of the most costly teams in the area, but we are $2,000 under what a team in the Lincoln-Way area would pay. So, we offer year-round training for our kids; they get year-round access to our facility, and they get the best coaches in the area.”
Zirkle is proud in how much House of Sportz has grown during the years, but he knows he couldn’t do alone.
“My wife, Michelle Zirkle, has basically helped create this thing from the ground up,” Zirkle said. “Without her by my side I don’t know where we would be; she’s basically the CEO of everything … and she’s been a huge part of our success.”
Brian is the face of the company, but Michelle does all the behind-the-scenes work that usually goes unnoticed.
“On the regular side, I get to create the website it and update it,” Michelle said. “On the travel side, I’m just more of the organizational instructor. I do all of the contracts, website designs and schedule all the tournaments and fundraisers.”
Whether it’s as a player himself or in the dugouts as a coach, whenever play resumes on the diamond, Zirkle will be there.