Pitcher who dealt with unspeakable tragedy makes MLB debut

Zac Kristofak had more heartwarming debut to big leagues than most

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 28: Zac Kristofak #72 of the Los Angeles Angels makes a pick off move to second against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 28, 2024 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) (Jayne Kamin-Oncea, 2024 Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

Any player who makes it to Major League Baseball overcomes astronomical odds in doing so, but it’s safe to say the odds were even longer for Los Angeles Angels pitcher Zac Kristofak.

The 26-year-old Kristofak was called up from the minors and made his major league debut on Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, which was a more heartwarming debut than usual.

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It was the biggest moment in a baseball journey where the sport kept him afloat in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

Kristofak, who grew up outside of Atlanta, made it to the majors more than 11 years after his mother, Donna, was killed by his father, John.

Donna was fatally shot three days before Christmas in 2012 outside her home. Donna had filed a restraining order against John Kristofak after the couple divorced in 2011 and she received threatening messages, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

John Kristofak was sentenced to life in prison in 2013. Zac Kristofak was only 15 years old at the time of the crime.

But thanks to community members who rallied around him and his older brother, Harrison, Zac Kristofak picked up the pieces and kept at it with baseball.

He temporarily moved in with the family of Carter Kieboom, who currently is a member of the Washington Nationals before his grandmother moved to the area so he could finish out high school at George Walton Comprehensive High School in Marietta, Georgia.

On Christmas Day following the killing, community members had left 300 presents for Harrison and Zac at the Kiebooms.

At the end of his high school tenure, Kristofak was selected in the 37th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

Kristofak didn’t sign with the Braves and went on to a college career at Georgia. In 2019, he was selected in the 14th round of the MLB Draft by the Angels.

He was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake City to help the Angels bullpen and ended up pitching two innings, allowing two runs, three hits and striking out two. He was sent back down to the minors on Monday.

Still, the fact that he made it to the majors was an inspiration to many given his story of overcoming an unfathomable tragedy.

“I’m here to help people,” he told MLB.com. “I’m here to help people 100% and baseball is my platform. Yeah, it’s cool I get to put on this uniform. But man, if I can help somebody, that’s a big part.”

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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