When Rachel Zingerman signed her letter of intent to play softball for the University of Rhode Island, someone should have been filming it for the next Hallmark Network movie.
It was that touching.
Long story short, Zingerman had an extremely close relationship with her dad, Neil, whose dream was to see her play Division I softball. Sadly, he passed away in Zingerman’s freshman year, after a lengthy illness and shortly before the Mercerville resident played her first season for Notre Dame High School.
Through the help of travel coaches, current Irish head coach Marty Schafer and ND strength and conditioning coach John McKenna, Zingerman’s dream came true this year when she signed with URI. And Kathy Zingerman made it even more special.
“The day of the signing my mom brought a necklace and it had my dad’s fingerprint on it,” Rachel said. “It was like he’s still with me. It was the most emotional, but best day of my life.”
It was the kind of day that they invented deep gulps for, because if anyone close to the situation didn’t shed a tear, something was wrong.
“The passing of her father lit a fire,” said Schafer, who met Zingerman shortly after Neil passed. “She has the drive and desire instilled by her father at a real young age. His goal was for her to play Division I and I never had a kid who has worked harder in all my years to get there than Rachel Zingerman.”
Players don’t put up numbers like Zingerman unless they work hard. Entering the state tournament, the outfielder/catcher was hitting .548 with 14 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 53 RBI, 45 runs scored and 26 stolen bases.
Despite missing most of her sophomore year with a torn tendon and cyst on her finger, Zingerman’s career stats are a .448 average with 95 RBI, 107 hits, 25 doubles, five triples, 11 homers and 82 runs scored. Is it any wonder Rams coach Bridget Hurlman revved up the welcome wagon?
“It was the second place I visited other than Monmouth,” Zingerman said. “Going up there, there’s a click, and I felt that click immediately. I met coach Bridget right away, and she was just an angel. Hugged me right away, introduced me to all the players. It was that feeling I’d been waiting for. My mom looked at me and said, ‘This is it, isn’t it?’ I said ‘Yeah, definitely.’ I committed the day they offered me because I knew right away.”
Much like she instantly knew she loved softball when she started playing T-ball at age 4. Her first travel team was the Nightmare, but she got cut from there when she was 10 and joined the South Jersey (now New Jersey) Gators. She soon got her revenge on the Nightmare.
“The following year we played them and I hit a double off the fence and that’s when I knew I wanted to keep playing,” Zingerman said. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Zingerman moved from Burlington County to Hamilton prior to her freshman year, and Neil got to see one of his wishes for her come true when she began classes at Notre Dame. But he would never see her play in the Irish uniform as he passed away that January.
McKenna became a devoted mentor, helping her with both weight training and spiritual support. McKenna runs Catholic Athletes for Christ and the ND Bible Study club, and Zingerman wanted to be part of it.
“Before my dad passed, he started getting into God, practicing his faith,” she said. “I thought that was very important to keep going, spread it to my family and bring it to high school. Coach McKenna has been helping me with weightlifting and mental stuff. Without him, I honestly don’t know where I’d be mentally. He brought faith into my life, and I couldn’t thank him any more for that.”
Zingerman fought through her grief to hit .364 with two home runs as a freshman, and a stellar high school career began.
“I remember our number one goal was to get me to a Division I college,” said Zingerman, who was coached by her dad up to the year he died. “We worked all those years for it and we also had a goal, where he wanted me to be one of the top players in the state for high school. He wanted me to have first-team All-State and have fun with the game. His dream was to see me in a Notre Dame uniform. Every single day I play for him. (His passing) makes me want to do all this for him.”
Zingerman eventually got a tattoo on her right upper arm that says “Sunshine” above an illustration of a rose. Neil’s nickname growing up was Sunshine, and he got a rose tattoo in honor of Zingerman.
“It’s comforting now that I have it on me,” she said. “Every day with sunshine. Thank God I had all those times with my dad.”
Her softball career hit a speed bump as a sophomore when she suffered her hand injuries. She was cleared in the middle of the season but did not want to risk anything too soon and finally returned toward the end of the year. Zingerman wanted to be healthy for travel ball, since that’s where colleges recruit from.
She returned with a vengeance as a junior, hitting .466 with 20 RBI. This year, her power has surged. After hitting three homers her first three seasons, she has eight this year thanks to weight training with McKenna and changing her swing to be quicker through the zone.
“She and Coach McKenna are best buds,” Schafer said. “This is the first year we’ve ever had a Catholic Athletes for Christ for the softball team. Rachel is a team leader for that. Coach took her under his wing right after everything happened. What she does in the weight room is the same thing she does out on the field. She’s relentless. Coach McKenna refers to her and (former lacrosse star) Dina Cifelli as two of the top female athletes he’s ever coached down there.”
Zingerman is more than just a softball player. Aside from being a quality student, she is in Notre Dame’s Service Program, where she does such activities as going to food pantries, teaching young children and visiting nursing homes.
“I definitely get that from my mom and dad,” Zingerman said. “My mom has always been there for me and is always giving back to people in need. She’s just awesome. I need to spread it along.”
One of the things Kathy gave to her daughter were tickets to see the her favorite baseball team for her birthday. About the only quirky character trait in an otherwise quality young woman is that Zingerman is a die-hard Kansas City Royals fan.
“Ever since I was 14,” she said proudly. “That’s when I started practicing in left field, and I saw Alex Gordon make a diving play in left, and I was hooked. He was my inspiration. He wore number four and that’s what I wear in travel. I flew out there for my 16th birthday just to see them. I toured the stadium, went to two games. She bought me tickets to meet some of my favorite players.”
She did not, however, meet Gordon. “No,” she sighed. “Maybe one day.”
If that day comes, it sounds like a Hallmark sequel.