Mankato MoonDogs Zach Gilles

Mankato MoonDogs’ outfielder Zach Gilles has been flirting with a .400 batting average for most of the summer.

Baseball remains a game of numbers, and there’s some special ones that will always be associated with the game.

Fifty-six game hitting streak, 2,632 consecutive games played, 4,256 hits in a career ... those milestones are hallowed and considered unbreakable records.

But a .400 batting average? That’s tough, but doable.

“There’s something magic about .400,” MoonDogs outfielder Zach Gilles said. “It’s very difficult, but it’s attainable.”

After 25 games, Gilles is batting .393, which ranks second in the Northwoods League for players who have appeared in more than 10 games. He was hitting over .400 before going 1 for 4 on Wednesday night.

He has hit two doubles and has 12 RBIs, and he’s also stolen 10 bases, which ranks 14th in the league. His on-base percentage is an impressive .523.

“I tend not to focus too much on stats,” the lefthanded-hitting Gilles said. “If I do, it gets in my head. I just try to go out there and play the way I play and not let batting average dictate what I do.”

The Northwoods League has only had five players hit .400 for an entire season. Steele Walker of the Wisconsin Woodchucks hit .406 in 2016, though he played in only 29 games.

The Northwoods League’s single-season record for batting average is .437 by Luis Rivera of Waterloo in 1995.

The last MoonDogs’ hitter to hit more than .400 was Toby Hanson, who batted .442 in just 29 games. The team record for a full season is held by Nate Hansen, who hit .363 in 2007.

Last season, the MoonDogs’ top hitter was Adan Fernandez at .323. In 2018, Garrett Mitchell led the team at .309.

“Zach is a great worker who goes about his business,” MoonDogs manager Matt Wollenzin said. “He’s very humble, not a stats guy. He’s so advanced mentally with a passion for the game.

“He’s a great guy to have on your team because he’s the kind of player you don’t like to play against. Kind of a pest, always taking the extra base, doing the little things. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Gilles has improved every season at Central Michigan, starting at .233 in 53 games as a freshman to .351 in 16 games as a junior. He’s played in 186 college games, including 17 last spring before the pandemic, learning how to be a more patient hitter and better bunter to take advantage of his speed.

“I’ve tried to take a lot more pitches that pitchers want me to swing at, and I try to swing at the pitches I want to hit,” Gilles said. “I’m trying to battle harder when I have two strikes.”

Gilles played three summers of Northwoods League baseball with Eau Claire, which decided not to participate in this pandemic-shortened season. Gilles wouldn’t be eligible to play had the NCAA not granted an extra season of eligibility for last spring’s college seniors.

“I like it here,” Gilles said. “It’s a nice town, good atmosphere for baseball. I really like the way (Wollenzin) runs the team, very professional. I’ve enjoyed my time here.”

Gilles will go back to Central Michigan in the fall, hopeful that there will be a baseball season in the spring. If it works out, he’d like to get an opportunity in professional baseball.

For now, he’ll keep showing up for early batting practice every day, working on his swing, hitting the ball where it’s pitched and not going after pitches that are out of the strike zone.

“My goal is to go 5 for 5 every day in quality at-bats,” he said. “You can’t control if you hit it right at someone, but if you have a lot of quality at-bats, you’ll get on base more often.”

Wollenzin said he tracks quality at-bats every 10 games, and he’s usually giving Gilles at least three per game. He thinks Gilles has a good chance of finishing the season at .400, given his work ethic and commitment to the game.

“I absolutely think he can do it,” Wollenzin said. “In fact, I’d be surprised if he didn’t. He’s one of the best two-strike hitters I’ve ever been around because he works on that every day in (batting practice). He’s too strong mentally to let anything get in his way.”

Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.

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