Staff Writer Bobby Marani sat down with Baseball senior ace Paul Balestrieri to talk about everything from his summer baseball experience to his go-to travel partners.
1. How did you first get involved in and decide that baseball was your sport?
When I was growing up, I was a real active kid and played a lot of sports but I’d say probably when I was eight or nine my family and I started to realize that I was pretty good at baseball and I enjoyed it a lot. When you’re young in baseball and decide that’s your sport, it’s a really big time commitment … my summers would be playing baseball games and tournaments and stuff so it was at that point when my parents said, ‘He really likes this,’ and became very supportive of me. They would postpone family vacations in the summer so I could play and made sacrifices so I could always do it.
So did you crush the tee-ball game or what?
Yeah, I was a big shortstop in tee-ball … not anymore though. Coach doesn’t even let me play shortstop in practice anymore. [laughter]
2. What are the biggest perks or advantages in the life of a pitcher?
As a pitcher you get to be more animated … if you get angry or fired up sometimes it can help you whereas hitters are more calm and relaxed… so when we’re picking walk out songs, pitchers can definitely have more intense songs whereas hitters can’t get too happy.
3. What do you think is the hardest aspect about being a pitcher?
Probably when you’re evaluating how you played because sometimes you go out there and they can smack the ball, but hit it right at people, and you can fool yourself and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I did really well today and I had my stuff,’ but in reality you just got lucky. Whereas some games you can be dicing and the other team will get small dinker hits and luck will just not be on your side that day. So I think that just being able to be honest and keep a level head when things are going south… we talk about not riding the roller coaster [emotionally] when pitching, don’t wanna be too high, don’t wanna be too low, just trying to stay flat.
4. Last summer on Cape Cod, you were quickly traded to a better team within the summer league. What was that experience like and how does it shape your perspective about possibly playing in the big leagues?
This summer was an awesome experience for me. Being in the Cape was probably my favorite summer of all time. I was in Falmouth for my first month and my time there wasn’t guaranteed. They could send me home the next day or do whatever with me. About halfway through the summer [Falmouth] sent me to Chatham, which I was happy about because it meant that I wasn’t going home and I was going to be playing baseball in the Cape for the rest of the summer, which was my goal. And it definitely was a little bit of an adjustment because I had just started to get to know the guys in Falmouth and I really liked those guys, but then you get to a new place and find out it’s the same type of thing — great people in Chatham and great teammates. Overall it was an incredible experience and I wouldn’t wish it any differently.
5. Who’s your favorite baseball player or idol?
Besides Derek Jeter, the guy I’m liking right now is Rick Porcello with the Red Sox. I guess kind of being on the Cape and around Boston more has made me like the Red Sox a little more, but he just won the Cy Young so he’s just really, really good. I try to pitch similar to him. He’s a sinkerballer, I’m a sinkerballer. I see what he does and try to emulate it on my level.
So did you grow up a Red Sox fan?
No, I didn’t necessarily follow or was a die hard fan of anything. I picked the Oakland Athletics and kind of followed them a little bit because I liked Barry Zito and thought that his hat looked really cool — it was a very faint following, though. [laughter]
6. If you were marooned on an island, Castaway-style, what three items would you bring with you?
Definitely some music-playing device — an iPod. I do love music.
Any items to survive?
Oh yeah. [laughter] Maybe some pasta … and a fire-starter. I could play some Frank [Sinatra] and cook up a good dinner.
7. If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would you dine with and why?
I’m a big Jeter guy — I feel like he’s an interesting guy and he does everything right so he’d be the athlete. And then definitely FDR or a president that’s been in a crazy war so I can know all the wartime secrets — wish I knew that type of stuff. Last would probably be my great grandfather. He came over from Italy and worked on the railroads and would send money back to our family. He also came through Ellis Island and all that so I think it would be an interesting dinner.
8. Who’s the biggest inspiration in your life?
Not to be super sappy, but my parents and my family — the sacrifices they make for me to come to school here and live out my dreams. I get to play baseball every day and have a sweet gig right now and it wouldn’t be possible without them — they both support me and I’m really thankful.
9. If you could bring any three teammates and one coach on a year-long road trip of America — RV and all — who are you taking with to adventure?
Oh, God. [laughter] Matt Ford for sure … because [he] is the man. We talk about hunting Bigfoot with him so we’d probably incorporate that into our trip. And then I’d probably take Jamie Flynn, Cole Rutherford, and Pete Lannoo because we all live together and talk about hunting Bigfoot—we’ve talked with Matt about getting some supplies and going already.
10. If you could choose any other Cornell team to play on, which team would you choose?
Maybe the sailing team. I’m a big water guy and I love the beach — it’s my favorite spot to be. It’s a little cold here but on the warm days I’d want to be in the sun and on that team.
… or Golf. You and I killed it on Robert Trent Jones [golf course]. [Laughter]
They don’t need to know about me shanking balls all day, Paul.
Bonus: If you could play in any baseball diamond, which would you play in, and if you could throw against any hitter, who would you choose?
Definitely Fenway—we just took a tour of it this week and it’s awesome. The history and the fact that it’s so small … you’re just on top of it. It’d be sick.
What about the hitter? A Bash Brother perhaps?
Probably Bonds … Either he hits it 5 or 600 feet and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool,’… [laughter]
… or I practice, get him out and get to say I struck Barry Bond’s out. It’s kind of a win-win.
You wouldn’t intentionally walk him?
No, dude! No way. I’d go right at him.