Do what you can do better than anyone else.
One of the best things an athlete could ever learn. But unfortunately for me, I didn’t learn this lesson until my college career had already started.
Growing up, I tried to play like anyone but myself. Playing in small town Hookstown, Pennsylvania, I played three sports like everyone else in my ninety student graduating class, but couldn’t really find my stride. I was tall and skinny, which made it difficult to fit my body type into any specific sport.
It actually wasn’t until high school where I realized that I had a particular talent for any of the sports. I was still playing football and basketball, but baseball was where I was starting to find my place. As I grew into my lengthy frame, I finally found a place on the pitching mound.
When the recruiting process started after my junior year, I was excited about the concept, but it just felt like the next step of high school. Not growing up in a major sports market, we weren’t told to specialize in a sport from a young age because that was the only way to be recruited, as many kids are told. We were allowed to play as many as we wanted and I always just assumed that it would continue into college.
Sometimes it’s good to be a little naive. After all, I was coming from a high school that didn’t even have enough kids to fill out a JV roster.
But one of the drawbacks of being from a town like Hookstown, is you’re always fighting for exposure from the bigger programs. The recruiting trail isn’t so easy. Universities like Penn State and Pitt often pass us over, leaving the recruiting responsibilities up to the individual athlete.
With this being the case, I started reaching out to universities along with the help from my travel team, the Pittsburgh Diamond Dawgs. Along this path, I eventually found the University of Akron.
What Akron really offered me was a chance to play. I received attention from big D1 programs, but I knew I would have to redshirt and I wasn’t really excited about that idea. At Akron, I would have the chance to come in and compete for playing time right away.
I also believed their coach, Coach Rem, was going to help me develop into a pro pitcher. So by the end of the process, I packed my bags and committed to the program.
Even though I was officially a D1 college baseball player, my game still had a long way to go. Still growing into my frame, I wasn’t going to be a power pitcher and blow it by people. I needed to learn that if I was going to succeed at this level, I would really have to learn how to pitch and be the best version of myself.
There would be no more copying of anyone else.
Setting out to learn the different aspects of pitching from the coaching staff, I could feel that my game was improving slowly. But as our first big matchup came around, I didn’t quite keep the lessons that I had learned.
We were playing against the University of Pittsburgh, the team that had passed me by, and my family had come to see me in my first big game of action. I was not only excited to play in front of my family, but I wanted to show Pitt that they had made a mistake by not offering me.
Coming on in relief of our starting pitcher, I could feel the excitement I had for the moment. Our starter, a powerful pitcher that had been throwing hard the whole game, had put together a good performance and I wanted to finish what he had started.
Ignoring the lessons I had tried to learn, I jumped into the game and let my emotions take over. With every pitch, I tried to throw the ball as hard as possible, completely playing outside my skillset.
And as my coaches had tried to teach me, this was not my game and was not how I would succeed. By the end of my outing, I gave up seven runs and produced one of my worst performances of my career.
What really got to me was not the performance, but that I knew better. The other team wasn’t more skilled than I was, I just hadn’t played my game. I knew if I pitched like myself, I could play against anyone in the country.
At the end of an up and down freshman season, I set out to work on becoming the best version of myself for the following season. I was committed to coming back to Akron as one of our weekend starters.
But during that summer, while playing for the Butler Blue Sox, I got an email that no player ever expects.
I was informed that Akron was cutting their baseball program and that we were responsible for finding a new program to play for on our own.
Not only was this upsetting because I was out of a place to play ball, but my family was in the process of buying a house in Akron and we were planning to put down roots.
But sometimes, you have to change your plans with the obstacles life throws at you.
With only a month before my sophomore year of school and the pressure of finding a new program all on me, I went back to who had helped me find a program originally. Coach Frank Merigliano of The Pittsburgh Diamond Dawgs.
After we had made a few calls, I was starting to think my only option was going to be a community college. All of the programs we contacted had told us they were full, so I decided to commit to playing for Calhoun Community College in Alabama.
Although I wasn’t giving up on searching for other schools, I thought I would have to sit out of Division 1 for a year.
But then I got in contact with the University of Utah and Coach Hawkins.
He told me that they would have a spot opening up and that I should come out for a visit to see if this was the right fit. As soon as I heard this, I hopped on the next plane to Salt Lake City.
I didn’t know much about the school, as I had never been that far west, but I knew that they were in the Pac-12 and I would get the chance to compete against the top players in the country. That seemed good enough to me.
But when I came out, it became much more. I immediately fell in love with the facilities and felt the love everyone in the town had for the program. The whole experience seemed like something I had always been missing, and I found myself suddenly grateful that my problem had come with this new opportunity.
After finishing my second season with the program, this feeling has only increased.
Behind the leadership of guys like Dalton Carroll, I have continued to learn that being a great player doesn’t come in the same way for everyone. All around me, I have talented teammates, but the coaching staff has taught me just to focus on improving my game.
Learning to play like myself, and no one else, I have finally found the way to becoming the best player I can be. And I know that if I can continue to improve my game, I will be able to help our program get to the next level.
For a program that accepted me as part of the family in a time when no one else did, I am ready to do whatever that will take.
Josh Lapiana | Contributor