Nothing to do but throw a ball at the wall
Mar 26, 2020 | 3477 views | 0 0 comments | 206 206 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It wasn’t a drive he thought he’d have to make, at least not anytime soon. Just a few short weeks after arriving at Spring Training, Joe LaSorsa was heading north, one of the thousands of professional baseball players whose preseason had been cut short and replaced with a sense of crippling uncertainty.

The pursuit of his dreams had been paused and no one — not the clubs, not the league and most certainly not the players — knows when the journey will resume.

Not wanting to make the drive alone, LaSorsa, an 18th-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays last June, headed two hours north from Port Charlotte to Lakeland to pick up his former St. John’s teammate and fellow Westchester native John Valente, who had been in camp with the Detroit Tigers.

The pair, which won a Big East Championship together in 2018 and made two NCAA Regional appearances, drove through the night and made it back to New York in 20 hours, swapping stories and blasting music to stay awake on their long drive.

“We wanted to get home and then once we got home it was like ‘so now what?’” said LaSorsa. “We’re kind of just in limbo doing nothing. It’s like we’re on standby. I’m in purgatory.”

Coming out of Iona Prep in 2016, LaSorsa was hardly a can’t-miss prospect. A 6-foot-5 left-hander that had to learn to outsmart hitters before he could overpower them, LaSorsa was a relatively unknown commodity on the national stage as a high schooler.

A couple of no-hitters late in his senior season helped shore up his baseball future, and LaSorsa earned a spot on the Red Storm’s roster his freshman year.

By the spring, LaSorsa had established a reputation as one of the league’s most reliable young arms, finding a spot on the All-Big East Second Team and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Freshman All-America Team.

He won seven games and turned in a 2.34 ERA in 21 relief appearances. The following year, he made a team-high 26 appearances and logged seven saves, helping the Johnnies clinch their league-record ninth Big East title.

As a junior in the spring of 2019, LaSorsa was pulled into the starting rotation for the first time since high school and managed to compile a 1.66 ERA, good enough for seventh in the nation in that category.

The Katonah, New York, native kept that momentum going into his first year of pro ball, earning a spot in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game and going 5-3 with a 2.23 ERA for the Hudson Valley Renegades.

Last week, the upward trajectory he had been riding since he was 17 suddenly stopped. LaSorsa, like many young ball players, has no idea what’s next. Getting a few workouts a week in at the home of a family friend and trainer, LaSorsa has found it hardest to stay a master of the mental game.

“I’m going to be completely honest, it has absolutely ruined me because I was in the best state of mind I’ve ever been in when I was at Spring Training,” said LaSorsa. “Being home I have to find another way to basically will myself to stay in shape and to still get after it because I don’t know when my next season will be.

“I don’t know if I’m preparing for spring training in 2021 or if I’m preparing for spring training 2.0 in May or June or July,” he added. “Nobody’s really doing anything. I can’t even go back into an off-season mode. There’s no gym open, no facilities open, so basically I’m going to go back to throwing a ball at a wall.”

George Brown isn’t as worried about Joe LaSorsa as Joe LaSorsa seems to be worried about himself. The 2008 Big East Pitcher of the Year at St. John’s before playing three seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Brown recalled a meeting he had with his sophomore left-hander after taking over as the Red Storm’s pitching coach before the start of the 2018 season.

In their first conversation as player and coach, LaSorsa flipped the script from how these talks usually go. Instead of Brown dictating what he needed from his pitcher, the student told the teacher what he needed from him.

“He’s not coming from the most talented background,” said Brown. “He’s not a guy who’s a blue chipper, so he works at a different level because he understands that he needs to. So that’s what our relationship was, finding any way possible to work and get better in whatever situation that exists.

“For him, I think that’s what makes him as equipped to battle through this as anyone, because this is just him hammering med balls off of a concrete wall again,” he continued. “This is what Joe should be most comfortable in because it’s where he’s been before. He just needs to tap into the things that he’s continuously done to get to this point in his career, so he might not say it, but he’s probably more equipped than anybody to be able to handle this type of a thought process.”

John Valente, LaSorsa’s highway companion for their journey up I-95, is a living testament to how far hard work can get you in the game of baseball. As a freshman at St. John’s, Valente wasn’t even on the team.

By the end of his graduate year in 2018, he occupied spots on the Red Storm’s all-time record lists in both hits (218) and batting average (.353). Valente played in three NCAA Tournaments and won a pair of Big East titles before the Tigers selected him with the first pick of the 21st round in the 2018 MLB Draft.

He’s already made a living for himself on hard work alone, and now that it’s been placed on hold, Valente, who has a .320 batting average in 128 minor league games, is ready to tap into that same reserve of will power once again.

“Growing up in the Northeast, there’s a mentality of finding a way to make one,” said Valente. “I was raised on that mentality, going outside in the cold weather in December and throwing into an empty net or hitting off a tee or having my father throw front toss to me.”

While Valente lacks no confidence in his ability to work through the tough times from a competitive standpoint, he’s not blind to the real-world problems that face minor leaguers in these uncertain times.

“We’re going to have to find a way to make one, but it’s still tough at the end of the day, especially when paychecks aren’t coming in,” said Valente. “In the offseason you have to pay for facilities and stuff like that, but you don’t really care because you have a part-time job. When facilities do open, I don’t understand how some minor leaguers are going to be able to afford things like that.

“In my case, I’m still paying for my apartment back down in Florida, so we’re in kind of a tough situation, but you have to deal with it just like everyone else in the world,” he added.

Tomorrow seems uncertain, but baseball will be back eventually. Players will take the field, fans will fill the stands and the national pastime will go on like it never left. Until then, there’s nothing to do but throw a ball against the wall.

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by the St. John’s Athletic Department.

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