FORMER ALL-AMERICA SERFASS MAKES HIS PITCH FOR MAJORS
Unsigned after Eastern career, right-handed pitcher opening eyes with Mets
By Don Leypoldt
The town of Newington has produced one major league reliever of significance in Ricky Bottalico.
It might soon be two.
In seven appearances for New York Mets’ rookie league affiliate Kingsport (TN) in 2005, former Eastern All-America and Newington native Joey Serfass struck out 10 in 12 2/3 innings, and did not allow a single run. This quickly earned him a promotion to single-A Hagerstown (MD), where he had a win and four saves in sixteen games. His ERA was an impressive 1.23 and he fanned four for every one batter he walked.
“I was a starter in college and now I’m a reliever so I had to be ready to go every two days,” says Serfass, on what he has learned in the minors. “Now, it’s more the mental part than the physical part. They can adjust your mechanics now and then but it’s more setting up hitters, throwing the right pitch at the right time and getting ahead (in the count). They want to make sure you’re prepared every time you go out there.”
On January 20th, Serfass was honored as the Connecticut American Legion’s Minor League Player of the Year. Serfass played his Legion ball with New Britain. His outstanding 2005 made his selection as Player of the Year a no-brainer.
Serfass’ success should come as no surprise to area baseball fans. He came to Eastern as one of the best players to ever come out of Newington High School. Serfass was a three time team MVP for the Indians, and he represented Team USA New England after his senior high school campaign. In his four years at ECSU, Serfass did his part to advance the prestige of Coach Bill Holowaty’s baseball juggernaut.
“(Coach Holowaty) really instilled in us that it was a winning program. He taught us to go out there, play our hardest and try to win every game,” Serfass recalls. He calls attending ECSU “probably the best decision I ever made.”
As both a junior and as a senior, the 6-foot-3 right-hander was a second team Division III All-American as he posted a 19-1 won-loss mark, a 1.28 ERA and an astonishing 6.6 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. In his four years, Eastern won three regional titles, finished 1-2-3 in the national tournament and averaged a remarkable 40 wins per season. In 2002, he helped lead the Warriors to their fourth Division III national championship, pitching a shutout over Marietta College in the national championship game.
A key to Holowaty's success for nearly four decades is his commitment to team accomplishments, rather than individual accomplishments. He makes an exception, calling the years between 2001 and 2004 "the Joey Serfass era. Joey Serfass is not the most talented player we've ever had here, but he's the best ballplayer we've ever had in terms of affecting our program. When we look back at the history of Eastern baseball," adds Holowaty, "we'll look back at Joey Serfass. And that's saying a lot, because of the many great ballplayers we've had here.".
Serfass was not drafted following his collegaite career but was signed as a free agent by the New York Mets later in the summer. Playing for the Mets’ rookie affiliate in Port St. Lucie Florida, Serfass went 2-1, saved two games and had a 2.79 ERA.
When asked about the transition from college to pro ball, Serfass comments, “I think the biggest adjustment is that you see guys play for themselves instead of for a team. I’m not saying its all guys…in college baseball, everyone is playing on a team and trying to win a national championship but in professional baseball, you want to win, but you’re also there trying to move up the ladder.”
Next month, Serfass will head back to Port St. Lucie for the Mets’ spring training. He is ticketed to start the year with the Mets’ high-single A team, also in Port St. Lucie. “Hopefully I’ll do well, and get to double A by the end of the year. That’s my goal as of right now,” he says.
Promotion to Double A or not, at least 2006 is guaranteed to be a significant year for Serfass; he is getting married this October.
Serfass knows what he needs to do to advance his career. “I need to keep at
long toss and working on velocity. They say there are three things with pitchers: velocity, location and movement. I think I have two of them, movement and location, but velocity can always increase,” he acknowledges.
The righty is not naïve about the politics of baseball. He is well aware that, as an undrafted free agent, he will not get nearly as many opportunities as a top pick. He observes, “(Baseball) is a business and
guys who they sign for a million dollars are going to move up quicker, even though my numbers may be better, because they have more money vested in them.” He quickly adds, “I am thankful for the opportunity that I got, and I am just going to try to take advantage of every chance I get.”
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