Former Stepinac Players Playing thru the pain.

Posted Monday, May 19, 2008 by Port Chester westmore News

Sports: Playing through pain



Matt Casino, a freshman at Iona College, earned his first-ever save on Mar. 22 against St. Peter?s. It was the Gaels? first win of the year.

Port Chester boys Jason Cusumano and Matt Casino are enjoying success on the baseball diamond despite dealing with-and overcoming-off-the-field obstacles.
By Peter Kollmann
THEY'VE known each other since they were old enough to perform routine tasks such as swing a bat, oil a glove and turn on the television to watch the inaugural game of the Subway Series (which continues tonight in the Bronx when Johan Santana and the Mets battle the A-Rod-less Yankees).
Though they've now parted ways (at least for the college teams they play for), the bond between Jason Cusumano and Matt Casino, both Port Chester residents, Yankee fans and teammates on the Stepinac Crusaders, remains as intact as the seams of a baseball. Their connection is even more unique since both players share the commonality playing the game they love while also dealing with recent off-the-field personal matters.
Cusumano, who just finished his sophomore year at Bentley College, enjoyed success on the diamond this season despite recently losing his father, Lenny, the longtime Port Chester building inspector, who died suddenly at the age of 55 last October. Casino, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in July 2006, has managed to overcome that issue while pitching for Iona College.
Friends since childhood, Casino and his family came to the aid of Cusumano when his father passed away. They organized and helped run a basketball tournament at Corpus Christi School for seventh and eighth graders in memory of Lenny. The tournament, an event of the Catholic Youth Organization, was held as a tribute to Cusumano's dad in large part because Lenny was heavily involved in coaching youths, a role he enjoyed playing.
While many baseball athletes, both college and professional, write numbers or names on their cleats or draw figures in the infield to pay tribute to a lost loved one, Cusumano said he doesn't do anything specific to honor his dad during games. "My pregame mental preparation is how I remember him," said Cusumano, who hit .260 with 15 RBIs and 13 runs scored for the Falcons (22-25, 17-13 Northeast-10) this season.
Bentley Head Coach Bob De- Felice, now in his 40th season with the Falcons, decided to cut the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Cusumano when he tried out for the team his freshman year. Cusumano made the team this season but didn't start until midway through the schedule. The turning point, De- Felice said, was when Cusumano got the game-winning hit (in just his fourth career at bat) in the 11th inning of the team's 3-1 win over Bryant on Mar. 24.
"I told myself [after that game]: 'He's playing the next day,'" said DeFelice, who is also the college's director of athletics. "Once he started playing, our team became better. His presence improved our team.
"It's his attitude. He's a guy everyone roots for, and I have total respect for that kid."
Cusumano played second base when Bentley defeated Franklin Pierce University, then ranked sixth in Division II, in a doubleheader (winning 8-4 and 3-2) on April 12. The same Ravens, however, ended the Falcons' season by beating them 10-2 in the first round of the NE-10 playoffs on May 7. Cusumano had an RBI in that, his last game this year.
While Cusumano experienced the pressure of a playoff game in 2008, Casino's team, the Gaels, has struggled this season and will miss the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference playoffs. Iona (4-47, 4-20 MAAC) concludes its regular season today at J.B. Buono Field against Le Moyne College. The first pitch, pending weather, is scheduled for noon.
Casino, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound right-handed relief pitcher who throws from a three-quarter angle, reflected fondly on his ninthinning outing against St. Peter's College on Mar. 22. Head Coach Pat Carey pulled the Gaels' regular closer and brought in Casino to protect a 5-1 lead with one out and the bases loaded. Carey's gamble paid off, as Casino induced a sacrifice fly and then struck out the next batter looking on his patented slider to earn his first save and secure the team's first win this year.
"Matt's pitched very well in every outing this year," said Carey, now in his third year as head coach. "He's a competitor who throws strikes and gets outs.
"He's been a big part of our staff this year-and you don't get that from walk-on freshmen very much."
Casino, an Accounting major, said his teammates have been cognizant and understanding of his situation (he's insulin-dependent and often takes glucose tablets during games to regulate his blood sugar level).
"I didn't have too high expectations coming into this season," said Casino, who has a 0-1 record with a 5.27 ERA (which Carey said "doesn't reflect his performance") in 27.1 innings. "It's hard to adjust [at the college level] because the hitters are so much better."
While the hitters and talent at the collegiate level are superior to the competition Casino and Cusumano faced in high school and the Port Chester Babe Ruth League, they've managed to take their game to the next level while also managing, and overcoming, their personal situations, earning the respect of all who've known them.
"I always had fun playing with them," said Frank Fiumara, senior co-captain for the Port Chester varsity baseball team. "They're good guys, good teammates."
This is part of the May 16, 2008 online edition of Port Chester Westmore News.