Courtesy of Jerry Lee, Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - SOUTH BEACH - Overcoming the fear of suffering the same debilitating injury again is probably one of the most difficult things for an athlete to conquer.
Just ask Steve Paladino, who recently completed his red-shirt freshman baseball season as a member of the pitching staff of Felician College (Rutherford, N.J.).
"I was scared that it would happen again," said Paladino who suffered the dreaded combination ACL-meniscus tear of his left knee early in the 2010 season, "and it took a while to overcome that fear and getting used to pitching without thinking about it."
Paladino came to Felician from St. Peter’s Boys’ High School where he ended his senior season with a flourish, winning a pair of impressive playoff performances. And, when he started his freshman season as the staff’s closer, he was equally impressive.
"He was living on fastballs when I recruited him, so we thought while he developed his other pitches, we would use him initially as a closer," said nine-year Felician head coach Chris Langan, "and he was doing really well in his first four or five outings. When he went down with the injury, it really had a negative effect on our season."
After getting the medical redshirt, Paladino began the long road back. And the South Beach resident didn’t squander the time he spent rehabbing.
When the 19-year-old returned to the mound this past spring, he was a much stronger, more polished player and ... a starter. "I worked on getting my body in better shape and my legs stronger," said Paladino. "I wanted to start and when I was able to, I really worked on developing my changeup, curveball and slider into dependable pitches."
The development wasn’t lost on his coach.
"Once he got over that fear, he really came on," said Langan. "He really became a three-pitch pitcher and his changeup and curve really helped him since he has always been throwing his fastball in the 91-93 miles-per-hour range."
It all translated into a 4-4 season for Paladino and Felician, which finished 10-10 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and 24-22 overall. He started 11 of the 12 games he appeared in, posting a 3.67 ERA. The 5-foot-8 righthander struck out 71 in 69 innings, allowed 52 hits, walked 25 and held opponents to a .212 batting average.
Not bad numbers, but both player, and coach, feel they could be better.
"I had a decent year and the big thing was I didn’t get hurt again. But, I think I can do much better," Paladino said. "I want to get more consistent with my pitches and build up my stamina and the strength in my legs."
That will all help and his coach is hoping for something else.
"We need him to maintain more consistency; to be mentally tough every outing and give us his best every time out," said Langan.
Langan explained that sometimes Paladino would play down to the competition, and avoiding that is something that could elevate his stature.
"When the pressure’s on, Steve is the guy we want on the mound," said Langan. "What makes some pitchers great, and others just good, is that they always bring their ‘A’ game no matter what the competition level. He has great stuff; it’s all there, it’s just a matter of him doing it all the time."
Langan also feels the sky’s the limit.
" If he keeps that good work ethic he developed, and gets stronger, I think he can possibly get his fastball even better," said Langan. "And when the scouts come asking, he’ll get my vote for whether or not he can pitch at the next level."