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Pleasanton's Stephen Piscotty stays grounded while rising high in the majors

Amador grad in spring training set for 2nd full season with St. Louis Cardinals

In so many ways, Stephen Piscotty is not your typical Major League Baseball player.

Piscotty, the right-fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and a 2009 Amador Valley High graduate, is probably among the most down-to-earth, grounded professional athletes you'll find.

How grounded? This past offseason, Piscotty stayed at his parents' house in Pleasanton. The family has always been a tight-knit one, with parents Michael and Gretchen and older brother Nicholas and younger brother Austin, who plays baseball for St. Mary's College.

"I like being with and doing things with my family," Piscotty said during an interview ahead of spring training. "I was trying to find my own place. I really would like to stay in Pleasanton; I just want to find the right place."

Going from the day-to-day living of a professional baseball player back into your room at mom and dad's house certainly would keep one grounded.

"Yeah, especially when you are doing chores," the 26-year-old said with a laugh.

Lou Cesario, Piscotty's coach at Amador Valley, said they have kept in frequent touch since Piscotty left the Dons and he has seen up close how his former player has stayed the same type of person.

"He's just a tremendous person," Cesario said. "When he was home in the offseason, he would text me and ask what we're doing that day. If I told him we were in the weight room, he would come down and talk with kids. He has been great with my guys."

Piscotty's story started like so many others -- dreaming about playing professional baseball as a youngster.

"It started early for me, playing whiffle ball with my dad and grandpa," Piscotty recalled. "Then I would go with my dad and brothers to A's games. I remember thinking it would be so cool to play out there."

After a strong youth career, Piscotty didn't take long to make an impact at Amador. As a freshman, he started at third base and hit in the middle of the lineup.

"He was never over-matched," said Cesario, who orchestrated a ceremony last year to retire Piscotty's number at Amador.

It was also during those high school years that Cesario got to see up close the main thing that has gotten Piscotty to be an everyday MLB ballplayer.

"He had an incredible work ethic. He never stopped working," the Dons coach said. "All the way through high school, he hit every day at lunch. He would always ask different people to pitch to him, and if he didn't find someone, he would hit off the tee. I tell our players that now. You have to work."

He started at shortstop his sophomore year for the Dons, a spot he would man for the next three years. His junior and senior year, he also pitched. He was a first-team, East Bay Athletic League pick all three years and was the Most Valuable Player in the EBAL his senior season.

It was the beginning of his junior year that Piscotty first started thinking about the legitimacy of playing beyond Pleasanton.

"In high school, the first indicator was when I started getting letters from colleges," he said. "But you never know. I mean there are good players all over the place."

It was clear Piscotty was a special player.

"His junior year was crazy," Cesario said. "There were scouts calling every day wanting me to take him out of class. I was getting calls at home the summer before from college coaches."

Piscotty let it be known that going to college was high on his priority list, and with that in mind, he and Cesario made a list of colleges.

"They were all high-end academic schools, and Stanford was at the top of his list," the coach remembered. "He is very intelligent and very level-headed."

Thus, when Stanford University offered and Piscotty was accepted into the school, it was a done deal, something that is not always the case with high school seniors.

"I had always wanted to go to Stanford," Piscotty said. "The pro teams started offering me money to forgo Stanford, but the answer was always no."

The Los Angeles Dodgers still drafted him -- in the 45th round of the MLB Draft -- but the answer was still no, and off went Piscotty to Stanford, where he starred on the Cardinal baseball team and earned a degree in atmosphere and energy engineering. Even though a chance to play in the pro ranks would be there when he was done with college, for Piscotty, it was about the education.

"To be able to get the degree was key for me," said Piscotty, who finished his degree after turning professional. "When I went to pro ball, I felt like I had a solid back-up plan. I felt like I could relax and just play ball."

The St. Louis Cardinals took Piscotty in the first round -- 36th overall -- in 2012, and he signed with the Redbirds. He spent three seasons in the minors, moving from infield to the outfield in the process.

There was certainly a period of adjustment when he first got to the minors.

"Adapting to the lifestyle off the field and having to play every day instead of just on the weekends took some time," he said. "It was a grind and was tough to adjust."

But Piscotty continued to improve and climb the ranks in the Cards' system. The call came July 15, 2015 -- the Cardinals promoted him to the big leagues.

"That was pure joy and elation," Piscotty said. "I was thinking about how the dream had finally come true. Making that call to my parents was a special time."

Piscotty came out swinging and ended the regular season with a .305 batting average, finishing sixth in the Rookie of the Year balloting and being named the Cardinals' Franchise Player of the Year.

"The first thing that hit me was the size of the stadiums," Piscotty recalled. "I remember that vividly, but I just wanted to stay focused and help the team win games."

He did just that, as the Cardinals advanced to the playoffs, where they faced the Chicago Cubs in the divisional round, losing in four games. In his first postseason game, Piscotty hit a home run and ripped a double. It is something he said he will always remember.

"When I watch a replay of the double and home run and see the curtain call," Piscotty said, pausing, "I'm getting the chills talking about it right now."

He earned the starting spot in right field during spring training last year and finished the 2016 season hitting .273 with 22 home runs and 85 RBI.

Now, with the 2017 regular season on the horizon, Piscotty said there are still times he finds it hard to believe he is playing professional baseball.

"I think it has sunk in a little bit, but sometimes I still go out before a game and just stare at the field, soaking it in," he said.

Piscotty still finds it a grind playing every day, but he's adjusting.

"In the majors, the travel is much nicer," Piscotty said. "But the intensity is much higher and we go into some pretty hostile environments. AT&T (the San Francisco Giants' home) is pretty rowdy. I have heard some stuff that is, well, pretty creative."

It's been a season and a half in the big leagues for Piscotty, and he said he remains razor-focused.

"I just try to have a short-term mindset," Piscotty added. "I think I have set myself up for a good career if I keep working hard."

For those who know him best, that is not an issue.

"He still hits in the Amador batting cage every night after everyone is done," Cesario said of Piscotty during the offseason. "He knows what he wants to do, and he knows what he needs to do to get there."

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Sue
a resident of Happy Valley
on Mar 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm

What a great role model......We need all we can get !! Thanks Stephen.....keep up the good work and best of luck to you.


3 people like this
Posted by Jake Waters
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 11, 2017 at 6:57 pm

Jake Waters is a registered user.

First of all, great story. I love these kind of outcomes. Secondly, what great parents, kudos to them. And thirdly, I wish great things for this amazing young man. Lastly, and I have to say this: I love that fact that they are A's fans. Go A!s.


Like this comment
Posted by bravo!
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 16, 2017 at 8:28 am

For the first time that I can remember we can look up to a sports figure. No drugs, no sexual misconduct, no disrespect of the country that makes his lifestyle possible. Wow, sure hope this guy has a long a fruitful career.


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