Sunday, April 19, 2015

Interview Part 1: Joe Ausanio, Hard Work

Marist head softball coach Joe Ausanio talks to his players during an April 2015 game at Marist. Ausanio made the major leagues as a pitcher with the Yankees. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Hard Work | Part 2: The View
Part 3: Most Incredible

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY - The joke was the phone call was for him. It was the Yankees, the joke went, calling to bring Joe Ausanio up for his major league debut, Ausanio recalled.

As it turned out, that was exactly what that phone call was: Ausanio was going to the major leagues.

"I just remembered trying to pick my jaw up off the floor," Ausanio recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days. "I cried. I can't lie. I cried. Because it was like all that hard work, all that time spent trying to get myself to the big leagues - because sometimes you just think that call's never going to come."

Ausanio made the majors in June 1994, in his seventh pro season. He was also in his third organization, having started his career in the Pirates system.

When the call finally came, Ausanio recalled asking the team official to repeat the news.

"I was just like, 'Can you say that again one more time?'" Ausanio recalled. "And he was like, 'I'd be happy to.' "

Ausanio went on to play in the majors in parts of two seasons, both with the Yankees. He got into 41 games in all, picking up four wins and a save.

He's gone on to return to the area where he grew up, New York's Hudson Valley region. He's also stayed in baseball and gone into coaching.
Marist College head softball coach Joe Ausanio before a game in April 2015. Ausanio made the majors in his seventh pro season. (Greatest 21 Days)
He serves as director of baseball operations with the New York-Penn League's Hudson Valley Renegades. He also serves as head coach of the Marist College softball team.

Ausanio spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently before his Red Fox softball team took on conference rival Iona on the Marist campus.

Ausanio grew up in Kingston, NY, in an athletic family. His older brother is Paul Runge, who himself managed to get time in eight major league seasons.

Ausanio recalled playing baseball constantly as a kid and starting early.

"All I did as a kid was play," Ausanio said. "When I woke up, it was like 'Hi, Mom. Bye, Mom' and I'd show up again somewhere around dinner time.

"It was like the movie 'The Sandlot,'" Ausanio added. "That's pretty much what my life was. We were out on the ball field every day, all day."

Ausanio also had his older brother behind him. Runge, seven years Ausanio's senior, is actually Ausanio's half brother. The two share a mother, but have different fathers.

"My older brother always pushed me to keep playing baseball, pushed me to become the athlete that I was," Ausanio said.
Marist softball coach Joe Ausanio throws in the batting cage before an April 2015 game at Marist. Ausanio pitched parts of two seasons in the majors. (Greatest 21 Days)
By the time Ausanio was at Kingston's Catholic High School, he was throwing hard. His fastball there topped out in the mid-80s.

He also caught the eye of his brother's team, the Braves. Atlanta selected Ausanio directly out of high school, in the 30th round of the 1984 draft.

Instead of turning pro, Ausanio chose college and Jacksonville University in Florida.

"I just didn't think I was ready at that point in time," Ausanio said of turning pro. "I felt like I needed to mature a little bit more so that's what I did. I went to college."

He chose Jacksonville because he wanted to go somewhere south. He also believed it was a school he could be academically successful at.

His best year at Jacksonville, he recalled was his sophomore year. He threw well against some big schools, including Georgia Tech. He saved both ends of a double header against the top-ranked Yellow Jackets.

"I think that's what really started to get me noticed," Ausanio said.

He had a down year his junior year, then rebounded in his senior campaign. When draft day came in 1988, Ausanio had an idea he'd be taken. He also had an idea by whom.
Marist softball coach Joe Ausanio leads fielding practice at Marist in April 2015. (Greatest 21 Days)
"I actually thought I was going to get drafted by the Yankees because the Yankees scout was there every single game to watch me," Ausanio said.

But he wasn't taken by the Yankees. He was taken in the 11th round by the Pirates. The story he heard was that the Yankees would have taken him next.

When draft day came, though, Ausanio didn't want to wait by the phone. Instead, Ausanio went out and umpired a rec league softball game.

It was his father who broke the news.

"My father came down and said you just got a call from the Pittsburgh Pirates," Ausanio said.

Ausanio's first stop was in his home state of New York at short-season Watertown. It a place where his family could easily go see him pitch. He also pitched well. In 28 relief outings, Ausanio turned in a 1.32 ERA.

"It was a great first year," Ausanio recalled. "It kind of reminded me of the movie 'Bull Durham.' It was that cool."

From there, Ausanio started his move toward the majors. He made it, but not until into his seventh season as a pro. (Go to Part 2)

Part 1: Hard Work | Part 2: The View
Part 3: Most Incredible

Go to Part 2: Joe Ausanio, The View

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