On Sunday, May 8, 2016, the NYU Baseball team lost to Skidmore College 14-12 in their last game of the year. While the team didn’t finish out the season as team captain and now NYU alumus CJ Picerni had hoped, it wasn’t the final strike for Picerni, who would soon be drafted to play for the Washington Nationals.
Growing up in Calabasas, California, Picerni started playing baseball at five years old. He attended California Lutheran University for two years before transferring to NYU in 2014, during the first year of NYU’s rebooted baseball program after a 41-year hiatus.
Picerni spent the beginning of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft as a sports management intern with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His boss gave him a couple of days off, so Picerni started Saturday, June 11 like any other day until he got the news that every kid who has ever picked up a bat dreams of.
“Around one or two o’clock, I was checking Twitter to see if any of my friends got drafted, and all of a sudden, I refresh the page and I see my name pop up with the Nationals,” Picerni said.
Picerni was drafted in the 31st round, as the 934th overall pick by the Washington Nationals.
“It took me a couple minutes to realize what had happened, and by the time I wrapped my head around it I was getting phone calls left and right, texts saying congratulations,” Picerni said.
Soon after, life started moving quickly for Picerni.
“I quit my job with the Diamondbacks and signed my contract with the Nationals on June 20,” Picerni said.
Picerni played in the Gulf Coast League his first year, and then on June 12, 2017 he was sent to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, a minor league affiliate of the Nationals, where he was the bullpen catcher.
On Nov. 6, the Nationals released Picerni from his contract, and just a month later Picerni was hired by the San Francisco Giants, where he is currently bullpen catcher for their Class-A affiliate, San Jose.
In his two-year whirlwind, Picerni learned a lot about the ever-changing world of professional baseball.
“I just learned to appreciate every single day,” Picerni said. “To remember to count your blessings and realize where you are and how many people would kill to be in the position you’re in. I can gladly say I never took one day for granted. I went about my business and I worked my ass off every single day and to be where I am, and I’m grateful for the Nationals and I’m grateful for the Giants.”
As the first NYU baseball player selected in the MLB draft in 40 years, Picerni’s story serves as an inspiration to many.
NYU Baseball head coach Doug Kimbler said that Picerni’s journey acts as a motivator for the current team members.
“When guys see and read his story, they believe it is possible,” Coach Kimbler said. “If we keep moving in the right direction and recruit better and better baseball players, I hope a few more of our guys get the opportunity to play professional baseball.”
NYU baseball senior Matthew Wells played with Picerni for two years of Wells’ career and said that Picerni always looked to further the group.
“CJ was a great baseball player that wanted to improve everyone around him,” Wells said. “He was prepared like no one else and practiced hard. He wasn’t a big guy by any means, and wasn’t a rah-rah leader, but he knew how to get the most out of his own talent, and how to motivate others to do the same.”
Wells said that those still left from Picerni’s time at NYU still keep in mind the example he set.
“Even though most of the guys who played with him are gone, the ones that are left learned so much from him,” Wells said. “He taught us how to practice hard, even the little stuff, and how to prepare for the game, how to make adjustments and move on from each game.”
Picerni advised other young athletes to approach every single day with a purpose.
“Don’t just go through the motions and assume you’re fine,” Picerni said. “It ends like that. Just keep working hard because you never know what can happen.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 19 print edition. Contact Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]