Nick Castellano credits IMG Academy baseball program in Bradenton, Fla., for his development as a pitcher. A Westport resident and lefty pitcher, he worked on his craft at IMG last year and is taking what he learned there to St. Leo University.
"Basically, we trained with professionals every day from 1-6:30 p.m.," says Castellano. "Our [academic] schedule was built around our athletics. The reason why we were there was for our sport and people around the world was there."
IMG Academy offer intense programs for elite basketball, tennis, soccer and softball players as well as for golfers and swimmers. The athletes didn't have much free time there, which suited him perfectly.
"I learned a lot and it made me not just a better player but a better person as well," says Castellano. "It was a very intense schedule but it molded me into a better person and it gave me structure. I'd recommend the program for someone serious about their sport."
For IMG, he played three to four games a week and on days he didn't have a game, the team would practice from 1-4 p.m. Following practice, the team would lift weights and work on their conditioning.
Before arriving at IMG for his senior year, Castellano played for the Staples High varsity
from freshman through junior year, 2005-7. Junior year was a breakout year for him where he earned All-FCIAC Honorable Mention. He compiled a 2-0 record with a 2.93 ERA in 14 1/3 innings pitched and at the plate, he hit .364 with four home runs and a .659 slugging percentage. On days he didn't pitch, he played first base for the Wreckers.
Although he was a force with the bat, he decided to focus on pitching and didn't play any other position. The move paid dividends for the southpaw on the mound as he improved exponentially. Working with retired Major League Baseball (MLB) lefty pitcher Steve Frey, who compiled in his eight-year career with five teams an 18-15 record and 3.76 ERA, also contributed.
"I really wanted to pitch because colleges need more pitchers than anything," says Castellano. "I chose to pitch because I feel I'm a better pitcher than first baseman and I had more of a chance succeeding in college and beyond as a pitcher. Our pitching coach [Frey] was a Major League Baseball pitcher and he really taught me how to pitch and set up batters. He helped me change my mechanics and helped me hit my spots. He geared me to become a much better pitcher."
Not hitting is a difficult sacrifice he had to make, but he accepts it and is unfazed by it.
"Sometimes I miss hitting and I take batting practice, but with the success I have as a pitcher, you get used to it," says Castellano.
On his development as a hitter, he says, "I worked with a very good hitting coach, Steve Hines, who played for the Texas Rangers [and has a batting cage in Milford]. He knows what he's doing and has improved my hitting a lot."
He throws a blazing fastball which topped out at 89 miles per hour and has fooled many batters.
"Basically, I did a lot of exercises and lifted a lot," says Castellano. "We long tossed every day and our arms got stronger. My body got stronger and I had a lot more energy throwing a baseball."
In addition to the fastball, he throws sliders, curveballs, changeups and cutters. Knowing when to throw which pitch made him formidable on the hill.
"I learned how to use them through thinking," says Castellano. "My pitching coach taught us how to mess with the batter and when to throw a fastball or a curveball to slow their bats down and keep them off-balance. I learned when to throw a fastball or a changeup on the outside corner."
Usually, he'd start the batter off with an outside fastball and he'd then adjust by throwing inside.
"It depends on the hitter, their stance and how close they are to the plate," says Castellano. "You can tell by just looking at them. Seeing how they stand helps me decide what to throw them. If I set them up, I induce groundouts and my job is to get outs for the team and you can do it by setting up the batter."
Having outstanding control, which starts with his legs and hips and throwing every day, increases his effectiveness. His mechanics also contributes and having a bullpen session every week in which his throwing was critiqued, also made a difference because he was able to correct a few things from it.
Life on the diamond began for him at age 4. Originally, it was his mother's idea.
"Most young boys play baseball and if you are good at it, you stay with it and I stuck with it," says Castellano.
He chose to play for St. Leo because it has one of the top Division II programs in the country. He sent a DVD of his pitching to Lions head coach Russ McNickle, who liked what he saw. St. Leo's location also helped him select this school.
"I want to play in the south where you can play year round," says Castellano. "It's a really good school."
At St. Leo, he's majoring in business and minoring in accounting. His goal is to pitch at the MLB level, but if he doesn't make it, he hopes to work on Wall Street or own his own business, following in his father's footsteps.
To succeed for the Lions and possibly make it to MLB, he knows he'll have to raise his game to the next level, which he's working hard in achieving this endeavor.
For now, his focus is on St. Leo's success.
"My coach is a good coach and knows what he's doing," says Castellano. "Our team has excellent hitters and pitchers and I hope my arm can help us win a Division II title."