By Laura Amato
Joe Mortillaro always wanted to be a professional baseball player and more importantly, he always believed he would be a professional baseball player.
It is that belief that has kept the Middle Village native on track, despite a long and winding road that has included everything from college transfers to JUCO programs and a phone call in the middle of the night that changed his entire life.
Mortillaro believed, no matter what – and now that belief has become a reality.
“I know my journey to pro ball was a little bit unorthodox in the sense that I didn’t just go to one college and get drafted” Mortillaro said. “It’s just like one door closes and another opens. I never looked back at how I got here. I just kind of took it day by day really.”
Mortillaro’s story began at Christ the King. He was a Mayor’s Cup participant after his senior season in 2011. He went on to play a season at Manhattan, making 12 appearances on the mound before a coaching change prompted him to transfer schools.
“There was kind of like a regime change,” said Mortillaro, who competed in the MAAC championship during his freshman season. “The coach that recruited me left and that kind of dictates your future. It’s different when you play for someone who didn’t recruit you.”
Mortillaro gambled a bit on a trip to Arizona, but he found a temporary baseball home Gateway CC in 2013, throwing just over 69 innings. He played summer ball in Illinois after that season, meeting the Western Illinois staff there. It was a chance meeting, but one that helped shape Mortillaro’s entire future.
“I always knew that I was going to give it the best shot I had,” he said. “I never thought this is too much for me, not once. I always stayed on that path, mentally, that this is my goal.”
Mortillaro racked up over 100 strikeouts during his two seasons with the Leathernecks, but he didn’t immediately get a phone call from a pro team. He still never lost his focus or his belief. He knew would get to the pros eventually – he just had to keep throwing.
Mortillaro continued to work with other players in the area after he graduated, teaming up with Midville Dodgers coach Greg Modica who helped send out a highlight tape to MLB scouts. Then, late last summer, things finally started to work – someone called back.
“Greg told me that some people he knew reached out to a Dodgers guy,” Mortillaro said. “He saw a video of me and asked if I wanted to come down and throw for him in Pennsylvania. I was like, yeah, are you kidding me? I went out the next day to throw and the next night he called Greg at midnight that it all went through and they’d like to sign me.”
Mortillaro threw 11.1 innings of rookie ball last summer, but as with most things in his career, he wrapped up the season with yet another obstacle in front of him. The right-hander experienced forearm tightness late in the season and while he has avoided surgery, getting back into pitching has been a work in progress.
He’s been at the Dodgers’ spring training facility since January, going through a personalized rehab regiment that includes everything from ice to sprints and throwing bullpen. It hasn’t always been easy – at times it’s been the most frustrating thing in the world – but Mortillaro has never once lost his focus.
“You can’t really overthink it,” Mortillaro said. “You’ve got to simplify it as much as college. It’s the same, it really is. It’s just baseball.”
Mortillaro is anxious to get back into the swing of competition as soon as possible, but he’s taking everything in stride. He’s living his dream and he’s not going to do anything to jeopardize that.
“I want to break with a team and make a team right away,” Mortillaro said. “My goal and hope is to be back on the mound competing by the end of March and into April.”