BLUEFIELD — No regrets.
Justin D’Alessandro isn’t making much money to play baseball for the Bluefield Blue Jays.
“As a free agent you don’t get a signing bonus, you get the minor league salary and a plane ticket,” he said, with a laugh, “and they refund you for your luggage too.”
When D’Alessandro didn’t get drafted out of Catholic University in Washington, D.C. last June, his professional dreams did not come to an end.
“I believed I was good enough to get the opportunity and I thought I would get drafted,” D’Alessandro said. “I was just happy to have the opportunity from somebody, it didn’t matter if it was the draft or a free agent signing.”
His chance came when the phone rang soon after the draft ended and it was the Toronto Blue Jays offering him the chance to play at the next level. It didn’t take long to respond.
“Right after the draft I got a call about 12 minutes after saying ‘Would you like to sign’,” he said. “Obviously, I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
The 6-foot-4 D’Alessandro is currently a relief pitcher for Bluefield, having posted a 1-0 record and a 6.00 ERA in five appearances, striking out 10 in six innings on the mound, all while taking advantage of an opportunity that most never get.
“Obviously the goal is to get to the higher level where you start to get paid and make a living,” said D’Alessandro, who struck out six in two innings to pick up the win on Thursday in Elizabethton. “Even still I am playing baseball so this is what I love to do.
“You only get one shot at this and one day when I am older I will look back at it and I will either regret not playing it or be happy I did, but probably I will be happy I did looking back at it.”
D’Alessandro began the summer in Vancouver, appearing in three games, with a 1-1 record for the Canadians, but soon found himself being sent down a step to Bluefield.
“I started in Vancouver this summer and they sent me down here,” he said. “They had a few new guys in the draft, but that is the way it goes.
“Obviously I would like being at a higher level, but this is fine, as long as I am playing and I have a uniform on my back, that is the important thing.”
A native of Pittsburgh, D’Alessandro was actually a middle infielder growing up, but then had a growth spurt that didn’t end until he reached his current height.
“In high school and even before that I was always a shortstop or second baseman,” D’Alessandro said. “I was always short and then I grew my junior and senior year. I shot up and started pitching and I had a pretty decent arm so that helped, that is kind of what I concentrated on in college.”
He did it well, striking out 70 batters in 81 innings in his career for the NCAA Division III Cardinals. He was 4-3 as a senior with a 3.64 ERA, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning with 40 in 42 innings on the mound.
“Actually I didn’t have any accolades, I just had a pretty good senior year,” D’Alessandro said. “I guess I had the type of stuff that they could project that could do well at this level. I didn’t do anything crazy special in college, I just worked hard to (get) where I am at.”
Other than living in the big cities of Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., not much has changed on the field for D’Alessandro.
“I would say it is actually similar, I played Division III baseball so we weren’t playing on a lot of big campus, a lot of our places were a little smaller, small neighborhood-like places so it kind of fits that mold,” he said. “There is not too much of a difference, actually there are probably a few more fans here than I played in front of, but not too much more so it is kind of similar actually, except for playing under the lights a little bit more often here.”
Like many of the local Blue Jays, D’Alessandro spent last summer toiling under the hot sun of Florida in the Gulf Coast League.
“That is what I was always told, if you can get through the GCL, then you can play anywhere,” D’Alessandro said. “Obviously the skill level is higher, but as far as the daily grind, getting up early every day and playing in the middle of the heat, if you can get through that you can get through anything. I like it here a lot better.”
He posted a 1-0 record with a 3.07 ERA in 14 appearances, striking out 12 in 14 2/3 innings.
“I had a good season last year, had a lot of fun, getting adjusted and all that,” D’Alessandro said. “It is different this year, it is obviously not as humid all the time so that is nice and playing night games is obviously great and playing in front of fans.”
A starting pitcher for Catholic, D’Alessandro has never started a professional game, but there will be complaints from him.
“I have always preferred starting, that is just something I enjoy,” he said. “I usually get better as I go along, but I am willing to do whatever to get on the field out here.”
D’Alessandro, as well as several of Bluefield pitchers, could see their roles adjusted as hurlers get moved throughout the system. Just last week, steady starters Tom Robson and Shane Dawson were sent to Vancouver, leaving opportunities for others to step into their shoes.
“Obviously the starting rotation is going to be pushed around a little bit, they are going to be bumping up pitch counts, it is going to cover itself,” he said. “I think the bullpen might get a little more involvement in the upcoming month here with the starting pitchers so it remains to be seen.”
D’Alessandro is enjoying his summer in Bluefield. Winning, as the Blue Jays have done often this season, certainly helps.
“Definitely, I think the main thing as a team is we have bond well and I think we have fun doing what we are doing,” he said. “There is not too much pressure and I think (manager) Dennis (Holmberg) keeps it loose in the clubhouse, that is always good.
“We are all business on the field, but off the field we are enjoying ourselves and remembering this is supposed to be fun.”
D’Alessandro has adjusted to life in a small town where baseball is the thing to do, at least until football season begins.
“I am focusing on baseball here so it is not too big of a distraction which is nice, that is all I can really say,” D’Alessandro said. “I think Bluefield is nice and quiet, it is a good place to play baseball and I think the fans are very supportive and they seem like they really care about us and that is a good feeling also.”
A life in baseball is a great life indeed. Just ask D’Alessandro.
“Definitely, I will be playing baseball as long as I can,” he said. “Obviously there are higher paying jobs out there, but that is not what it is about for me. I love the scene here and playing ball.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org