Henry Williamson, a 6-foot-5, 233 pound right-hander for the Aberdeen IronBirds, kicked his leg and let loose a 92 mile per hour fastball toward the upper inside quadrant of the strike zone.
For the hitter, it was the type of pitch that separates the amateur boys from the professional men: those whose hands are quick enough to get the bat around from those whose aren’t; those select few who will progress in professional baseball from the vast majority who will fall back into American (or Dominican, of Puerto Rican, or Venezuelan) anonymity; and those blessed souls who actually have a shot at the big leagues from those who don’t.
John Servidio, a 22-year-old right fielder playing in just his third professional game, had quick enough hands. He whipped his bat around and sent the pitch deep into the Aberdeen night, turning a 2-0 Brooklyn deficit into a tie game in which his team would eventually prevail.
He does not know where his first professional home run landed. As the ball flew over the fence, Servidio – who didn’t become a pro by posturing and admiring his work – was flying around first base looking straight ahead.
It was only when he saw the umpire signal that he knew it had gone out.
In addition to the home run, the umpire might as well have also been signaling that Servidio, a 26th round draft pick out of Florida’s Barry University, has a chance of achieving his dream of becoming a big league ballplayer.
Despite the long odds that all minor leaguers face, particularly those drafted as late as the 26th round, when asked point blank if he would make the majors, he replied, “Yes,” with enthusiasm but not bravado. He then recited a quote from former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda that has become a personal mantra: “The difference between the impossible and possible lies in a man’s determination.”
At 6-feet-1, 195 pounds, Servidio is an athletic player with good instincts and a hustling, workman-like style molded after Cal Ripken, Jr., his baseball idol (and owner of the IronBirds).
Hitting fifth or sixth in Brooklyn’s lineup, he has a level swing designed to produce line drives but has enough pop in his bat for some home runs.
His first week as a professional hitter could not have been more encouraging.
As of Monday morning, he was hitting .333 with 4 RBI. He sports a nifty .429 on-base percentage and a .667 slugging percentage on the strength of his home run and three doubles.
His throwing arm from right field is strong and accurate. Like his swing, his throwing mechanics reflect a player who has put in the time to master the fundamentals.
Servidio was actually born in Yonkers, but moved to Port Richey, Fla., in the Tampa Bay area because, as he put it, “My dad didn’t think Yonkers was becoming the best place to raise a kid.”
His father works as an independent contractor specializing in floors, while his mother works at Wal-Mart. He credits his parents – who divorced a few years ago – for instilling in him the blue-collar work ethic that has driven his success on the field.
While describing his upbringing as middle to lower-middle class, he stresses that he and his 15-year-old sister “were always supplied with everything we needed.
“My parents did whatever they had to do to allow us to be successful. Never, not once, were they not there for us. They’re the best we can ask for.”
He started playing baseball at 4 years old and was immediately taken with the sport.
“My family has pictures of me as a kid playing baseball, and there’s the biggest smile on my face. It was something I absolutely fell in love with – I never asked why,” he remembered.
By the age of nine, he decided he wanted to become a pro ballplayer. He says he wasn’t always the best player on his team, “but I’ll give myself the [title of] hardest-working.”
It was this hard work that earned him scholarship to Polk Community College in Winter Haven, Fla. From there, his continued progression as a ballplayer and student led to a scholarship at Barry University in Miami, which boasts a strong regional program in the baseball hotbed of Florida.
With a degree in criminology in one hand and a pro contract that pays him $1,100 a month in the other, Servidio couldn’t be happier.
“I’m taking nothing for granted. I realize where I am every time I step out on the field. It’s the coolest thing in the world.”