July 19, 2008 / Sports

The Cyclones - Going to work at the plate

The Brooklyn Paper
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John Servidio, a 22-year-old outfielder for the Brooklyn Cyclones, wakes up every morning around 10:30.

For the erstwhile early riser, this is the latest he has ever woken up; before this year, sleeping past 9 a.m. might have signaled something was wrong.

But that was before the demands of professional baseball took hold: the seven games per week, the long bus trips to places like Aberdeen, Md., and the night games that return him to the dorms after 11 p.m.

All that takes its toll on Servidio, who now needs to log as much sleep as possible.

The same goes for protein and carbohydrates. Soon after waking, he leaves his dorm room at Polytechnic University (6 MetroTech Center) with roommate Josh Satin – a second baseman and fifth-round pick – and grabs a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon and orange juice.

One look at Servidio’s lean, muscular frame – he is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, a miniscule percentage of which is anything but muscle – tells you his breakfast is not an indulgence but a necessity to fuel for the long day ahead.

The workday begins at 11:30 a.m., when the ‘Clones hop on two vans bound for Keyspan Park (1904 Surf Avenue), where they will play at 7 p.m.

For Servidio, it is the dream office and the dream job, even at a salary of $1,100 a month, the standard for first year minor leaguers.

Servidio’s teammate Ike Davis, a Mets first-round pick this year, got a signing bonus upwards of $1.5 million in addition to his salary. Servidio, a 26th round pick, received no signing bonus.

“At this point, I don’t care what they’re paying me. The important thing is that they’re paying me to play baseball,” he said.

Awaiting Servidio and the rest of the major league aspirants at the ballpark is early batting practice, fielding work, or strength and conditioning.

The common knock on ballplayers is that they are adults playing “a kid’s game,” a statement that implies they are less serious than most nine-to-fivers.

But this fails to take into account the hard work and seriousness of purpose inherent in playing this kid’s game into adulthood.

Servidio did not get to where he is today by treating the game lightly.

His baseball idol is Cal Ripken, Jr., the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who set a baseball record by playing in 2,362 straight games, endearing himself to millions of Americans who get up and go to work every day.

When Servidio talks about Ripken – whose book he is currently reading – he ticks off qualities he hopes people will one day ascribe to him:

“He was a great player, but he was always very humble. He’s a horse – he’s always about hard work.”

By 1 p.m., he is working on his hitting mechanics in the batting cages in the bowels of Keyspan Park.

“Tranquillo!” says hitting coach Guadalupe Jabalera, telling him to relax in Spanish.

As he freely admits, Servidio is prone to becoming overanxious while hitting. It is a natural consequence of the high-pressure environment in which he finds himself where potential multi-million dollar careers are at stake.

The key, he says, “is to stay within myself and just play my game the way I know how. It worked for me in high school and college. I just have to keep my confidence and know that I have the tools to keep going in the pros.”

After an hour of hitting, Servidio and his teammates have some downtime. And what do young guys who are into sports do with a little downtime?

They watch SportsCenter, eat from the clubhouse spread, and lounge around until on-field batting practice, which starts at 4 p.m. and lasts an hour.

To the untrained eye, batting practice may appear to be little more than a chance for sluggers to see how far they can hit the ball. But that would be a false impression; rather, batting practice focuses on the subtleties of mechanics and situational hitting.

Back in the clubhouse by 5 p.m., the Cyclones eat dinner – “It’s actually pretty good,” Servidio says – until they are due back on the field for the final 6:30 team stretch.

The tension and excitement builds through this half hour, reaching a crescendo with the National Anthem at 7 p.m.

With his hat and glove before him on the ground and his hands behind his back, Servidio stands proudly. Soon, he will get paid to play baseball.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “We joke around [about the busy schedule] and say, ‘When are we gonna get a day off?’ But on my day off this is what I’d want to do anyway.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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