After a season in which his team won 42 games, reached the NCAA Regional tournament and ranked in the top 25 among Division I programs, former St. John’s shortstop Jesse Berardi thought he had done it all.
Then, a new world of opportunities opened in an instant when the Cleveland Indians selected him in the 10th round of last June’s MLB First Year Player Draft.
“Getting drafted was a bonus,” Berardi said via phone interview. “I’d love to play another year there. St. John’s was the best three years of my life … For the Cleveland Indians to give me an opportunity is just a dream come true.”
The Commack, New York, native actually had the opportunity to begin his pro career three years ago, when the Philadelphia Phillies took a chance on him with a 40th-round selection.
But Berardi, then just a senior in high school, stuck with his college commitment.
Berardi has never strayed too far from his real home — the University’s Queens campus is only about an hour from his old stomping grounds — but he made himself quite comfortable on college diamonds around the country.
The now-21-year-old battled his way to a .200 average in his freshman season, but nevertheless earned the starting nod at as a sophomore for the Red Storm, the alma mater of Gold Glove second baseman Joe Panik.
After hitting a team-high five homers in 2016, Berardi emerged as the unquestioned leader last year, hitting .356 and earning All-Big East First Team honors.
“Everyone on [last year’s St. John’s team] team was so close and we got along so well,” Berardi said. “That definitely translated onto the field … It was a lot of fun.”
In other sports, Berardi would have spent an entire offseason preparing for the pros.
But in baseball, draftees report to their Minor League assignments as soon as they agree to a contract and immediately begin their careers. Berardi couldn’t afford to waste time acclimating himself to his new surroundings, shipping out to Mahoning Valley, Ohio, just three weeks after his college career concluded.
“Going to play professionally is a lot different,” Berardi said. “You kind of don’t even think about home for a while because you’re so close with the guys on the team. The New York-Penn League was just awesome.”
As it turned out, Berardi didn’t need an adjustment period.
He hit safely in nine of his first 10 games for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the New York-Penn League en route to a solid .284 average (the NYPL plays a shortened campaign from June to September) and a spot in the league’s All-Star Game on Aug. 15.
A wrist injury kept him away from those festivities, but that didn’t diminish Berardi’s fast, which he attributes to his teammates helping him adjust quickly.
“[Pro ball] was tough in the beginning, not knowing anybody and just getting thrown into it after a long college season,” Berardi said. “But you get so close to the guys on the team and develop a routine, so it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and it was definitely an awesome summer.”
With his first professional offseason ahead of him, the shortstop is ready to hit the gym — and the books. The Indians approved Berardi’s request to return to Queens to finish his degree; he’ll graduate this December with a degree in accounting. He doesn’t plan on spending life in a cubicle, though.
“The Indians were lenient on that and let me head home to finish school,” he said. “That’s a priority for me. In terms of this offseason, I’m just going to work out a lot and practice every day. [Playing in the MLB] is definitely a goal of mine. It’s everyone’s goal.”