Nick Fanti called it the happiest day of his life.
His professional baseball dream was realized Wednesday afternoon when the Philadelphia Phillies chose him in the 31st round with the 924th pick of Major League Baseball's amateur draft. "I've always wanted to be a professional baseball player," he said. "It's all I thought about these last few days."
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That certainly was a highlight. But if he thought his day was unforgettable at that point, what was he thinking Wednesday night?DataPro sports draftees from Long Island
That's when the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association announced that he is the 48th recipient of the Carl Yastrzemski Award, given to Suffolk's best player.
"I'm probably going to pass out from all the excitement," he said, laughing. "I don't even know where to start. So much is happening and it's all so good."
Fanti, a 6-3, 190-pound dual threat on the mound and at the plate, earned the Yaz Award with one of the finest statistical seasons in Suffolk history.
The lefthander, who accepted a scholarship to Marist, went 7-1 with a 0.67 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 52 innings. He allowed 14 hits (only two for extra bases), walked 19 and had six pickoffs.
"The ball just explodes out of his hand and he could command all three of his pitches," coach Josh Gutes said. "He completely dominated our opponents. He's an incredible competitor and he could self-correct."
Fanti threw back-to-back no-hitters against Glenn and Huntington and carried his bid for a third straight no-hitter into the fifth inning against Bellport before Kail McLean II fisted a soft single to left. He pitched 23 straight shutout innings.
Fanti's lone loss came by a 1-0 score in a playoff quarterfinal game against East Islip. He allowed two hits, struck out 12 and pitched to three batters more than the minimum in eight innings, but the second hit was a stunning solo homer by Tyler Clehane in the top of the eighth.
"It was an awful way for it to end because we had such a great season," he said. "And I wouldn't be getting any awards if it weren't for my teammates and the way they played this season. We accomplished so much as a team, and the individual achievement is a part of that teamwork."
Fanti led the Eagles (18-3) at the plate with a .541/.571/.689 slash line. He had 40 hits, 10 for extra bases, and scored 35 runs, drove in 27 and had nine steals.
"I've seen him grow as a player," Gutes said. "He came in so much bigger and stronger and became the leader of our team. His work ethic was second to none. He's just a great all-around kid who is the complete package. Teachers stop me in the hallway all the time to talk about Nick and say what a great kid he is."
Those improvements in strength and speed were not accidental. His training regimen with his cousin, Kevin Neglia, helped him build his core and strengthen his legs.
"He trained like no one's business and I am so proud of him," said his father, Nick Fanti Sr. "You could see the development in his arms and legs. And that's where he picked up the extra pop in his bat and the velocity on his fastball. He was determined to improve himself."
Fanti has played extensive summer ball, traveling from coast to coast and to the Dominican Republic with his parents to face top competition. His first experience in the Dominican was at the age of 8.
"The Dominican was one of the coolest trips ever," Fanti said. "And it opened my eyes and it made me realize how lucky I was to play baseball with all the advantages that I have here at home. Those Dominican kids have nothing, but they have a love for the game. I have that same love for the game and know what it takes to get to the next level."
There is a special bond between Fanti, his parents and his four older sisters, Claudia, Christie, Danielle and Ashley. They were like four more mothers to him, always taking care of the baby in the family. He was born six years after Ashley at a time when the Fantis had all but given up on having a son.
"When I saw we had a boy, it was all over but the crying," Nick Fanti Sr. said. "What a gift. He's so special."
And now he's celebrating with them.
"Where would I be without my parents?" he said. "They have supported me all the way through this great ride. They have never said no and they've always been there for me whether I'm playing well or not. That's what great parents do -- they love and support their children. I have the best parents."
And his parents have a Yaz winner.