His baseball journey began on Long Island, and it has taken twists and turns through two high schools, three colleges and four types of injuries.
In the end, know this about Nick Bottari:
No. 1 — He’s a heavy-hitting, 25-year-old first baseman from Wading River, a player with a master’s degree who’s in his seventh and final year of college and is currently seeking his second NAIA World Series championship with Southeastern University. Yes, his seventh year of college.
No. 2 — He’s a walking, talking advertisement for the concept of perseverance.
"There were definitely some hardships that I had to go through," Bottari said. "But at the end of the day, it was all worth it because I’m playing the game that I love."
Hardships? Try a fractured vertebra, a torn elbow ligament, two concussions, a sports hernia and three operations, for starters.
"We always talk about the saying, ‘Impossible is an opinion,’ and my son and I talk about that forever," said his father, Greg Bottari, an elementary school principal in East Meadow and a batting instructor who coached him in youth and travel ball.
"We [Greg and Nick’s mom, Kerri] just raised him that way, that you never give up."
Sal Mignano, Shoreham-Wading River’s baseball coach from 1976-2014, had never brought up an eighth-grader to the varsity until Nick, his rightfielder and closer in 2010.
The kid batted .400 with 39 RBIs, including a Suffolk-record nine in one game.
Freshman year, he moved to primarily play catcher. Bottari hit .450 and made all-state.
Sophomore year, he hit .500 and made All-American.
But in between, he made a trip to an operating room for two fractures in the L5 vertebra in his back. That, he said, was "a tough rehab." Bottari had felt a pop while swinging about halfway through his freshman season.
"I’m just like, I probably just pulled a muscle," he said. "So I played the rest of that freshman year with that injury, not knowing what it was."
During his sophomore season, he committed to Miami as a catcher/first baseman, then repeated as an All-American his junior season.
"He’s one of the top two or three hitters we’ve ever had in our program," Mignano said.
Before his senior year, Bottari decided he wanted to better prepare for baseball and academics at Miami.
Next stop: Florida’s Montverde Academy.
There he met an alum who’s now with the Mets, Francisco Lindor. Bottari said Lindor helped him and his teammates with "the baseball side" and "the mental side."
There was a projection that Bottari could go in the first 10 rounds of the 2014 draft as a catcher. But about halfway through that season, he felt discomfort in his right elbow and was sidelined.
So much for getting drafted.
After he moved on for fall ball at Miami, the pain returned when he caught and had to throw. An MRI revealed a torn UCL. Bottari left after the first semester to be closer to his family and familiar doctors. He transferred to Hofstra and underwent Tommy John surgery in February of 2015.
His run with the Pride came with limited time as a DH and first baseman, first in 2016 because he was returning from the injury and then in 2017 because he suffered the two concussions.
"I think most other kids, if not all, would’ve stopped the journey, even at the college level, where the injuries kept creeping up," Mignano said after praising Bottari’s determination.
Bottari wanted to leave Hofstra and sent a mass email with videos to top 25 NAIA schools so as not to have to sit out a year. Southeastern, located in Lakeland, Florida, became interested. It has played him mainly at first from the beginning.
"If somebody were to go to 15-year-old me and say, ‘Hey, listen, you’re going to play in college for seven years,’ I would’ve told them they’re absolutely crazy," Bottari said. "But now that I’m in my seventh year, I really wouldn’t change a thing.
"There were obviously some places that I was at that I didn’t enjoy and obviously moved on from. But if I hadn’t gone to Miami and Hofstra, there’s probably not a shot that I would’ve ended up at Southeastern University."
The Fire claimed the 2018 NAIA title. Bottari led them at .385. He missed the 2019 season after suffering the sports hernia, which required surgery. Last year, he tweaked it and owned only 33 at-bats when the season was cut short because of the pandemic, which brought another year of eligibility.
So he trained with his dad in the cage and the gym at the family’s house.
"We got him completely ready," Greg Bottari said.
The 6-2, 220-pound righty hitter entered the Fire’s World Series opener Saturday in Lewiston, Idaho, batting a team-high .422 with a program-record 21 homers and a staggering 1.410 OPS in 56 games.
"He’s got juice," Southeastern coach Adrian Dinkel said of Bottari’s power. "A lot of draft picks have come through here that he’s hit more [homers] than, and he’s done it in less games than other people. He’s got power to all sides of the field, and he knows how to use it."
His age could deter major-league teams in the July draft, although he has heard from a few about possibly selecting him or signing him as a free agent. He has scored an invite to the MLB Draft League, where college prospects can basically audition. There have been offers from independent ball, too. The Long Island Ducks have also expressed some interest.
"I know I’m 25 and the major-league teams are looking for younger guys," Bottari said. "But at the end of the day, I know that when I’m healthy, when I’m playing good baseball, I feel that I could play at the next level. And I hope that somebody realizes that or somebody notices that and gives me the opportunity."