Jesse Berardi popped the pitch high above the infield. It looked like a routine out, but nothing is routine when Berardi is involved. As the fielder settled under the ball, Berardi raced around first base and toward second.
How many players, including major-leaguers, hustle like that? Most would just jog to first and give up on the play. Very few can get past the disappointment of the pop-up and still see the possibilities.
The ball was misplayed, and as it landed in the infield, Berardi dove into second and began a Commack rally. His teammates were fired up and the opponents were dismayed.
That's Jesse Berardi, where the glass is always half full. There is always the possibility of something good coming out of pure hustle. Old-timers call it old-school baseball. Few love the game as much as Berardi does.
"He could be 4-for-4 or 0-for-4 and you would never know it, and that's the beauty of a great player," Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci said. "He's never too high and he's never too low. He's the ultimate team player, a coach's dream, a leader. I enjoyed playing against him for four years."
The lefthanded-swinging Berardi batted .423 with 13 extra-base hits and scored 25 runs this spring. He took away many hits while playing a spectacular shortstop as he led Commack deep into the Suffolk Class AA playoffs. His legacy will be talked about for a long time.
For his outstanding accomplishments, Berardi was named the 47th recipient of the Carl Yastrzemski Award given to Suffolk's top player. The 5-10, 175-pounder has an athletic scholarship to St. John's and was drafted in the 40th round by the Phillies.
"Jesse is a very special player, a kid who loves the game even during practice," Commack coach Ed Boll said. "He does whatever it takes to win. I have to shake my head at some of the fantastic plays he makes. He took a one-hop rocket in the chest and got the force at second. No one else makes that play, and I still think about it."
Boll isn't surprised that fans and opponents rave about his two-year captain. "The same kid you see smiling in the hallways is the same kid you see on the field," Boll said. "His ability and work ethic are incredible."
Teammates think Berardi's success is linked to how he enjoys the game. "He's always having fun," Commack pitcher Jesse Kilmetis said. "He rubs off on everyone. I love pitching when he's out there because every ball in play is an out."
Berardi is a player everyone comes to watch. Former major-leaguer Neal Heaton was the first overall pick in the 1979 draft. The former Sachem star made it a point to go to see Berardi play in the Suffolk playoffs.
"I've played with a lot of guys through college and professionally," Heaton said. "Some of them had all the talent in the world. But very few had this kid's desire and love of the game. You fall in love with guys that respect the game the way he does. Every Little League kid should watch him play to see how the game should be played. He's a special player."
Baseball is measured by stats but also is a game of intangibles, which have a major impact, too.
Berardi stands out on the field for all the right reasons. He's on an even keel, yet his motor never stops, and his anticipation separates him from other shortstops.
In his final high school game, Berardi was the MVP on Monday night at the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge. He went 2-for-3 with a booming two-run triple and made a few dazzling plays at short.
"Just another day at the office for him," Boll said. "It's great that everyone got to see him do the things that I took for granted for so many years. It just always seemed routine for him. We expected him to make the impossible possible."