The day of his father's funeral, PJ Martino called his high school coach to apologize for missing an open gym practice.
"He asked if it would be OK for him to go to a family dinner," Patchogue-Medford coach Tony Frascogna said. "And we all knew what was going on and he's asking if he can go, and it's like, of course, of course you can go."
Frascogna chuckled sadly: "He set the bar high for missing practice or open gym."
PJ -- whose full name is Peter Martino Jr. -- saw his father, 45, pass away from an illness a month before the start of this baseball season. Before that, he missed his entire junior year recovering from Tommy John surgery. But despite every setback and every heartbreak, the senior pitcher, "stepped up and became a vocal leader," Frascogna said. "He really went through the worst you can go through and he wouldn't complain about anything."
On Tuesday night, at the Suffolk Awards dinner at Villa Lombardi in Holbrook, Martino, along with Connetquot pitcher Matt Buckshaw were awarded the Dr. Frank Segreto Courage Award, for players who have overcome adversity to become examples of perseverance, both on the field and off.
Buckshaw, once one of the brightest freshman pitchers on the diamond, nearly saw all his baseball dreams dashed over the course of two tumultuous years. The pitcher missed his sophomore year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and his junior year recovering from a torn ACL.
People doubted Buckshaw would pitch again, much less pitch in college, but, "I just wanted to play baseball," Buckshaw said earlier this year.
After the second injury, "I laughed at it a little bit. It was a little bit ridiculous. But I thought, I can't give up now."
He was forced to watch player after player commit to college, while he remained unsigned, he said. It was frustrating considering he knew that, at his best, he could play with anyone, he said, but he continued to work relentlessly. Finally, in late August of last year, Stony Brook gave him his chance. He was able to pitch his entire senior year.
"I can't get back everything I had in ninth grade in one outing," he said, "but hard work pays off."
Martino, who went 4-4 with a 2.27 ERA, and a 1.40 WHIP, and hit .351, is committed to SUNY Bridgeport. He wanted to stay close to family, Frascogna said, and the team is a good fit.
Now a few months removed from tragedy, Martino's coach said that he's not surprised he never gave up. "His dad was always really involved," said Frascogna, who went to school with Martino's father. "I have pages and pages of emails from his father."
PJ, on the other hand, "was a quiet kid; he never spoke much" -- though that changed a little this season, when he became "the big brother of the team," Frascogna said.
"I would have predicted that PJ would try to shake the sorrow," he said. "He and his dad were close."
After all, it's what he would have wanted.