(Photo Credit: Old Westbury Athletics)
Jesse Russo is not content with the numbers.
The two-time All-Long Island selection is coming off consecutive seasons in which he batted .399 with a total of 47 stolen bases and 80 runs scored for the Old Westbury Panthers. Players of his ilk, however, never are content with their results and are always hungry for more.
“When you start off 0-for-20, it’s tough to get your average up,” said the 2014 graduate of Clarke HS jokingly. Even despite the uneven starts to the past two seasons, he has put up numbers on par with the best players on Long Island. He is focused on improving the start to his 2018 season.
“I’ve always thrived off of higher velocity, so when we face 82 or 83 MPH early on in the season, it takes a little bit of an adjustment for me to get going,” he said.
Russo has certainly proven himself to be a capable hitter that has been no stranger to winning. At Clarke HS, he was a two-time All-State player that was part of their 2013 Nassau County Championship team that was defeated by Bayport-Blue Point in the Long Island Championship.
That team, which he called “very talented” was led by legendary Head Coach Tom Abruscato.
“He was great to me,” he said in regards to his former skipper. “Some people see him as tough but he really helped me with the mental part of the game and playing hard. Obviously, he knows the fundamentals but he really helped me with my mental approach,” he added.
He played with Matt Seelinger, Joey Fusco, Mike Gismondi and John Fogarty. The latter is a current teammate with the Panthers. He noted that he maintains a good relationship with Seelinger, who is currently playing professional ball with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I saw him at the banquet the other day and I keep in touch with him to talk about how he’s doing in the minor leagues, obviously it’s something that I would like to do as well,” he added.
This will be a crucial year for Russo, as he attempts to continue his baseball career beyond college. Just a couple years ago, that statement would’ve seemed far-fetched even for his staunchest supporter. After graduating from Clarke, he attended Hofstra University on an athletic scholarship.
He suffered an injury and decided it was not the right place for him to be. He transferred to Old Westbury with three years of eligibility remaining. He stated that it was an easy decision.
“I felt completely comfortable with Coach Rod Stephan. He never breaks his word. He told me I would come in and get every opportunity to play. With that level of commitment to his players, it’s hard not to get noticed. I would imagine it was like that for the guys he’s gotten to the next level.”
Russo has a chance to be the next.
Two years in and he’s flirted with .400 both years. In fact, he would’ve batted .400 in 2016, if not for one misplaced umpire down the first base line at Farmingdale that was struck with a line drive. Russo wound up getting retired on the next pitch.
Regardless, he has already made an impact on Old Westbury baseball.
He noted that he owes a lot of his success to playing with fellow double play partner Tommy Ziegen over the past two years.
“Playing with Tommy was great because he was just so consistent,” he said. “I knew all his throws would be right there. He is also a true five-tool players. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with. I can’t believe he didn’t wind up getting drafted,” he said.
Russo hopes to join a list of nine players that have gone on to play professional baseball after Old Westbury. The most recent ones being Tim Ingram (2015) and Robert Whitenack (2009).
While none of his family members have played professionally, they are certainly very athletic. His father played at Adelphi University and Manhattan College and his brother played at UMBC where he graduated in 2011. His father and both of his brothers are now lawyers. Should life prevent him from playing baseball beyond college, he plans to attend law school.
But, he doesn’t plan on that happening.
“I don’t even want to think of that right now.”
He noted that he is working on his functional training in order to maintain his flexibility.
“In past years, I think I focused too much on weights. It really affected my running game, which is why I only stole 20 bases last year. This year I’m really trying to stay healthy, which I think will equate to more durability.”
Keep an eye on Russo and Old Westbury, as they open up their season on February 18 at Stevens Tech in Hoboken.