Bill Hass on the ACC: Stephen Cardullo Works Diligently to Keep Dream in His Grasp
April 17, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Living a dream comes in many forms.
For some, it’s a singing performance that gets posted on YouTube and viewed by millions of people around the world. For others, it’s getting an opportunity, proving yourself numerous times and working hard to make sure the dream stays firmly in your grasp.
Stephen Cardullo of Florida State fits into the second category.
He came within an eyelash of not playing college baseball at all when he received no Division I scholarship offers despite a stellar career at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Coral Springs, Fla. Then a long-shot chance to play came along and he seized it, beating the odds to become the starting shortstop for the Seminoles in his junior season.
“It was definitely a long road and kind of stressful,” Cardullo said. “My senior year in high school everyone knew where they were going to college and I still didn’t know where I was going.
“My opportunities to play were falling through at the last second. I was like ‘wow, I might not be able to play baseball anymore.’ I really didn’t want to think about it. It would have been tough, real tough.”
Cardullo’s journey has led him to be one of the keys for the Seminoles as they open a crucial three-game series at NC State tonight. Actually, every series between now and the end of the regular season will be crucial throughout the ACC. The baseball race is wide open this year, with no teams able to separate themselves to any extent in the standings so far. That includes Florida State, which is 9-7 in ACC play (22-12 overall) and finds itself in the unaccustomed position of having to battle for one of the eight berths in the league championship.
“He’s been a very big part of where we are,” Coach Mike Martin said of Cardullo. “Of course, where we are is fighting for our lives.”
Cardullo has been instrumental in helping the Seminoles regroup from an uncharacteristic 1-3 start in ACC play to win eight of their last 12 league games. As the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, he’s batting .378 with seven homers and 22 RBIs. In ACC games only, he leads the league with a .462 mark, with four homers and 12 RBIs.
“Being the second hitter, I want to get on base so the heart of the order can drive me and (leadoff man) Ty Holt in,” Cardullo said. “We’ve got a great leadoff hitter in Ty; he gets on base a ton and he’s got great speed. Say he gets on with a walk and steals second. I have a chance to drive in a run and I like that. If he doesn’t get on, I have a chance to get on so the 3-4-5 guys can drive me in.”
That’s exactly what happened Wednesday night in FSU’s 8-7 non-conference win over North Florida. Cardullo drew four walks, stole two bases and scored three runs.
“He has proven he can hit with two strikes,” Martin said. “He’s been a tough out the majority of the year. We ask a lot of our first couple hitters when it comes to going deep into the count and he’s done a good job of that.”
So how did Cardullo’s story unfold?
Things didn’t look good when no baseball offers came though. He didn’t want to go to a small school or a junior college. An excellent student, he was admitted to Florida State and Central Florida.
“Orientation for both schools was the same weekend so I had to choose one,” Cardullo said. “My dad said Florida State had a baseball camp the week after orientation, so we could stay up there and try I could try out. It would be a last chance to play Division I baseball, so I said ‘let’s give it a shot, might as well.’”
Cardullo showed his skills, caught Martin’s eye and was invited to play fall baseball, the practice season for colleges. There were no guarantees; rather, it was another step in his chance to earn a spot on the roster as a walk-on.
Once again Cardullo made the most of it, impressing the coaches and making the team. He figured he wouldn’t play much as a freshman and he didn’t, appearing in 12 games and hitting .273. His first college hit was a three-run homer. The most important thing about that season, though, was studying the game.
“Going from high school to college baseball is a big jump,” he said. “As a freshman I was trying to improve my skills and learn more about the game, in all honesty. I learned certain tendencies with pitchers in their pickoff moves, how they would pitch in certain situations. That’s helped me, just putting my time in and learning the game.”
The Seminoles began to use Cardullo more in his sophomore year. He played in 41 games, starting 10 times, and hit .387 with three homers and 17 RBIs. He hit .400 in 30 at-bats in ACC competition. That earned him still another opportunity.
“This fall coach Martin told me I had an opportunity to be an everyday starter but I had to work for it,” Cardullo said. “That was pretty much all I had to hear. So I put in the work, worked out, practiced hard and it turned out I earned the starting position at first base.”
First base was where Martin thought Cardullo would fit best. He played well there and enjoyed it, but when the Seminoles got off to their rocky start in ACC play, the coaches felt a shakeup was needed. They inserted Jack Posey at first and moved Cardullo to second base. After a couple of games, Jason Stidham moved from shortstop back to second, where he was more comfortable, and Cardullo shifted to short. Those moves came a month ago, and the Seminoles have settled in since then.
It wouldn’t have worked if Cardullo hadn’t been able to make the transition. But he had played some shortstop in high school and played there again in a summer league last year.
“It’s kind of like when I was in Little League, playing all these positions,” Cardullo said. “But I feel real comfortable playing shortstop and I love playing there.”
“I’m the anchor of the infield, the captain of the infield. I’ve got to know what everyone is doing, trust myself to make a play, be a vocal leader and encourage pitchers to keep going when they’re struggling and if someone makes an error tell them to get the next one. It’s a job I like having right now.”
Martin said he’s pleased with Cardullo’s defense so far and impressed with his work habits.
“He is a tireless worker for a person that is playing shortstop for Florida State with as little experience as he has,” Martin said. “He’s working diligently each day to get better. He’s not taking this for granted, this success that he’s had.”
There are things for Cardullo to improve upon, Martin said. He’s got to keep developing as a leader, continue learning and understand baseball is a game that can turn on you if you begin to take it for granted.
Cardullo realizes the Seminoles have their work cut out for them in their final 12 ACC games.
“We’ve got to come out to play every game in these conference games,” he said. “Every game that we play sets us up for post-season play for the ACC Tournament. It’s been a crazy year in the ACC this year. Everyone is beating everyone and that’s something new, for me at least. You can’t walk into a series and think ‘oh, we’ve got these games.’ This year anything can happen.”
As for his role, Cardullo wants to keep playing solid defense and getting quality at-bats, trying to get on base however he can.
“Say I’m not hitting good one day, or fielding,” he said, “I’ve got to try and do something to help out the team, whether it’s moving runners over in the ninth inning with a sacrifice bunt or getting a game-winning sac fly.”
That sounds like someone who isn’t about to give up living his dream. As it continues to unfold, he’s not the only one watching with great interest.
“He’s definitely self-made,” Martin said. “He’s really earned it all himself. Nothing has been given to him. I’m anxious to see what the future holds for Stephen Cardullo.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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