SPRINGFIELD — It’s not often that a college athlete makes a smooth jump from the high school level as a freshman while earning a key role. More often than not, college athletes will use their freshman seasons as a transition year to grapple with the challenges that come with playing at the next level.
Sometimes, however, freshmen are ready to make an instant impact as they hit the ground running without looking back. Revere native and St. Mary’s alum Matt Costanza was proof positive of that last spring as a freshman starting infielder/pitcher for the Division II American International College baseball team.
Costanza made 31 starts last spring as a second baseman and pitcher for the Yellow Jackets. On the mound, he went 4-5 in 11 appearances with 29 strikeouts in 64 innings. At the plate, Costanza batted .265 with 18 hits in 68 at-bats.
“I think it helped a lot,” Costanza said of his extended playing time during his freshman season. “I had to kind of get thrown in with the sharks and find out that the game’s a lot faster and more competitive. At the same time, it’s still baseball and the fundamentals are the same. I had to keep things the same way and not hype things up too much just because college is a different level.”
Now Costanza turns the page on his freshman season and prepares to turn things up a notch as a sophomore. He aims to put the experience he gained last spring to good use as he begins his sophomore campaign.
“I’m batting more towards the top of the order this year,” Costanza said. “My goals are to continue to put the ball in play and move runners over. Just getting extra bags to allow us to score as many runs as possible. Defensively my goal is to keep myself calm in the field and make routine plays, not try to overdo anything. I’ve been in the league for a year now so I know what it takes to win games.”
Last season didn’t go the way the Yellow Jackets had hoped. After winning their first three games, the Yellow Jackets slipped into a 11-game losing streak and finished the year at 16-28. American International went 9-18 in 27 Northeast 10 conference games.
The main goal for this season, Costanza said, is to bring more consistency to each game.
“We just want to play at our best 100 percent of the time, from the first inning to the last inning,” he said. “Last year we started a lot of games well and then went flat in the later innings. That cost us a lot of games. We couldn’t score runs in the late innings. We had a lot of new starters last year and it’s all starting to click this year. Hopefully we’ll have better results this season.”
As a player that sees time on the infield and the mound, Costanza faces the added challenge of having to stay sharp at multiple positions. During his high school career at St. Mary’s, Costanza played second base, third base and pitcher. He learned how to handle the task of playing three positions in high school and carried some of those lessons to the college diamond.
“It’s sort of a difficult transition,” Costanza, a three-year varsity player at St. Mary’s, said. “It’s two different mindsets that I have to get into quickly. I had a similar role in high school. I’m sort of used to that transition. It’s difficult but I think I’ve been able to handle it well and hopefully I can continue that.”
During his three seasons wearing the Spartans uniform for coach Derek Dana, Costanza played for a St. Mary’s program that emerged as a powerhouse in Division 3. Costanza helped the Spartans to the Division 3 state championship in 2015, his junior season.
“Coach Dana expected a lot out of us,” Costanza said. “He ingrained some principles in me that I’ve taken to college. The level he expected us to compete at is similar to that of college. I think I’ve made a good transition from high school to college because of the expectations Coach Dana had for us. The expectations the coaches have for us at AIC are similar.”
Costanza and the Yellow Jackets won their first two games of the 2018 season with a pair of victories over St. Michael’s. Costanza logged two innings of work on the mound with four strikeouts.
“We went into those two games expecting to win both,” Costanza said. “We didn’t hold anything back. We were very happy with the outcomes. We hit the ball very well, we only had two errors on the field, we played baseball very well and did everything right. That usually turns out to wins for us.
“I think those first two games were a good baseline for what we want for the rest of the season.”