BY CANDACE MARTINO
Stop where you are, close your eyes and imagine one place you’d like to be. For many the comforts of their hometown would be just enough to satisfy. For others, relaxing on the beach surrounded by palm trees seems ideal. As nice as that sounds, clicking your heels three times and reciting, “there’s no place like home,” won’t work. You could , however, try swinging a bat, running bases and throwing strikes; which worked for UT’s associate head baseball Sam Militello.
Militello grew up in the outskirts of Tampa and at the age of seven he was introduced to the game of baseball by testing it with a few practice swings. However, it wasn’t long before he traded his baseball bat for a pair of cleats and a ball. For most of his childhood, soccer was his primary focus.
“I enjoyed soccer and its continuous play, where baseball you could go an inning or two without getting up at bat. Soccer was actually my favorite sport to play until I was about 14 years old,” Militello said.
By the time high school rolled around, Militello had to decide what sport he wanted to focus on more. He took the time comparing pros and cons. Eventually, he decided baseball would be more suited for his future. After pitching three consecutive no-hitters as a senior, tying the state record, Militello caught the eye of many college recruiters including USF, Oklahoma State and UT. While a tough decision, Militello ultimately chose UT after consulting with high school friend and eventual New York Yankee: Tino Martinez.
“Tino Martinez’s father Rene was a big influence with my decision coming to UT. Tino and I played in high school together. I remembered having conversations with Rene about why Tino chose UT. I figured if UT was good enough for Tino Martinez, then it was good enough for me,” Militello said.
Militello’s career at UT was nothing short of memorable. He owns UT’s single-season school records for victories (15), strikeouts (182), and innings pitched (143), and the school career record for strikeouts (340). He is also one of three Spartans to have their number retired.
Entering Militello’s junior year of college, he began to realize that playing professionally was in reach but he didn’t know how close. He got invited to play in the Cape Cod summer league, which is known for having the top prospects in college baseball. During that time he was also selected to represent Team USA in the games held in Taiwan. Both of these things strengthened his hopes of being drafted.
“Draft day was overwhelming, not knowing what to expect and wondering who was going to select you. When that phone rang and the Yankees’ scout was on the other end, it’s something I will never forget,” Militello said.
Militello made his major league debut in July 1992 against the New York Yankees’ biggest rivals, the Boston Red Sox. He pitched a 6-0 shutout going seven innings and striking out five.
“It was such a satisfying feeling knowing that all the hours of hard work and sacrifices I had made finally paid off and I had reached the pinnacle of my sport. I will never forget that,” Militello said.
Militello retired from playing and joined the Indians organization as a pitching coach. After, he received a phone call from UT’s head baseball coach at the time, Terry Rupp, who offered him a position on the staff. Since, Militello has served as the top assistant for coach Joe Urso his entire career at UT, specializing as a pitching coach.
“Playing under coach Militello is great,” junior pitcher Christopher Williams said. “He’s helped me out so much from the pitching side and the mental side of the game. He’s easygoing and really guides you on how to get things done. He shows you the right way, not the easy way.”
Shortly after Militello accepted the position, now head coach Joe Urso was hired to take over the team. It was a match made in heaven as the two reunited after playing baseball at UT together back in college.
“This place is home for me and coach Urso. We take a lot of pride in putting a team on the field each year that has a chance to win a national championship,” Militello said. “And now you include Jose Jimenez who played for us. The three of us bleed Spartan red and you won’t find anyone else who has more pride for their school than we do.”
It goes without saying that every pitcher who comes to UT is expected to compete at the highest level. Militello’s job is to give them the resources to go out on the field and do that.
“[Coach Militello] was a big part of my decision to come to UT. I haven’t had a pitching coach in a while and knowing how well he has done in his career made it an easy choice,” Williams said.
For Militello and his players, being a part of the Spartan program means everything. He’s from here, played here, and now coached here. It’s all he’s ever known.
“He challenges us to be great and I can speak on behalf of our pitching staff [that] we like the challenge,” Williams said.