While stories of perseverance can come from people in various walks of life, the best examples can sometimes be found in the world of sports.
Although former Orchard Lake St. Mary’s baseball player Theo Piccirilli did achieve his dream of playing college baseball, as he played four seasons for Western Michigan University, it doesn’t mean there weren’t some obstacles along the way.
Aside from being told he was too short and not fast enough when he was younger, Piccirilli also cited a lack of playing time his first couple of seasons at Western. He was a preferred walk-on at Western, and had only 20 at-bats and 53 at-bats, respectively, in his first two seasons.
Piccirilli’s number of at-bats increased his junior season, and so did his production, as he started in 52 games and batted .322, which was good for third-best on the team.
His perseverance was rewarded even further when he received a scholarship for his senior season and was just the fourth Western Michigan baseball player ever to make the Mid-American Conference All-Tournament Team for his play during the four-game tournament last season.
With his days as a collegiate baseball player now behind him, Piccirilli reflected on his mentality in regards to obstacles he faced.
“My parents taught me to never give up,” said Piccirilli, who cited going to two state championship games and playing with teammates as his favorite memories playing for St. Mary’s. “I think that kept with me through college. Not playing a lot my first year at Western motivated me to work harder and harder, beat out the people who were in front of me and get to that starting lineup. Eventually, that worked out for me.”
While Piccirilli — whose accomplishments at St. Mary’s included being selected All-District, All-Region, All-County and All-State — doesn’t have any eligibility remaining as a college baseball player, the lessons he indicated he learned from Western Michigan coach Billy Gernon are ones that can last a lot longer than a collegiate athletic career.
“Coach Gernon talked about being in pressure situations at the D-I level,” said Piccirilli, who acknowledged support he has received from his parents, other family members, and coaches along the way. “It’s tough to handle. He said if you can handle that here, you’ll be able to take that into the workplace, and you won’t have any problems there. I think time management was huge for me. Coming in as a freshman, you were running around. He taught us (to) slow things down, get your studies in order, get everything organized and you’ll be fine.”
“Theo is one of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached,” Gernon said. “He was one of the most resilient players I’ve ever coached. He was one of the most coachable players I’ve ever coached — one of the more academic-conscientious players I’ve ever coached. He was a significant player much more than on the field. For four years, Theo was a great teammate.
“It’s not surprising to see a kid with such tremendous perseverance from such a great family making the All-MAC team and having a humongous hit against Bowling Green State to propel us through the tournament for another game (the tournament was eventually won by Kent State University). He’s a super special person to me, and he always will be.”
Piccirilli, whose major is finance, has considered the possibility of attempting to earn a master’s degree.
While what lies ahead is still uncertain, Piccirilli can already say a dream has come true as a result of the opportunity he was given to be an NCAA Division I baseball player.
“(It’s) been my dream to play Division I since I was a young boy,” he said. “I felt it was a great privilege because not many people get to experience that. Got to travel to different places. We played at Texas Tech my freshman year and Arizona State, Pepperdine. Those are experiences I’ll never forget. I made a lot of good friendships through it. I just enjoyed playing baseball. It was fun.”