Favorite athlete: Aroldis Chapman
Favorite team: Phillies
Favorite memory competing in sports: Accomplishing my goals of being recruited to a college of my choosing while not giving up on the desire to make my varsity team.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Falling when throwing a pitch but still throwing a strike.
Music on mobile device: Rock, Rap
Future plans: Go to college to pursue a doctor of physical therapy degree while continuing to grow as an athlete.
Words to live by: “There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” –Miyamoto Musashi
One goal before turning 30: Graduate from college with a doctor of physical therapy degree and/or playing in major league baseball.
One thing people don’t know about me: I can almost do a full split.
By Ed Morrone
Nick Guerieri refused to give up.
This despite trying and failing to make the Pennsbury varsity baseball team for three consecutive years. He had one more shot at it heading into his senior season, and so long as he had runway left, Guerieri wasn’t prepared to ground the plane for good.
Although he didn’t make it on to the Falcons’ roster as a junior, Guerieri did play for the Bucks County Generals over the summer, and the high level competition allowed the right-handed pitcher to play with and against players hoping to showcase themselves into collegiate programs. In the end, Guerieri accomplished both (more on the college aspect of his journey later).
When Guerieri showed up to tryouts as a senior, Pennsbury head coach Joe Pesci and his staff noticed a different pitcher, both in terms of his pitching arsenal and Guerieri’s overall confidence level. When tryouts were over, Pesci called Guerieri into a meeting; however, unlike the previous three attempts, Pesci had a different message for the player who had continued to work at his craft while refusing to let rejection force him into waving the white flag.
“Every year, we don’t just post a list of who made the team,” Pesci said. “We have meetings with every kid and tell them if they made it or didn’t, and it would be very easy for a kid who was told he didn’t make the team to stop playing and working. This year, Nick came to tryouts and he looked incredible. He came into that meeting and I told him he made the team.
“I said, ‘You’re the story now. I can use your story to tell every kid that if they get cut, just work harder in the offseason and give yourself the opportunity to make the team.’ Nick did that for three years. It’s almost like a ‘Rudy’ feel good story, because now we can use his name to every kid who we tell that it’s not in the cards this year. It just stinks for him that he reached his dream, he finally was able to overcome the hurdle, and now…”
Unfortunately, Guerieri’s story doesn’t have a completely happy ending. Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, schools across the state are closed through at least the end of the month, meaning the schedules of all athletic teams are postponed indefinitely. While there will always be a glimmer of hope that a modified, shortened season could be played, right now things don’t look promising.
Guerieri is fully aware that after four years of trying to make the team and finally doing so, he may never step on to the field in a Pennsbury varsity game.
“Of course, I’m bummed out,” Guerieri said. “I would love to be able to play and help that team succeed. I wish we could have had a full season, and now, I’m trying to stay optimistic that we’ll have any season at all. I hope we can play however much we can, but for now I’ll just look at it as time I can keep improving to get better as much as I can.”
And make no mistake about it, Pesci didn’t put Guerieri on his final roster as a means to reward him for all his hard work the past three years. Numbers wise, Pennsbury is one of the top teams in District One and the entire state, and the program’s track record of success shows that you only make the varsity squad if you have earned it.
Guerieri’s presence was not going to be ceremonial or symbolic; Pesci fully expected the pitcher to carve out a bullpen role and was looking forward to counting on Guerieri to get high-leverage outs in relief once his top starters were spent.
“We were looking for guys to bring in to get us out of innings,” Pesci said. “Nick has that demeanor and attitude that he just steps on the mound and goes after it. He would have seen a lot of innings in relief. If the bases are loaded with one out, could he come in and get the job done? It was too early to tell, but Nick seemed to have that. In tryouts, he competed against our top hitters and was effective.”
Regardless of if he ever gets to pitch to a batter in a varsity game, Guerieri will always be able to say that he never quit, and he was rewarded for his perseverance. Finding out he made the team was a moment and day he’ll never forget for as long as he lives.
“I definitely thought I performed well and I had high hopes,” he said. “Coach asked me how I thought I did, and I told him I thought I did well, and he said, ‘Great, you’re on the team.’ I was kind of in shock and didn’t know how to react since it had never happened before.
“For me, you don’t know you can do it until you actually do it. My goal was to go as far as I could take it. I know a lot of good kids try out at Pennsbury, so I didn’t want getting cut to keep me from playing a game I enjoy. It just told me that all of the work I put in meant something, and that’s what meant everything to me. All of that paying off felt great. I told my friends and family and girlfriend and got my congratulations. It felt great to know that I had made it for a couple of days, and it still does, even if things got stoic pretty quickly.”
Guerieri said he doesn’t necessarily fantasize about certain game scenarios, such as coming in out of the bullpen with the bases loaded, one out and Pennsbury clinging to a small lead. With the season in doubt, there’s no point in such endeavors. However, he often thinks about pitching to live hitters at tryouts, and if that performance was an indicator, Guerieri wouldn’t have had to dream up scenarios, because in any other universe, those dreams would have been reality.
“I didn’t go too in depth in my mind about facing other schools, because I never had before,” he said. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better outing in tryouts. I pitched very well. I was accurate, and it was a shutout with a lot of foul balls and ground balls that were fielded. To top it off, the last out was a grounder up the middle that I spun around and caught behind my back. I run that back a lot of times in my head, because it felt good pitching against those hitters and knowing that I performed well.”
The kids Guerieri feels for the most are the seniors who won’t be playing a sport in college, whether that’s his Pennsbury senior teammates and classmates or those at other schools who waited all year for a spring season that most likely will never come.
Despite the fact that Guerieri never played an inning of high school baseball, his performance with the Bucks County Generals last summer got the attention of several college programs at the Division II and Division III levels. He whittled his final three down to Arcadia, University of the Sciences and Lebanon Valley College, ultimately choosing to play his collegiate ball at Lebanon Valley, located about a half hour east of Harrisburg.
The fact that he never made Pennsbury’s varsity squad obviously didn’t deter college interest on Guerieri. Pesci said Guerieri got his velocity up to about 85 during tryouts, an improvement from previous years, and Guerieri himself said he’s starting to mix in a more effective change-up to go with an already solid curveball. His power has increased thanks to more time spent in the weight room, and Guerieri said he’s studied the mechanics of professional pitchers such as Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to model his own arsenal after. Everything he has done has worked, and even if Pennsbury’s entire season gets scuttled, Guerieri knows he has more baseball in his future, for which he counts himself very lucky.
“Even if I never made the high school team, I always had my eye on college,” Guerieri said. “All of this work was enough to make it to college. When you’re young, you think anything is possible, so I was just going to keep doing it until I couldn’t anymore. I always wanted to play, and even though I hadn’t made the high school team, I never felt like I did badly. I just did everything like it was the last thing I was ever going to do.”
As far as career fields, Guerieri initially was going to pursue Psychology before changing his mind and focusing on getting a doctorate in Physical Therapy. He said both felt like important vocations, but in the end, being an athlete and wanting to help other athletes rehabilitate from injuries won out. Guerieri was impressed with what Lebanon Valley offered with their program, including a brand-new facility he got to check out when he visited campus, and he said he just felt at home when he was on campus.
Baseball and school come first, but when Guerieri isn’t playing or studying, he enjoys going bowling with his dad, playing video games with friends and, when time permits, making and crafting things with his hands.
For his part, Pesci is crestfallen that he won’t get to know Guerieri better and see what the young man could do on the mound. He had high hopes for the kid who just refused to quit, but even if Pennsbury doesn’t play a single game this season, Guerieri’s legacy within the program as the first senior to make varsity after four tries will be everlasting.
“Every year he was on the bubble, but this season, Nick was a no-doubter,” Pesci said. “I was so excited to bring him in and tell him flat out, you’re on this team and you’re going to be an impact player for us. He’s going to be my story for every kid who comes out for the team. Every middle, elementary and high school kid who tries out but doesn’t make it, continue to persevere. It’s tough, because Nick finally got to be part of the team; I just wish he had the chance to prove to himself and everyone else that he deserves to be there.”
Of course, Guerieri is disappointed, but if this global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s perspective. He might never wear that Pennsbury uniform, but that’s not what matters. The important part of the story is that he made it, refusing to let getting cut three times crush his spirit. That served as a valuable lesson for Guerieri himself, and as Pesci said, it will be one for future kids in the Pennsbury pipeline.
“The fact that it’s so impactful, that principle is what means everything,” Guerieri said. “I guess I haven’t thought about it on that large of a scale yet, but it does mean a lot. For me, it’s about doing what you want to do. Sometimes, it’s hard to discern from what you can and can’t do. Sometimes you really can’t and you have to get real, but as long as nothing is outright stopping you from doing something, then go for it. It’s about what you want to do because you can.”