Putting on the hits
Salve Regina's Costantino breaks Ventura's NCAA recordPosted: Monday March 10, 2003 5:32 PM
Updated: Monday March 10, 2003 8:00 PM
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- Damian Costantino's name now represents for college baseball what Joe DiMaggio's means in the big leagues.
Costantino, who plays for Division III Salve Regina in Newport, R.I., broke New York Yankees third baseman Robin Ventura's NCAA record for consecutive games with a hit on Monday, singling against Mount Union (Ohio) to extend his run to 59.
Costantino, a 24-year-old junior outfielder from Warwick, R.I., hit an RBI single over the second base bag with one out in the third inning.
His teammates rushed the field to mob him as the play ended.
"As soon as the ball went over the pitcher's head, I knew it," Costantino said. "There is no emotion right now. I think the emotion will come when I tell my dad. It hasn't sunk in yet."
His father, Gary Costantino, has stomach cancer and could not make the trip south to see his son break the record. Damian Costantino said he has called his father nightly to tell him how he's hitting.
"I know every time I call him he smiles. I can see him smile over the phone," he said. "I know how it makes him feel. I can feel what he feels. That is a warm feeling and makes me really happy inside."
The record-breaking hit came on a 2-1 count with one out and cut Mount Union's lead to 5-1. Mount Union went on to win the game 13-2.
Costantino, who spent two years in the Army before starting college, tied the record Sunday with hits in both games of a doubleheader against Wesley (Md.) College.
The discipline he learned in the military helps on the diamond. "It gives you the edge and it allows you to concentrate a lot harder," he said.
He is still in the Army Reserves and members of his unit, the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion have been mobilized.
He didn't even know his record was in jeopardy until this weekend.
"I know his name now," Ventura said Sunday. "I don't read a lot of newspapers now. I hope he does it. I just know how hard it is."
Costantino said when he hears his name mentioned in the same sentence as Ventura and DiMaggio it "makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up."
Costantino almost had his streak snapped in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, striking out in his first three at-bats. But he lined an 0-1 pitch just inside the first-base line for a one-out double in the seventh inning, extending his run to 57 games and keeping the record chase alive.
He was more mentally prepared on Monday. "I was into it. I was ready for it. I'd have to be weird not to be."
The major league record, of course, is held by DiMaggio, who hit safely in 56 consecutive games for the Yankees in 1941.
Costantino's streak began April 1, 2001, against Rhode Island College with a 1-for-2 day. He had just two hits in the first eight games of his freshman year because an ear infection affected his balance and timing, Salve Regina coach Steve Cirella said.
Costantino hit safely in the final 21 games of the 2001 season, then in all 35 games he played in 2002. Against Johnson & Wales last April, Costantino broke the NCAA Division III record by hitting safely in his 47th straight game.
"He's great friends with my son and he's almost part of my family," Cirella said. When the record fell, "I started tearing up because it was so emotional for me," he said.
Costantino has natural ability, but is also a student of the game, said Eric Cirella, the coach's son who dubbed Costantino 'Joey D' in honor of DiMaggio. "He works hard. He reads all these books on hitting and mental stuff.
"It's great for him, I'm happy for him and I'm proud of him," he said.