by Jim Riggs
May 20, 1989
Adversity Is Nothing New For Mistretta
Mistretta knew he had plenty of pitching with nine hurlers among the 16 players on the roster. With that roster, he also knew depth would be a problem. But he set some goals for the season and the team met them.
He wanted a team batting average over .300 and the Jayhawks finished the regular season at .311. He wanted more than 100 stolen bases and the team finished with 118. His third goal was to get at least 15 wins, which probably looked tough after 0-8 start. However, the Jayhawks finished 16-11.
His biggest goal was just to qualify for the Region 3 Tournament because JCC was the host. The Jayhawks also accomplished that. So the Jayhawks shunned adversity and had a rather successful season. A lot of the credit goes to Mistretta who knows what adversity is all about.
Mistretta was a three-sport star at Falconer Central School in the 1970s. The first high school football game I ever covered for The Post-Journal in 1975 was there, and leading the Golden Falcons' running attack was Mistretta, an all-star at halfback despite his diminutive stature of 5-foot-4, 145 pounds. He punished tacklers and reminded me of an AFL star of the early 1960s, Houston's 5-6 Charlie Tolar, who was called the "Human Bowling Ball."
Mistretta helped lead Falconer to a 27-0-1 record while he was in the backfield. When the football season ended, Mistretta was running the basketball team at point guard. And he did it as a member of the varsity for four years.
But the sport in which Mistretta stood out was baseball. He played second base with the smoothness of Bill Mazeroski and also swung a potent bat. But it was his Freddy Patek size that kept him from getting professional offers.
"That definitely hindered him," said Falconer baseball coach Denny Meszaros, who added he didn't think it was fair "He was one of three kids at Falconer that I thought was pro material."
The other two were Kevin Martin, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, and Craig Paterniti, who played baseball for four years at Ithaca College.
"That's what most people said," Mistretta said about his height being looked at more than his talent. "It bothered me a lot."
However, Mistretta's name was known in the college ranks and he ended up playing in the west, a college baseball hotbed which usually doesn't look at players from the snowbelt. He played for two years at Arizona Western College in Yuma and his excellent play at that junior college earned him another scholarship to Chapman College in Orange, Calif.
Things were going very well at Chapman and scouts were beginning to take notice, but then some injuries hampered things.
"I broke both thumbs and tore the cartilage in my knee," Mistretta said. He continued to play, but admitted, "I didn't have a good senior year."
It was still good enough that Montreal's scouting supervisor for the entire West Coast recommended that the Expos draft Mistretta, but Bob Gebhardt, then farm director for Montreal, wouldn't do it because of the Falconer graduate's height.
I told Geb that all I wanted was a chance," Mistretta said. He got a chance for a tryout with Montreal and other teams, but none would offer a contract because Mistretta's short stature continued to stand tall.
"The Expos promised they'd sign him," recalled Meszaros, who added that former Jamestown manager Pat Daugherty was very interested in Mistretta. "He wanted Joe bad. He admitted he was better than their regular second baseman."
But that regular second baseman was a draft choice who Montreal didn't want to give up on. And they probably didn't want him replaced by an undrafted player.
So as his chances of playing professional baseball faded, Mistretta decided on another way to stay in the game.
"I always wanted to be a head coach," he said.
But he couldn't coach at the high school level because he didn't have a teaching degree. But this week JCC confirmed Mistretta will remain as the Jayhawks' head coach.
I can't say enough about the job he did," said JCC athletic director George Bataitis. "There were a lot of positive comments from opposing coaches."
So after some adversity during his playing career, Mistretta finally got a break in his coaching career by being given the JCC job. And JCC should benefit because Mistretta will have 11 players returning.
"That's a pretty good base to work from," said Mistretta, who will spend the remainder of the spring recruiting. And you can be sure height won't be considered a handicap on his scouting charts.