Story and Photo by Bob Marra
Matt Costanza stepped into the left-hand hitter’s batter’s box, his American International College team trailing Adelphi, 6-0, in the second inning in a recent game at Bedard Field at AIC’s Springfield campus. With two strikes, Costanza ripped a single to right off Adelphi starter Matt Luc.
It might not have seemed like much at the moment, but Costanza’s hit keyed a minor rally. He came around to score to make it 6-1, a first step to the Yellow Jackets’ determined 8-7 come-from-behind win over their NE10 rivals.
Persistent, steady, and focused. It’s been that way for a lot of years for Costanza, who wrapped up his collegiate career on May 13 when the Yellow Jackets fell to Adelphi in the NE10 Division championship semi-finals. Having lost out on his senior season last year due to the pandemic, Costanza got to play a fifth year as an AIC graduate student majoring in physical therapy.
For the lifelong Revere resident, any day on the diamond is a day to enjoy baseball’s nuance, competition, and teamwork. “I have always loved the team aspect of baseball,” he said. “I think there are very few sports that rely on the whole team as much as baseball does. It’s an entirely different strategy, where you can’t just ‘feed one guy the ball’ or ‘run out the clock.’ You’re forced to do your job, and trust your teammates will be doing theirs too.”
It’s the game’s teamwork and camaraderie that has taken up permanent space in Costanza’s soul. While he has enjoyed substantial statistical success as a player, he finds more value in the intangibles.
“There’ve been a lot of great moments on the field, but by far the most memorable are the ones off the field,” he said. “Florida trips have to take the cake on memorable moments. Just hanging out with your best friends in great weather, sitting in the hot tub, hanging out in rooms, then playing games on some of the best fields we’ll ever see, are some of the things I’ll never forget. It’s cliché, but I’ll remember the guys I’ve been with and the times we’ve had together much more than I’ll remember our records and stats.”
The 2021 baseball season was a reprieve after COVID-19 sabotaged his senior season last year. In March of 2020, the Yellow Jackets scurried home from their annual Florida trip as the pandemic surged, then sat idle as the season fell victim to the myriad cancellations that shut down the state—and the country—for months.
Maybe that made this season a bit more special. In a strange season where players were masked and the stands bereft of fans, the lanky Costanza (6 feet, 165 pounds), who pitched and played second or first base, maintained his spot among the Yellow Jacket leaders with a .275 average and continued to distinguish himself in the AIC program. The team finished 12-19 overall, 10-11 in the NE10.
So 2021 turned out to be a year of collegiate baseball that might not have been, a coda to a notable career. Just 23, he’s been swinging a bat for as long as he can remember, and he’s been good at it.
After helping lead his St. Mary’s of Lynn high school team to a Division 3 State Championship as a junior in 2015, followed by a dash to the regional quarterfinals in 2016, Costanza stepped into a prominent role on the collegiate level, starting 31 games as an AIC freshman in 2017 and batting a solid .265. He recalls some personal doubts as he upped his game to the college level. “I was physically outmatched by my teammates in almost every aspect of the game,” he said, but he stuck with it with the help of his coach Nick Callini.
“He was not a starter when he arrived on campus,” said Callini, “but Matt continually worked hard and was ready when he was afforded the opportunity to start.”
That was the beginning. “He never looked back from that point and immediately became an impact player,” noted Callini.
Costanza’s breakout year came in 2018 when, as a sophomore, he batted a team-high .329, led the pitching staff with a 2.97 ERA, and was selected to the first-team All-East Region team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He also picked up first-team All East Division 2 and NE10 All Conference Honors while being recognized as the AIC Athletic Department’s Second Year Student-Athlete of the Year. Matt’s season included an 11-game hitting streak during which he batted a torrid .422.
Though his batting stats dipped during his junior year, Costanza started all 43 games for the Yellow Jackets while also running up a 3-3 record with a 3.16 ERA on the mound in the competitive NE10. “There’s never an easy win in this conference, because it’s just that good. We’ve beaten teams in our conference that are nationally ranked, and we’ve lost to teams that were playing their back up players that day.”
Costanza’s love for the game is deep-rooted, with grit and determination his trademarks all along. He started out as a toddler, playing “low minor” league for youngsters, but started to come into his own in junior high.
“In all honesty, it wasn’t until around junior high where I noticed that I was a little better than the players around me. I was always small and didn’t have any stats or skills that would blow you out of the water, but I was always able to compete and hold my own against the bigger, older players I was with. I think my consistency was my biggest selling point,” he commented.
He credits his father, Revere dentist Dr. Craig Costanza, as his greatest influence in the game. “My dad has to be the top of the list. When we were young, he did anything and everything to make my brother Alex and me the best baseball players we could be,” Matt noted. “Not just your classic ‘catch in the backyard’ either; more like making a hitting tunnel in our garage with fishing net and a squishy ball machine, or erecting a batting cage in our backyard, or taking us out to a field to hit before a game.”
Matt added, “He taught us the discipline and the positive attitude it took to make it far in the game, and I’ll always cherish that time together.”
Costanza also singled out Peter Soteropoulos, his hitting and pitching coach for the last seven years, and Callini, his coach at AIC.
From Callini’s perspective, Costanza was a boon to the AIC program. “I could go on and on about what he did for us from a baseball perspective, but it is what he did as a person that not only transformed our program, but AIC as an institution as well. He is your consummate leader, consistent, hard working, reliable, positive and loyal,” Callini commented. “He earned the respect of everyone and anyone he interacted with. There will never be another Matt Costanza.”
The end of the 2021 collegiate season signaled an end to Costanza’s college career, but not his playing days. He’s signed up to play with the East Boston Expos of the Intercity League this summer. Next year, the younger son of Libby and Craig Costanza will be choosing his career path as a Doctor of Physical Therapy. “I don’t know exactly what avenue I want to take in PT, as I’m slowly learning there’s a lot of different ways I could take it. Ideally someday I would like to work with athletes in sports injury rehabilitation.”
As new paths unfold, baseball will always be part of Matt’s persona. “I know in general, I hear the game is ‘too long’ and people lose interest in watching the whole game. I feel that comes from people who don’t know the game well enough, who don’t understand all the behind the scenes going on in every pitch and every at bat. I think for those of us that know and love the game, it will never lose popularity.”
To youngsters who are just learning the feel of a bat handle and a fielder’s glove, Costanza has some pretty basic advice: “Work on the intangible aspects of the game,” he notes. “After meeting and playing with hundreds of different athletes, the ones that stuck out to me were the ones that were good teammates and played the game hard. Work hard at doing things the right way; run out groundballs, stay after practice to pick up equipment, jog on and off the field, and put your teammates before yourself. Be a leader. That’s what’s going to get you noticed, much more than any statistic will.”
It’s good advice that has served Matt Costanza, the baseball player, quite well. It’s advice that likely will translate to a successful career in physical therapy, as well.