Nick Tropeano was playing his third and final year of baseball in Stony Brook University red in 2011. The Seawolves’ dream run to Omaha for the College World Series was still a year away, leaving the team in relative irrelevancy.
Tropeano was pitching in a regular season game, toeing the rubber like he had so many times before, imposing his will on opposing batters in a way only a 6-foot-4 inch, 205 pound hurler can. Four innings went by, and no batter came close to putting the center of their composite bat on the quickly approaching baseball.
After the West Islip native retired the first two batters in the fifth, he walked somebody. He had given no runs up, did not let someone hit the ball, but made a safe mistake by missing the strike zone.
“I remember him getting beyond pissed,” said former teammate and now minor league pitcher Brandon McNitt. “He hated to fail or even come close to it.”
It was not the first time that Tropeano got upset with himself while striving for perfection, according to McNitt. “It happened a lot.”
By the way, that season turned into statistically one of the best-pitched years in the history of the America East Conference.
Perhaps the fire to make every pitch count and give nothing up to his opponents is what led Tropeano, a fifth round draft pick by the Houston Astros in 2011, to not only become a professional in the sport, but to live a childhood dream. On Sept. 2, he officially became a major league baseball player when the Astros selected his contract from the Oklahoma City RedHawks.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” Tropeano said. “[It’s] something I’ve been working for my whole life ever since I started playing baseball and it’s a reality now.”
The pitcher was at a loss for words, only mustering a couple more on how he was feeling, which says it all: “It’s amazing.”
Like many September call-ups in Major League Baseball, Tropeano got thrown right into the fire, getting his first start on the big stage at the Seattle Mariners on Sept. 10. After pitching five solid innings while only giving up two runs to a team in the middle of a race to make the playoffs, he earned his first win for the Astros, as they defeated the Mariners 5-2.
Tropeano acknowledged that there was pressure on him during his first start in the big leagues, yet he shrugged it off by striking out five against a team that leads the American League in triples.
After a couple of more starts, the Seawolf–turned-Astro steadily improved, striking out seven more while limiting the Indians and Rangers to a total of nine hits in a couple of tough luck losses.
“It’s all about confidence,” Tropeano said. “I’m starting to feel a little bit more confident up here.”
According to Stony Brook baseball coach Matt Senk, there was one thing that Tropeano was on board with way before he had to worry about adjusting to the major leagues.
“I felt like first and foremost we were getting an outstanding player,” Senk said about having Tropeano play for Stony Brook, pausing before he emphasized, ”and a fierce competitor.”
Ask Tropeano if he likes to do anything but win, and there will be no hesitation.
“That’s one thing I definitely am, a competitive person,” he said. “I don’t like to lose and I believe that you shouldn’t have that mentality, you don’t want to lose.”
Tropeano certainly did very little losing in a Stony Brook uniform, going 12-1 in his final year for the Seawolves, with a 1.84 earned run average, or the amount of runs a pitcher gives up per nine innings to boot. He even averaged striking out more than a batter per inning, 119 in total. With his performance, not only did Tropeano capture his second America East Pitcher of the Year title, but he set conference records in wins and strikeouts that stand to this day.
To the Health Sciences major, it was not about his personal accolades and performance, nor will it ever be.
“I just want to give my team an opportunity to win and give my best effort every time out,” Tropeano said.
In getting called up to the big leagues, Tropeano became the third Stony Brook alumnus to reach the show. Before him came Joe Nathan, arguably one of the best closers of all time, and Tom Koehler, who graduated the year before Tropeano got to Stony Brook.
“Koehler’s always been like a big mentor for me,” he said. “It was just one of those things where he was always there for me if I ever needed something.”
The Miami Marlins pitcher even reached out to his protégé after he heard the news of his promotion, congratulating him on the accomplishment.
Still only a few years detached from Stony Brook, Tropeano will never forget where he spent his college years.
“Stony Brook wasn’t that big of a baseball program,” he said. “You’ve got to be proud to represent the school and embrace it. I’m a proud alum and always will be.”
The last game of the season for the Houston Astros was a homecoming of sorts for the 24-year old Tropeano, facing the New York Mets in Queens, just an hour away from Stony Brook.
“The idea that all of my family, friends, college teammates and all that can honestly just come right down the road, come to Citi Field and watch me play in the major leagues is something you always dream of.” Before the game, Tropeano added that, “It’s just going to be one of those surreal moments and I’m really looking forward to it.”
In front of a crowd of friends, family, and waves of Stony Brook red led by coach Senk, Tropeano impressed the Citi Field crowd with his variety, fooling the likes of former All Star Bobby Abreu with his deceptive changeup. All in all, a few pitches cost him the win in an otherwise well-pitched affair, as he went five innings while giving up four runs.
Regardless of where Tropeano’s career at the top of the baseball world takes him, one thing is for certain: the Long Islander ends all of his text message conversations with his former college coach the same way: “Seawolf for life.”
It is safe to say that the Stony Brook community is more than proud of that.