New Castle News


June 15, 2013

Soni’s Season: Neshannock grad reflects on playing major college baseball


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — *******

Florida State action a family affair for Sansones

Florida State baseball has become a family affair for the Sansones.

John’s parents, proprietors of Soni’s Italian Restaurant on Wilmington Road in Neshannock Township, rented a condo not far from campus and for four months made it their base for attending every FSU game, both home and away.

John Jr. describes his son as “an Italian momma’s boy,” which his wife, Mirella, doesn’t dispute. She acknowledges trepidation about encouraging their youngest child to pursue his dream so far from home. Those fears proved groundless, and Mirella Sansone said she’s proud of how self-reliant “Little Johnny” has become.

That was no small feat, considering not only the transition from obscure Neshannock High to the high profile, 32,000-student campus of Florida State, but also the culture shock.

FSU, like any large state university, is a melting pot. Nevertheless, it’s still very much a Southern institution. Only five of 34 Seminole baseball players hail from the Midwest or Northeast. Sansone is one of only two Pennsylvanians to appear on a Florida State roster in 25 years.

“It was definitely different at first, I’ll say that,” Sansone said. “Just the way they talk.”

That’s a matter of perspective, as evidenced by the quizzical looks Sansone encountered when he’d ask where “yunz” are going, or suggested to his roommates that they “redd up” the apartment.

“I had to kind of change how I talk,” he said with a laugh.

Sansone also had to adjust to the sheer bigness of his new environment. He took a biology class with 1,000 students — more than three times the senior high enrollment at Neshannock.

If 30 people attended a Lancers baseball game, it was a big crowd. Florida State’s Dick Howser Stadium can accommodate 6,700 spectators and the Seminoles attracted 183,770 fans this season — nearly eight times the population of New Castle.

It’s a notoriously animated crowd. Several sections of reserved seats along the first base line belong to “The Animals,” whose exuberant cheers and chants are more evocative of a European soccer match than a baseball game. Sansone said he couldn’t help but laugh during Game 2 against Indiana, when The Animals heckled the Hoosiers’ 6-foot-10 starting pitcher, Aaron Slegers, by calling him Lurch (after the Addams’ Family character).

Along with four other freshmen on the baseball team, all from Florida, Sansone lives in FSU’s athletic apartments, a 5-minute walk to the ballpark. His claim of being the best Xbox player among the roommates is debatable, but his culinary skills aren’t.

“In the fall, I cooked for them almost every Sunday,” Sansone said. “Just a couple of nights ago, I made dinner for them. My mom taught me how to make sauce and chicken cutlets from scratch. They loved it.”

Which may help to explain why Sansone enjoyed a class in Hospitality Management so much that he’s considering switching to that major from Sports Management.

Sansone posted a 3.0 grade point average as a freshman, but he’s the first to admit he’d rather be on a baseball diamond than in a classroom.

He learned the two are intertwined even before arriving at FSU, when he jeopardized his scholarship eligibility by letting his grades slip as a junior at Neshannock. He buckled down and raised his GPA to an acceptable level, and he took the SAT exams several times until he met FSU’s eligibility requirements.

“Same thing as baseball, he’s all in,” said Sansone’s coach at Neshannock, Mike Kirkwood.  “He may not be the greatest student, but he’ll outwork 95 percent of the people around him.”

Indeed, there’s no room for slackers in Division I baseball. Competition for financial aid is especially fierce, because the NCAA limits each program to 11.7 scholarships, which can be apportioned among as many as 27 students. So-called “full rides” are almost non-existent, meaning players must finance the balance by other means.

Sansone was the 1,204th player taken in the 2012 Major League Draft, selected by Detroit in the 39th round. He said the Tigers didn’t make much of an offer and actually suggested it would be better if he went to college. He’ll be eligible for the draft again when he turns 21, in September 2014.

Meanwhile, Sansone professes his love for Florida State and expects to be a ’Nole for at least a couple of more seasons. That makes Martin happy, if only because “I’m still waiting on that Italian meal his daddy promised me.”

(Dave Seanor is a former newspaper and magazine editor who lives in Orlando, Fla. He graduated from Neshannock High in 1971.)


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