Cavs’ Messina has a No. 1 inspiration going into finals
oe Messina has one thought in mind every time he takes the field for the Hollis Brookline High School baseball team.
That would be the memory of his late father, Paul “Rocky” Messina.
“Everything is for him,” said Messina, whose play, including the game winning hit in the semifinals, has helped propel the No. 2 Cavaliers to today’s Division II finals vs. top seed Bow. “Everything I do now is to make him proud, you know? He introduced me to this game, and I hope that he would be proud of what I’ve been doing.”
Rocky Messina, a landscaper at Nashua’s Sky Meadow Country Club, was tragically killed in a tree-cutting accident in January of 2009. His son has been playing baseball since he was four years old, but today may likely be his last game. A musician who can play multiple instruments, Messina plans to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall.
But first, there is one more item of baseball business today, playing for a championship.
“This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt as a kid, as a baseball player,” he said after the semis. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Perhaps that’ why Messina takes his role as a leader (one of three seniors) seriously on this Cavalier team that has won 16 of 18 games after a few frustrating seasons.
“Of course,” he said. “This whole season I’ve been stressing to the team, it’s not individual things that matter. It’s not individual stats that matter. I was talking about how every kid has come up clutch this year, and that not one player, not one pitch defines our season.”
No, but perhaps that mentality does. Messina, as a shortstop and as a player, feels he’s following the script he’s been taught.
“I’ve always been told the shortstop’s the leader on the field,” he said. “The shortstop is supposed to watch everything, control everything. I’m always talking to my guys. As a shortstop, I’m trying to be that role model for everyone on the field, trying to keep everyone up, no matter what’s going on around me, what’s going on with me personally.
“Because if I’m not up, then other people are going to get down and then it’s a domino effect from there.”
Messina can get chirpy, as they say, on the field. “He can certainly get under the other team’s skin,” said Hollis Brookline coach Jay Sartell, who has known Joe Messina since he was 10. “I have to dial him back on occasion, but I’d certainly rather dial someone back rather than amp them up. That’s the way that works.”
But the way it also works is that Messina got on board with Sartell’s way of coaching, and imparts that feeling to his teammates.
“He buys into the philosophies that I try to push, about what’s important now,” Sartell said. “He talked real quick about his emotion, and I really do believe that. If you are scared, then your troops will be scared. If you’re hungry, your troops will be hungry. You’ve got to maintain your composure throughout, and it spreads.”
Messina said he always watches the other team’s shortstop, and tells his teammates to look at whoever the opposition has in their respective positions. That also is on the same page with Sartell.
“I tell all nine kids to look at the other kids that’s playing your position, and how you match up,” Sartell said, saying the key is to “get better than the kids you’re facing.”
Besides playing shortstop, he’s also been a reliever for the Cavs, going 2-1 with two saves and a 0.47 earned run average.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Sartell said. “He’s won all the way coming up his whole life. He’s got good chemistry, he pumps the other kids up, the recipe’s there. From the first day I met him, it was instant friendship. He communicates at a very high level.”
But now baseball is only one of his passions as Messina has found another way to communicate. In 2012, he picked up his late father’s guitar, “and started tooling around.” And a musician was born to go with a baseball player.
“I just found a passion for it,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do for a career.”
In fact, Messina is so devoted to it he works with special needs kids through music in the HB school district.
“I was told by one of the instructors that there was a girl who wasn’t verbal until Joe came around,” Sartell said. “And then working with Joe all the time would break out into song. That’s how much the kid touches people’s lives. Just a great kid to have around.
“They come around once in a lifetime, you get kids like that,” Sartell said. “They’re very special players. It’s an eclectic mix of kids, and it helps having an eclectic kid at the helm of it.”
And now there’s one more game to navigate his Cavalier team through, one more game to dedicate to Rocky Messina, as he has done throughout.
“Every game before I start,” Messina said. “This is for him. I know he’s watching over me at all times. Everything I do on the field it’s for him. If I do something good, I look up.”
And Messina the musician does the same thing. “Of course,” he said. “Everything I do is for him, I’m trying to make him proud, so when I meet him again, he can shake my hand and say, ‘I’m proud of you son.'”