In 2009, Piscotty graduated from Amador Valley High School in California, where he was a pitcher and shortstop.
Stephen was an Oakland A's fan as a youth. "We had season tickets during the run of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. But I have not read Moneyball," Piscotty said.
As a pitcher, he had been clocked up to 93 miles per hour.
In 2009, Stephen was the Dodgers' 45th round pick, but chose not to sign so that he could accept a baseball scholarship to Stanford and majoring in engineering (atmosphere and energy). It all has to do with solar energy.
He began going to Stanford baseball games as a kid with his uncle, a Stanford alum, for his birthday.
His sophomore year at Stanford, he hit .364/.423/.471 and helped lead the Cardinal to super regionals.
"It's military-like [at Stanford]," said Piscotty, an All-Pac-12 player who hit .319 during his final season. "Very strict, hard-nosed baseball, and I think it's a good carry-over into pro ball.
"At Stanford it was all about winning, and they preach it here in the Cardinals organization," said Piscotty, whose three-year batting average at Stanford was .340. "They say, 'We don't apologize for a winning culture.'"
In the summer of 2011, Stephen hit .349 in 106 at-bats and won the Cape League batting title on the final day of the season.
- In 2012, the Cardinals drafted Piscotty (see Transactions below).
Right after the 2012 season was over, Piscotty was back to Stanford to work on his degree. And he finished it just a few months before he made his Major League debut.
"It was important," Stephen said. "Once it was done it was a big relief. I felt like it assisted me in the minor leagues I had something to fall back on, so I could kind of lay it all out there and not worry about it, so that pressure was taken off and that really helped.
"I found a major that dealt with solar technology and wind power, anything that's renewable, and I really enjoyed that."
Piscotty was a business major for a short time but was yearning for more when he scrolled through a handbook featuring all of Stanford's majors. "That one kind of jumped off the page," he said.
In 2013, Baseball America rated Piscotty as the 10th-best prospect in the Cardinals' organization. He was at #4 in the offseason before 2014 spring camps opened. They moved Stephen up to third-best in the winter before 2015 spring training.
Scouts like his makeup and work ethic. And he endeavors to reach consistency off, and then on the field.
"It sounds cliché, but I try to take things day-to-day," Piscotty said. "My biggest thing is trying to stay consistent. I watch a lot of the players go through emotional roller-coasters, where they tear it up for a week and then they can't get a hit for a week. I feel like that can be negated.
"I think if you take things one at a time, you can stay consistent," he added. "Consistency is what allows you to become a great baseball player. The season is a long time. You can have a great first month and then struggle. But if you stay consistent game-to-game, that's where the results come out.
"I also realize, it's just baseball. I've played the game a lot. Players change, but the game doesn't change," Stephen said. (August 2012)
February 2015: Almost three years removed from ending his standout career at Stanford University Piscotty found his way back to his familiar college campus during the offseason. His purpose wasn't to visit or reminisce or soak in the attention of being a budding Major Leaguer. This was about going back to school.
The offseason has been steeped with learning for Piscotty, who recently completed his degree with classroom coursework and who has worked to refine his approach in the batting cages where he once honed his craft. It was a return to the setting that served as so much of his foundation and one that he expects to be a springboard for future success, both on and off the field.
He had put his studies on hold after his junior season, instead leaving campus to join the Cardinals as a first-round draftee.
But Piscotty had made a commitment to himself and his parents that he would eventually finish. He now has a degree in atmosphere and energy engineering as proof of a promise fulfilled.
Piscotty described his studies as having "to do with solar wind power, anything that has to do with renewable energy."
Already on campus, Piscotty took advantage of the university's baseball facilities and the opportunity to again work alongside his college hitting coach. Together, they identified tweaks that Piscotty could make with his bat path that should afford him better extension with his swing. Doing so, Piscotty hopes, will allow him to drive the ball with more authority. (Jenifer Langosch - MLB.com - Feb. 2015)
August 28, 2015: Playing as close to his Bay Area hometown as he has since he was a standout player at Stanford University, Cardinals rookie outfielder Stephen Piscotty treated his personal cheering section of approximately 50 friends and family members to a web gem in the field and a two-hit night at the plate.
Before familiarizing himself with the oddities of playing right field at AT&T Park, Piscotty spent some time visiting with various folks who had come to see him. Family members, childhood friends and even his high school baseball coach showed up to see his Bay Area Major League debut.
A three-time first-team all-East Bay Athletic League pick in high school, Piscotty stayed in the area for college, choosing to attend Stanford University. There, he became a first team All-Pac 12 selection and, eventually, the 36th overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Piscotty still makes his home in Pleasanton, Calif., but until this game, had never been back here to play.
"It's awesome the support I have," he said. "It was a fun night, but it would have been a whole heck of a lot sweeter with a win." (J. Langosch - MLB.com - August 29, 2015)
April 2, 2015: With his entrance as a defensive replacement, Stephen became the only Cardinal to appear in every 2015 Grapefruit League game.
Piscotty appreciated the extended look, as it gave him an opportunity to take the swing changes he's made over the last six months into a game setting. Working with a former coach at Stanford University this winter, Piscotty sought to find a swing that would allow him to drive the ball more. That work continued in earnest in the 2015 Spring Training with Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry.
"I would say a lot of learning got done," said Piscotty. "I full well knew that I was going to go through some stuff. I could have taken a guess as to what was going to happen, and this was right on script. It's what I want, and I'm ready. And I'm just trying to be courageous with it."
Piscotty entered the 2015 season as the Cardinals organization's top prospect and seemingly on the cusp of cracking his first Major League roster. "If I get that chance to go up there, I don't want to come back," Piscotty said. "I want to make sure I'm ready." (Langosch - mlb.com - 4/2/15.)
Stephen is chill no matter what. He simply does not get rattled, no matter the situation. Confident? Yes. But mostly, Piscotty is just even-keeled. His favorite TV Show: The Office. "I've seen every episode and yes, can even recite the lines. Steve Carrell is hilarious as Michael Scott. Awkward comedy really appeals to me," Piscotty said. Favorite Movie: Top Gun. "A lot of kids had Hot Wheels; I had little airplanes."
Favorite Pastimes: "I'm a big fisherman and really enjoy the camping experience. I usually go several times in the offseason to Pyramid Lake (in western Nevada) to spend time with friends and family," Stephen said. "It's you and the lake, not many people." I like to read: "Financial magazines. I find a lot of interest in that."
In 2015, the Cardinals named Piscotty their Minor League Player of the Year.
Before he hit safely in his first 10 Major League starts or became the impact bat the Cardinals couldn't find in the trade market. Before he received National League Rookie of the Year Award consideration concurrent to being named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. Before he shined under an October spotlight or was to become the successor to Jason Heyward in right field, Stephen Piscotty wondered if it had all been a mistake.
In 2014, Piscotty had ascended to Triple-A, so he entered Spring Training in 2015 on the cusp of the Majors. But he wasn't certain that what could get him to St. Louis would allow him to thrive there, and that foresight prompted substantial changes to his swing path with the belief that it could untap greater power potential. As Memphis arrived in Colorado Springs for a four-game series, Piscotty wasn't seeing the anticipated payoff. Sure, the power numbers were up but so, too, were the strikeouts. He was most alarmed because his batting average was low.
"It wasn't," Piscotty recalled, "what I thought it would be." His confidence waning, Piscotty sought out manager Mike Shildt. The two had a relationship dating back to 2013, when Shildt managed Piscotty at Double-A Springfield and later in the Arizona Fall League. He had watched Piscotty's maturation as a hitter and offered the reassurance Piscotty needed to hear. The two sat down for what Piscotty described as "a couple-hour meeting." Both remember the heart-to-heart session well, even though Shildt said he had never talked about it publicly until now.
"Stephen took a risk," Shildt recalled as he was assisting the big league coaching staff in Spring Training 2016. "He was on the path to be a big league player, and before he even got to the big leagues, he recognized that he could be a better version of himself. He was going through that process and, like any learning curve, most of the time it goes down before it goes up."
With questions and insight, Shildt prompted Piscotty through a session of self-evaluation. Shildt applauded Piscotty for the leap of faith and reassured him that there would be an eventual payoff. He explained to him how the organization keeps an internal tally of quality plate appearances—a subjective stat, but one the Cardinals use to forecast future results—and that Piscotty had a higher percentage than anyone on Memphis' team.
Have you hit balls differently than you have in the past? Are you doing it more consistently than you've ever done before? Do you see how often teams are pitching around you? Can you still see the end goal? To each, Piscotty answered in the affirmative. For Piscotty, there was reassurance that others, too, believed in his process.
"He calmed me down, and really from that point on, it got better and better," Piscotty said. "Mentally, he just helped me relax. I give him a lot of credit for that." (Langosch - MLB.com - 3/22/16)
His callup to the Majors came on July 21, 2015, and it all felt right, Piscotty said in August after playing several games with stiffness in his neck. Piscotty went on to have a banner finish. In his 63 games with the Cards, he tallied 18 multi-hit games, 26 extra-base hits, seven game-winning RBIs, 23 two-out RBIs, and hit .393 with runners in scoring position. He set a franchise NL Division Series record with six RBIs against the Cubs and hit three home runs, tying Willie McGee and Kolten Wong for the franchise rookie postseason record. It gave Piscotty something tangible to go along with the trust.
Piscotty, a cerebral 25-year-old Stanford graduate, sits poised to be a part of the Cards' emerging young core. Having seen what can come of taking chances, Piscotty isn't finished fine-tuning. He got to St. Louis a better player than most envisioned he'd be at this age, a credit to the persistence with which he weathered the moments of doubt.
"Most people, almost all people, are unwilling to change, especially when they're getting where they want to go," Shildt said. "But Stephen recognized what was going to get him there may not keep him there or fulfill his ultimate abilities. I've never had anybody with such tremendous foresight. It's really unbelievable. No one can predict anything, but his habits and the way he goes about things, he was always set up to be successful." (Langosch - MLB.com - 3/22/16)
When Stephen was just 25, in his first half-season in the Majors he impressed the Cardinals with his level of maturity, both on and off the field.
"The way I explain it is, you walk out of Stanford with an engineering degree you have the basic intellect," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But he's been able to translate that into baseball I.Q. It's just his ability to see the game, to be a good self-evaluator of where he is and also what he's doing well and not doing well. And also to try and pick apart what the opponent might do. He's a little bit ahead of the game, way ahead of the learning curve for a young player, to be able to see those things and then try and make the adjustments, be ready for them when they get there." (Bauman - MLB.com - 5/31/16)
CLOSE TO MOM
It's a Saturday night at the Pleasanton, Calif., home of Gretchen and Michael Piscotty, who are beginning to unwind after another day spent at the ballpark. They had just driven the 40 minutes back to their home from Moraga, where the youngest of their three sons is a sophomore infielder for the St. Mary's Gaels. They stayed around after the game to take him and his friends out to dinner, and they would be returning again the following day for the rubber game of the series. There's a family tailgate to attend, as well.
In between, the Piscotty parents will cue up highlights of Stephen, their oldest son, who they just traveled to see in San Diego the previous weekend. Rehashing the schedule is exhausting. Imagine living it. "That's why I go to work on Monday," Gretchen laughs. "I go to work to rest."
It's a life that the matriarch of the Piscotty family never envisioned, an unexpected reality for a woman who was never all that interested in baseball. That was Michael's thing, which he first passed down to Stephen, then to Nick and finally on to Austin. Gretchen, by default, inherited it, finding herself shuttling the boys to practices and games almost daily.
Saturdays would often be the most consuming. After sitting through each of her son's games, Gretchen would be lured into joining the boys for an evening drive into Oakland, where they would then attend an A's game. "Just like any parent, any mom, you want to support your kids in whatever activities bring them joy," she said. "It was my thing, because it was their thing. But I also had to look a little harder to find something that made me tick."
Gretchen has her own interests—from volleyball, which she played in high school, to horseback riding, which she picked up while Stephen was in high school so that she could guarantee herself at least one hour per week away from the ballfield. She's not all that into the game's X's and O's, but found it to be her place to bring balance to a family so often consumed by a game.
"Just because she didn't always understand the game didn't mean she didn't enjoy coming to all our games," said Stephen. "I feel like myself and my brothers were very, very competitive, and we took losing and not doing well pretty hard. She would kind of prop us back up." (Langosch - MLB.com - 5/5/16)
Stephen's mother, Gretchen, describes Stephen as the most shy of her three sons—ironic, she admits, given that he now makes his living in front of an audience. She noticed his analytical side early, and she appreciated Stephen's drive to pursue a college education even as others encouraged him to go all-in on baseball.
She took particular joy in having Stephen around during the winter of 2015, as he moved back into his childhood home during the offseason. Seeing him take to cooking and guitar playing and video gaming with old friends assured Gretchen that baseball hadn't become all-consuming.
"That's been my role—to let them know there is more to life than just baseball," Gretchen said. "I provide a diversion when one is needed, or focus the attention on something else. I try to change the channel of his focus every now and again, because he is plenty focused all on his own."
Gretchen sees Stephen plenty during the season, too. She and Michael made it a point to attend this year's home opener in St. Louis, and they will meet Stephen on the road routinely during the year. They were in the stands last July, when Stephen made his Major League debut, mom wearing the Cardinals gear that she had been carrying around with her for weeks.
"It was kind of like waiting to have a baby," she said. "You know it's coming. You just don't know when. You have that bag packed." It was a moment, Stephen said, that was meant to be shared with mom, the one who had always kept him on track.
"She squeezed me so tight, I thought I was going to pop," said Stephen. "It was a special moment, just on so many levels. For her to see it and be there and experience it with me meant a lot. I can't even count how many hours she spent over the years watching me work toward that goal." (Langosch - MLB.com - 5/5/16)
TRADED TO THE A'S
Dec 15, 2017: Peace of mind can be had by all. The A's have their sought-after outfielder, and Stephen Piscotty has his mom a short drive away. Both are better together. The trade that brought Piscotty home from St. Louis, allowing him to be closer to his family in the East Bay city of Pleasanton, Calif., was accompanied by much admiration. His mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed in May with ALS, a debilitating ailment also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Fewer than 30 miles now separates her from Piscotty's place of work.
"I think it will be easy and convenient and frequent for her to be able to come out and watch me play," Piscotty said. "That'll give me a lot of comfort knowing that I'm close, so hopefully that takes a little pressure off me and I can relax and play and have fun."
The deal, of course, was not made purely for altruistic reasons. This was a business decision for both the Cardinals, who had a surplus of outfielders, and the A's, who gave up infield prospects Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock in order to get Piscotty.
Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak did all the work on this one. He comes with a very reasonable contract. Not only did the A's keep watch on Piscotty during his high school days but continued to do so when he landed at Stanford. Piscotty enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, batting .273 with 22 home runs and 85 RBIs. His performance dipped in a trying 2017, and it would be understandable if his mother's illness affected his performance, though the player downplayed the idea.
Piscotty, who lives with his parents in the offseason, closed on a house in St. Louis, but he's happy to give it up in favor of an opportunity to play at the Coliseum he frequented as a kid. His A's debut will mark the first time he's stepped on that field.
"That was my childhood, the Oakland A's," said Piscotty, who added he particularly enjoyed watching Tim Hudson and Mark McGwire. "We'd go to games all the time, fireworks night, just watching great players. I just have so many great memories there. It really is a dream come true. I think being called up and being a Major Leaguer was probably the ultimate dream, but this was probably another one that was kind of on my list, to play in your hometown." (J Lee - MLB.com - Dec 15, 2017)
Stephen is rallying around his mom, Gretchen, and the entire ALS community through a donation page to raise funds that will help fight the debilitating disease. Friend and caretaker Beth Sblendorio has been at the forefront of the fundraising efforts and recently committed to racing in the Livermore Half Marathon and the Boston Marathon to honor Gretchen.
Gretchen Piscotty was diagnosed with ALS in May 2017. "It's hard to see the progression take place," Stephen said. "I feel so bad and I want to try to put a positive spin on it. There are things that are just out of our control and we're just trying to make the best of a bad situation, and through what we're doing hopefully we can one day get to a point where other folks don't have to go through it.
"My mom kind of has that same mentality. She feels like she did nothing wrong. She was always healthy. Just one of those things, and she wants to use her platform now to help now."
"There are people at our house pretty much 24/7, and they're all great folks and bring a lot of joy to our family, so it's really an awesome thing," Stephen said. "From the comments that people leave on the donation pages, it's pretty heartwarming and it brings tears to your eyes to read some of those. They've come from our community, from the St. Louis community, from the Oakland community. We're just very grateful." (Lee - mlb.com - 2/23/18)
May 7, 2018: Stephen's mother died of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. She was 55 years old.
Stephen was among the many family members who surrounded her during her final moments, a debilitating disease taking her far too soon. She is also survived by her husband, Michael, and sons, Nick and Austin.
"Obviously the organization, certainly the players, we have heavy hearts for him," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We know what he's been going through, and he's been going through it for quite a while now. We really feel bad for him. He's really close to his mom."
Since the trade, Stephen has spent the majority of his time away from the ballpark caring for her in the family's home.
"There's real life, and then there's what we do, which is basically the entertainment business," Melvin said. "That's a real-life situation, and we all feel bad for him."
Condolences came pouring in elsewhere, too, including heartfelt messages from the Cardinals. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny called Gretchen "a first-class lady." "I got to spend some time with them, knowing Stephen from the draft all the way through," Matheny said. "It's been a tough go for them. I'm thinking about and praying for their family.
"Understand that as much of a façade guys put on, life happens. A lot of the things people know about. A lot they don't. You can't put a template on how to go through that or how to handle it, but Stephen is a first-class guy himself. Great family, and we're hurting for them all the way through." (Lee - mlb.com)
May 2018: Stephen's mother Gretchen lost her year-long battle with ALS and Stephen wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to talk about her.
For nearly nine minutes, he spoke with such grace, revealing an impassioned gratitude from the depths of heartbreak. It was his third day without mom. They haven't been easy, the grief overwhelming. But Piscotty has found brief moments of relief, even joy, through it all. His A's family has made sure of that.
Michael Piscotty, Stephen's father, got the royal treatment from the right-field bleacher crew at the Coliseum during the May 8 game—Stephen's first since Gretchen's passing. His son had just recorded a hit in his first at-bat—an emotional scene for everyone who witnessed it. And Michael was seen immersed among the right-field fanatics, their chanting and drumming often the heartbeat of this place.
Michael was invited to take the drumsticks, and he obliged, much to the delight of a certain onlooker from the A's dugout. "It meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to him and to my entire family," Stephen said. "We feel so at home here. The fans, the right-field crew out there have embraced us with open arms. I cracked a few smiles looking up there with the drumsticks in their hands. That was cool."
Five months have passed since the Cardinals swung a trade with the A's. The implications were twofold: Piscotty, no longer 2,000 miles away from mom and dad, could live with them in Pleasanton, Calif., and enjoy a 25-minute drive to work. He could help care for Gretchen. Hug her, love her. Brothers Austin and Nick did the same. The trade was life-altering. The four Piscotty men showered Gretchen with around-the-clock care right up until the moment she died in the family's home.
"I wouldn't have traded that for the world," Piscotty said. "I can't imagine being 2,000 miles away or in a different place and not being around what all's been going. The trade has meant the world to me, and I know it did to my mom. Being able to really share every last moment together was something that just warms my heart. I'm so grateful for it. I'm at a loss for words. I'm just so glad to be home."
Piscotty acknowledged his mom with a simple, stirring gesture, tapping his heart while he was adorned with applause, from teammates, fans, and the Astros. "The hand over my heart, that's something my mom would do when she wasn't able to speak," he said. "It was just, 'I love you and thank you.' That's what I did in the box. I'm going to keep that with me."
The outfielder promptly singled, emotions reverberating in and all around him. Later, Michael was on the video board telling him, "Thatta boy."
"I thank him so much," Piscotty said. "I love him. He worked so hard throughout the progression of this disease. I just love him a lot.
"There's been a lot of care. When you can't move and you can't talk, I'm sure people can imagine how difficult that is. There's a lot of lifting and getting my mom in certain chairs in comfortable places, making sure the mask is on, and making sure she's getting food and fluids, medications. It was a full-time job, so to speak, and I know he was exhausted." (Lee - mlb.com - 5/9/18)
RETRIEVING THE HOMERUN BALL
The trajectory of the ball could only be traced so far. It was bound for the beyond; this, an emotional Stephen Piscotty knew to be emblematic. It would clear Boston's iconic Green Monster, disappearing into the night, or so it seemed.
"I still have it pretty vividly in my mind," Piscotty said. "I knew I hit it pretty good, and I just kind of watched the ball sail out of the park. I didn't think I would see it again."
The A's outfielder journeyed around the bases, his emotions jostled, while a man named Paul Fortino obliviously wandered the backstreets of Fenway Park. Piscotty tapped his heart as he crossed home plate, mimicking the motions of mom. "I love you and thank you," she had gestured to him in her final days when she could no longer speak.
Gretchen Piscotty had lost her year-long battle with ALS a week prior; Piscotty departed the team to grieve her passing, and he had just capped his first at-bat since returning from her celebration of life in the Bay Area with a home run among hallowed grounds.
Fortino, meanwhile, was unaware of the momentous nature of the moment. He was simply a bystander, on business from Detroit, when he spotted the ball in flight. This was a chance sighting, and Fortino had nearly missed out on it; several coworkers had been turned off by a 90-minute rain delay, uninterested in waiting out the weather.
"We get dropped off, have no clue where anything is, but there's this alley," Fortino said. "I'm walking and I see a ball coming over the Green Monster, and it lands in this parking garage. I just sprint away from my group. Turn left. Now right. No, the other way. Fans populating the Green Monster were directing Fortino to the ball.
Even after it was secured, they kept yelling at him: "Throw it back!" they beckoned. "And I'm like, 'No way, I've got five kids, this is my first home run ball, I'm taking it home,'" Fortino said. "I had no clue about this Piscotty kid. This was just a home run ball. I was like a kid, I was so happy to have a Major League ball."
Fortino had been in the right place at the right time. It was a heck of a story, he thought. What Fortino didn't know then, though, was that it was only in its early stages. The ball would be sitting inside Piscotty's locker in Oakland weeks later. See, Fortino was at his best friend's wedding in Traverse City, Mich., the weekend after returning from Boston. He showed up wearing a Red Sox cap—"I'm a Boston fan now, you know?" he said—and was almost unrecognizable to friends. "I thought you were a Tigers guy," one said.
Storytime commenced. Fortino's friend, familiar with Piscotty's story, filled him in. "I got chills," Fortino said. "I had no idea what this kid had gone through, the strength he had shown. I was like, 'I've got that ball! It was at home. I have five kids and I'm thinking, 'They better not have used it!' I'm calling them, like, 'Where's the ball? We've got to get him the ball back.'"
The same friend who knew Piscotty's story was also familiar with Red Sox CEO and president Sam Kennedy—friends, in fact. A relay of e-mails, ultimately involving A's president Dave Kaval, ensued, and the ball was soon airmailed to 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland.
Paul Fortino poses on the field at Comerica Park with A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty and Fortino met on the field at Comerica Park on Tuesday, scripting the ending to a stirring story. "When I got the ball, it was just a package put in my locker with a note saying that he had caught it," Piscotty said. "But I hadn't gotten the full story. I was just surprised by all the twists and turns that got the ball back to Oakland. It was really cool, and it's a very memorable baseball to me, so I'm very grateful. The homer may top all of the ones I've hit."
Piscotty gained a lifelong fan along the way. Well, more like seven, including Fortino's kids and wife Jenny, who has also immersed herself in all things Piscotty in recent weeks. They're not alone—one well-traveled baseball inadvertently bringing attention to a cause close to the Piscottys. The A's will do their part when hosting ALS Awareness Day at the Coliseum on Sept. 3.
"The touching thing for me," Piscotty said, "was how the story had touched and been known by so many people, and that's how [the ball] was able to get back to me. That's important, because I'm glad that story is getting out so that more awareness and attention can be brought to ALS." (Jane Lee - MLB.com- June 28, 2018)
Dec. 14, 2018: Piscotty, who so bravely navigated and thrived amid adversity last season, has been named the recipient of the 2018 Tony Conigliaro Award. Presented every year since 1990, it honors a Major Leaguer that "has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C." (Jane Lee - MLB.com )
May 12, 2019: Days off are rare in baseball, so whenever one comes up, players make sure to cherish it. The A’s most recent day off had an extra-special meaning for Stephen Piscotty.
The off-day fell on May 6, which happened to be the one-year anniversary of the passing of his mother, Gretchen, after a long battle with ALS. With the A’s in town getting set for a six-game homestand, the day off afforded Piscotty the opportunity to get together with his two brothers, Austin and Nicholas, and his father, Mike.
Paying tribute to Gretchen, the Piscottys decided to go for a hike on a backside trail of Lake Del Valle in Livermore. It was Gretchen’s favorite hike, and being only about a 20-minute drive from their childhood home in Pleasanton, one she often took after dropping off Stephen and his brothers at school.
“I think she felt like she was free to not have to worry about us for a little while,” Piscotty said. “She would go and celebrate by doing that hike, and that’s a special place for us now.”
His mother never leaves his thoughts, but with the recent anniversary, Piscotty has found himself thinking about her even more than usual. That will likely continue when he takes the field at the Coliseum on Mother’s Day.
It will be the first Mother's Day Piscotty will play in since Gretchen’s passing. He did not play last year as he spent a few days away from the team, preparing for her celebration of life, which took place the day after Mother’s Day. Piscotty has thought about this day for a while now, but he has no idea what he’ll be feeling once he takes the field.
“I don’t entirely know,” Piscotty said. “Not sure if it will be emotional or not.”
Though Piscotty missed out on the Mother’s Day game last year, when he did return to the A’s, he provided his mother with the ultimate tribute.
After his mother’s celebration of life, Piscotty boarded an early-morning flight from Oakland to Boston to rejoin the club at Fenway Park for a game later that night. Piscotty was expecting to get a break given that it was his first day back. Just before leaving the team hotel for the stadium, A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Piscotty a text asking if he was ready to play. The ball was in Piscotty’s court, and given his competitive nature, there was no way he was going to say no.
He found himself in the starting lineup that night, batting sixth. What transpired in his first at-bat was something straight out of a movie.
Piscotty fell behind in the count 0-2 against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, with the second pitch a fastball that blew right past him for strike two.
“I remember seeing the first couple of pitches and thinking my timing is way off,” Piscotty said.
The next pitch was a cutter—boom. Piscotty launched a solo home run completely over the green monster and onto Lansdowne Street, producing one of the most emotional moments in MLB history.
“I had no business hitting a home run,” Piscotty said. “I think she came down and helped me for that swing. It was a special moment for my whole family and something to cheer about. It was a crazy day, I never would have foreseen that happening.”
The A’s dugout erupted as the ball left the park. Just before finishing off his trip around the bases, Piscotty patted his chest three times at home plate, a tribute he has continued to this day after each of his home runs.
“The home run, it goes beyond impressive,” Melvin said. “It’s almost like something else took over. You should have heard our dugout when he hit the home run. It was like a playoff home run.
“Just to watch him go through it and finally get back to who he was and be such a big part of this team, he’s not the most vocal guy in the world, but he’s one of the more respected guys in our clubhouse and his personality just comes out through his actions. We all felt it for him and it was just so impressive to see him put together the type of year he did with what he had to deal with.”
No matter how mentally strong one can be, what Piscotty went through was extremely difficult. The pain never goes away, but when Piscotty went to the ballpark the rest of the season after her passing, it served as a therapeutic experience for him. It was an opportunity to just focus on baseball for a few hours. The result was a career year for the right fielder, who finished the 2018 season with a career-high 27 home runs and 88 RBIs.
The passing a loved one usually puts things into perspective. For Piscotty, it was a reminder that while baseball is his passion, there’s more to life than the game—something his mother often made sure to remind him of throughout his career.
“One of my favorite things about my Mom and something that I really do miss is she was always the first one there to remind me there is more to life than baseball,” Piscotty said. “It’s a huge part of my life that has done tremendous things for me, but there are things outside that are more important. She was always the first one to remind me of that. My wife does a great job of doing that, but I miss her influence in that regard.”
The memories the two shared are endless and probably enough to fill up a novel. Plenty were made through baseball as she traveled around the state to watch her three boys, but Piscotty often thinks about the off-the-field moments.
“I just remember how much she loved being outside and me always wanting to go do stuff with her,” Piscotty said. “Whether it was riding horses or camping. Those were the good times, ones I really miss.”
It’ll be a large contingent in the stands cheering on Piscotty on May 12, 201—one that includes his father, two brothers, grandparents, and aunt and uncle. But it won’t be too different. Now that Piscotty plays for the hometown club, his family comes out to plenty of games throughout the season.
"It’ll be awesome,” Piscotty said. “It’s almost like another day since they can come all the time. We’ll see how it goes.” (M Gallegos - MLB.com - May 12, 2019)
In Detroit, Stephen was presented with the 2019 Humanitarian Award from the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame for his commitment to his mother, who passed away last year after a long battle with ALS, and overall sportsmanship.
The Hall of Fame is based in Troy, Mich., and Piscotty has Polish heritage from his father’s side of the family. Piscotty also has family in nearby Grosse Ile, Mich., less than a 40-minute drive from Comerica Park. A group of about 60 people made the trek for Piscotty’s first series in Detroit last year, and he expects a similar number in town this time around, making the honor all the more special.
“It’s cool, especially being here with all the family in town,” Piscotty said. “I am Polish and it’s cool that everyone here is local and can come partake in that event. I’m very honored and thankful that they thought of me. It’s something that my dad and the whole family can use to get our story out there and our message to help our cause to raise more awareness and funding for ALS. I’m just really grateful.” (Gallegos - mlb.com - 5/17/19)
June 25, 2019: Stephen got a Cardinals-style welcome as he stepped to the plate for the first time in the second inning of the night’s game. It was Piscotty's first appearance at Busch Stadium since the Cardinals traded him to the A's in December 2017. The 40,556 fans gave him a standing ovation as his named was announced and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina stepped out, giving the fans more time to cheer.
“That was really special,” Piscotty said. “A lot of emotions coming back there. It’s awesome to have my family there and my mom was there with me, too. It was very special. It’s hard to put into words.”
Piscotty tipped his helmet to the crowd, eliciting louder cheers.
“I thought it was great,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “That was pretty touching. It takes a lot to move Stephen a little bit and you could tell that it did. I kind of expected that. The fan base here is absolutely terrific and they remember their guys. I think everybody in our dugout felt great about that.”
He would fly out in that at-bat, walked in the fourth and singled home a run during the A’s six-run rally, which drew cheers from the crowd. Piscotty also made a nice sliding catch on a Paul DeJong drive in the seventh.
In what was heralded as a favor to Piscotty, the Cardinals traded him to Oakland so he could be near his mother, Gretchen, who was battling ALS. Piscotty grew up in the Oakland area and went to Stanford.
Gretchen Piscotty died at 55 in May 2018. The baseball world raised thousands of dollars to benefit the ALS Therapy Development Institute in her name.
“That trade meant the world,” Piscotty said before the game. “Going through what we went through as a family, I couldn’t imagine being 2,000 miles away from that.
"I thought the trade in itself was unique. It hopefully sets a precedent for the future. You don’t hope for things to happen, but if they do, maybe teams can weigh that into consideration. I thought it was great for both organizations. It just meant the world to me and my family, especially my mom.” (J Harris - MLB.com - June 26, 2019)
July 11, 2020: Coliseum Cutouts, the program unveiled by the A’s last month offering fans a chance to place themselves at the Oakland Coliseum in the form of cutouts, received a special section on Saturday.
In support of A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who along with his father, Mike, runs ALS CURE, the A’s announced the ALS CURE Project Foul Ball Zone. Fans can purchase a cutout in this special section for $149, which includes an autographed photo from Piscotty. If a foul ball hits that cutout, that fan will also be mailed a signed ball from Piscotty.
“That was 100% my dad’s idea, which I fully supported,” Piscotty said. “It was a very easy thing to do and brought a lot of good attention. Trying to make some fun out of this weird situation. When he brought it up, I thought it was great. Credit the A’s for pulling it off. I’m very happy to be a part of it.” (Martin Gallegos)
June 2012: The Cardinals chose Piscotty in the compensation portion of the draft, the 36th player chosen overall. And Stephen signed for $1.4 million via scout Matt Swanson.
April 3, 2017: The Cardinals signed Piscotty to a multiyear deal that could keep him in St. Louis through the 2023 season. The contract includes a guaranteed $33.7 million for Piscotty over the next six seasons. A $15 million club option is attached to the end of the deal.
Dec 14, 2017: The Cardinals traded Piscotty to the Athletics for 2B Max Schrock and SS Yairo Munoz.
|Birth City:||Pleasanton, CA|
|Draft:||Cardinals #1 (Comp.) - 2012 - Out of Stanford Univ. (CA)|
Piscotty consistently hits the baseball, no matter the pitch: changeup, curve, fastball on either side of the plate.
He has the frame and swing that hints at more power, but his approach, a line-drive stroke, speaks to a high-average talent. A coach said that Piscotty will likely be “a productive hitter more than a power hitter.” And he was right.
And Stephen has said that he “knows the line-drive hitter than I am, and I’m comfortable staying with that.”
Stephen is going to have power for a lot of doubles.
"I like him a lot,” one scout said. “He’s a future regular who will hit for average and power.”
As for the power, Piscotty sought help from Stanford coaches to work on a swing that allows him to extend his arms and create more of a catapult effect to apply more lift and back-spin on the ball.
The idea, he said, is to increase his degree of aggressiveness. And when games start he is going to see if he can do that while keeping a high average.
“I really want to stress that,” Piscotty said. “I’m not trying to redo anything. It’s just a minor adjustment to maybe increase a little bit more power but stay within my game . . . I want to continue to do that, but maybe drive a few more balls out of the park.” (help from Derrick Goold - BA - Spring 2015)
He has a line-drive, hit to all-fields approach. He combines contact ability with solid-average power. He has a good swing path and swings aggressively on pitches in the strike zone. He’s learning which pitches he can drive.
Stephen has an exceptional feel for the strike zone. His smooth, balanced swing allows him to hit for a good average.
Piscotty works counts and never gives in to pitchers, wearing them out with line drives from gap to gap. He won't swing at pitches out of the zone. He is very disciplined and works himself into hitter's counts. And he is a tough hitter with two strike on him.
His pitch recognition, strike zone knowledge and approach are impressive. And Cardinals manager Mike Matheny speaks of Stephen's ability to make adjustments to pitchers—sometimes in the same at-bat.
"He is a good self-evaluator." Matheny said. "He's thinking about what each pitcher might be doing and trying to make the adjustment. A lot of guys maintain the same approach, no matter the pitcher. He's able to think ahead, make the physical adjustment, with a nice, short approach that allows him to be very consistent."
His swing looks a lot like Ryan Ludwick's as Stephen finishes with both hands on the handle. He looks to drive the ball and stays up the middle, which gives him a chance to collect opposite-field hits and generally hit .270-.280, or better.
Piscotty keeps both hands on the bat and learned at Triple-A Memphis in 2014 how to pull the ball more often instead of settling for line drives to right field. That ability to pull, coupled with more loft, is what hints at more power, in the 20-plus home run range.
- October 13, 2015: Piscotty extended the new record of rookies homering in the postseason. His homer raised his tally to 13.
Also: Only Charlie Keller (1939 World Series for the Yankees) and Piscotty stand as rookies to hit three home runs in their first four career postseason games.
- As of the start of the 2021 season, Stephen had a career batting average of .262 with 581 hits, 83 home runs and 324 RBI in 2,218 at-bats.
- Stephen has a strong arm at third base, at shortstop, or from right field. He was clocked as high as 94 mph during his Stanford years.
Piscotty did not have the range, soft hands, or the quickness to stay at third base. He's too erratic to play there every day.
"I've always been a utility guy," Piscotty said. "I have no problem jumping around. Whatever gets me into the lineup. That's how I've always gone about things. Third base is definitely a position I need to work at. I need to get better. I'll play wherever the Cardinals want me to play."
In 2013, the Cardinals put Stephen in right field during spring training. But they told him during the offseason before that. So Piscotty prepared for the switch the old-fashioned way. He took his bat and glove and went out in the yard with his dad.
"He hit me a bunch of fungoes, a couple buckets every day," Piscotty said of his offseason work with his father, Mike, who's been a constant source of baseball advice for Piscotty since he was kid. "I think a lot of guys in pro ball get bogged down with tiny mechanical things. He breaks it down and keeps it simple."
- Piscotty displays a very good arm in right field. He can make some highlight-video plays. And when he isn't at the plate during BP, Piscotty was often in right field, reading fly balls off the bat and accumulating experience in his new position. A third baseman out of Stanford when the Cardinals drafted him 36th overall in 2012, Piscotty moved to the outfield early in his pro career and by the end of his turn in the Arizona Fall League had become not only comfortable and reliable in right field, but inching toward excellent.
“Actually, I think it fits me better out there,” he said.
Stephen is still learning to take great routes to the ball. His play in the outfield, where his arm plays up in right field, has been “occasionally adventurous,” in the words of one evaluator. Others noted that he did not run or throw as well in 2014, as he had in the past, which could limit him to left field.
The Cardinals had Piscotty move to first base, a position he'd never played, so that he could be called up and have a place to play in July 2015. He played some first base in college and has some familiarity with the infield, helping the transition.
Stephen worked on holding runners on, getting comfortable with the footwork, and seeing situations.
"He has to be 100 percent comfortable with that,” general manager John Mozeloak said. “I think he’d rather play first base in the big leagues than outfield in (Triple-A) Memphis, right? Like anybody. If we felt this was his best way to the big leagues, we have to consider it.” (Editor's note: Since 2017, he is just an outfielder.)
Piscotty desires to become more complete as an outfielder. That has led to extensive work with his throwing mechanics to increase accuracy and arm strength.
"It's not something where I can say, 'I've done it. I'm there. I've arrived. I've figured it out,'" Piscotty said. "I'm not claiming to know it all because I had a good half-season in the big leagues [in 2015]." (Langosch - MLB.com - 3/22/16)
April 11-18, 2013: Piscotty was on the D.L.
July 13-27, 2013: Stephen was on the D.L. for two weeks with a hamstring injury.
October 3, 2015: Piscotty, who was knocked out and carted off the field after colliding with fellow outfielder Peter Bourjos in September, said he is "moving in the right direction" and is expected to be available for the last two games of 2015 after passing a final round of concussion tests.
May 5-20, 2017: Stephen was on the DL with a strained right hamstring.
July 15-Aug 1, 2017: The Cardinals placed Piscotty on the 10-day disabled list with a right groin strain.
June 13, 2019: Piscotty underwent successful surgery to remove a melanoma from his right ear. A mole was discovered May 28 during a routine spot check in Berkeley, Calif., with Dr. Joseph Chao, who recommended it be removed after a biopsy came back positive for the form of skin cancer.
The surgery was performed at California Pacific Medical Campus by Dr. Brian Parrett. Piscotty was given a day to rest at home on June 14 but was back in uniform the next day.
June 29, 2019: Piscotty’s night was cut short after sustaining a right knee sprain in a game at Angel Stadium.
After roping a two-out single to center field off the Angels' Trevor Cahill in the sixth inning, Piscotty attempted to stretch the hit into a double and slid awkwardly into second base to avoid a tag from Luis Rengifo.
June 30-Aug 3, 2019: Piscotty was on the IL with right knee sprain.
Aug 25-Sept 26, 2019: Piscotty was on the IL with sprained right ankle.
Feb 24, 2020: The A’s have held Piscotty out of game action due to an issue on his rib cage that sprung up earlier in camp. The right fielder has been taking part in batting practice and other pregame activities, but A’s manager Bob Melvin is uncertain of a target date for his first appearance in a game this spring.
March 10, 2020: With Opening Day just two weeks away, Piscotty remains shut down from all baseball activity with an oblique/rib cage injury.
“I’m working through this oblique. It’s a tough baseball injury, that’s for sure,” Piscotty said. "I feel healthy, but I have to be patient.”