The driving force behind Columbia University’s Cinderella baseball season has been the hot bat, and aiding in its wild success is a real-life American hero.
After three tours of service in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine medic, Joey Falcone arrived home to be Columbia University’s star hitter, leading the Ivy League to its third straight NCAA tournament.
Having experienced the horrors of war in the Middle East, Falcone brings perspective and wisdom to the field. The 28-year-old designated hitter led the team in nearly every hitting category and received All-Ivy honors. His stellar season came after he struggled with the bat during his junior season, which led to him getting benched.
"[Sitting on the bench] definitely turned into a drag…had I not been in different circumstances in the past, I would have been much more shallow and perhaps hung up my cleats," he told the New York Post.
Columbia Lions coach Brett Boretti said Falcone is an inspiring presence in the locker room.
"We’ve got a guy who’s been in real battles for us … He keeps things in perspective for everyone. A bad at-bat or a bad inning is not life or death. You have to be able to react appropriately for bad things happening," Boretti told the Post.
Falcone said he takes nothing for granted, and expresses gratitude and appreciation for the position he is in today–studying at an Ivy League university, performing as a star athlete, and just being alive.
"I feel like I was spared from a lot of things and I’m very grateful for that. I’m tremendously fortunate and tremendously blessed," he said.
Columbia University is the No. 3 seed in the tournament. The team beat No. 6 seed Miami University 3-0 on Sunday to force an elimination game.
"The Lions are the first Ivy League program to win three games in an NCAA Baseball Tournament since 1974, when Harvard accomplished the feat," the university said in a release. "No team in the Ancient Eight has picked up three victories in the current NCAA Regional format, which began in 1999."
Falcone, who went hitless in five at-bats Sunday, will look to extend the team’s historic performance when Columbia faces Miami for an elimination match on Monday.