Mark Bruscino said that he was about 4 years old or so when his father, Mark Sr., first introduced him to the game of baseball.
“I was about 4 years old when he put the ball in my hands,” the younger Bruscino said. “I remember holding the ball and that’s all I know doing since I was small. I wanted to be a baseball player. My father taught me a lot.”
The elder Bruscino owns a place in Secaucus baseball folklore. He was a shortstop on the Patriot team that captured the NJSIAA Group I state championship team in 1980, the same Patriot team that featured major leaguer Jeff Bittiger.
“Ever since I was small, he wanted me to progress,” the younger Bruscino said. “He worked with me a lot.”
After Bruscino’s junior campaign, father and son worked diligently to see the son’s improvement.
“We did a lot of hitting drills together,” the younger Bruscino said. “We threw a lot together as well. In hitting, I worked off the tee and took a lot of batting practice with my father. I could see that it was really paying off.”
The younger Bruscino also gained a lot of confidence last summer, playing for the Bergen County Swamp Rats, based out of Garfield.
“Playing a lot definitely helped me a lot,” Bruscino said. “I gained a lot of strength with running and my agility. I definitely felt so much more confident. I liked playing against the bigger teams, the best competition. I got a chance to play at the University of Maryland over the summer and that was a great experience. I worked on a lot of things; my arm strength, my conditioning. I was a lot more confident.”
When the 2011 high school baseball season began, Secaucus head baseball coach Keith Schneider was counting on Bruscino to become a more important cog in the Patriots’ lineup this year.
“That was the plan,” Schneider said. “Last year, he was part of the rotation with [now graduated] Zac Schlemm and since Zac was gone, I knew I needed Mark to pitch all the big games this season.”
Schneider also counted on Bruscino to step up and become more of a force offensively.
“He batted sixth for us last year and this year, we were relying on him to hit fourth,” Schneider said.
That idea alone got Bruscino thinking.
“I couldn’t hit a thing last year,” said Bruscino, who batted .265 as a junior. “I couldn’t hit the ball at all. But the confidence definitely helped.”
If you put it all together, you might find the prospects of a successful high school baseball player.
“I think it all brought me to this point,” Bruscino said. “I can see the difference in my velocity on the mound and I’m a much better player between last year and now.”
Bruscino’s improvement has definitely showed in the past week, when he’s helped the Patriots to win five straight games and seven of their last eight to improve to 14-5.
Brusicino went 9-of-15 at the plate, with three doubles, two triples and six RBI, with three stolen bases. As a pitcher, Bruscino pitched a three-hitter against Saddle Brook, a game that he won with a two-run double in the sixth inning, striking out 15 in 13 innings. He now has 70 strikeouts for the season and has posted a 5-3 pitching record as the Patriots’ ace.
As a hitter, Bruscino is hitting .485, some 200 points higher than a year ago.
For his efforts, Bruscino has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Schneider believes that Bruscino is the reason why the Patriots have caught fire in the final weeks of the season.
“He’s really been coming on,” Schneider said. “Every time we need a big hit, a big RBI, Mark is the one delivering it. He’s always coming through for us. And the team always feels we can win when he’s on the mound.”
Schneider likes the way Bruscino has evolved as a pitcher.
“He’s very good working inside out,” Schneider said. “He’s keeping people off-balance by moving the ball around, but he throws pretty hard as well. I think he’s one of the hardest throwers in our conference [the NJIC Meadowlands]. He has confidence in all his pitches.
Added Schneider, “He’s really stepped it up this year. We didn’t have to rely on him to hit last year, but this year, we’ve really needed him and he’s performed, both as a pitcher and a hitter. I think he’s more confident now and more aggressive.”
Schneider believes that the Patriots need more from Bruscino, especially if they are going to contend for the NJIC Meadowlands division title.
“We have three games left and they’re all in the division,” Schneider said of the Patriots’ upcoming schedule against Becton Regional, Harrison and division leader Lyndhurst. “Mark is having a great senior year. He’s doing everything you could ask for from a senior.”
Bruscino is hopeful that he will get a chance to play at Rutgers-Newark in the fall or perhaps Monmouth University.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bruscino said. “I’m so overwhelmed to have this happen during my senior year. I am glad to help the team out and I want to improve every day. It’s a rewarding feeling to be able to do this well. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to play in college, more than likely Rutgers-Newark. I would have never thought all of this was possible four years ago. But as it becomes more of a reality, it’s great.”
So is the improvement of the Patriots, thanks to the improvement of the team’s senior leader. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.