Countdown to Cortaca: Bombers in the Bronx, Part 4

By Kerry C. Regan, April 29, 2022

The New York Yankees’ IC alums welcome Cortaca to their stadium.

From November 10-13, 2022, Ithaca College will be hosting a weekend-long “IC in the City” experience in New York City for alumni and current students, faculty, and staff.  The centerpiece of this event, the 63rd annual Cortaca Jug football game between Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland, will take place on November 12 at Yankee Stadium. To highlight this amazing opportunity, we will be publishing a yearlong series titled “Countdown to Cortaca: Bombers in the Bronx,” highlighting the entire weekend.

In this installment, we’re highlighting the stories of the IC alumni who currently work for the Yankees.

Hundreds of times each Major League Baseball season an injured player meets with the team’s medical staff to begin rehab.

Yet following an injury on July 14, 2021 at Yankee Stadium, a rehab scenario unfolded that had likely never occurred in Major League Baseball. For the first time, both the injured player and his physical therapist were from Ithaca College. Yankee Physical Therapist, Joe Bello, ’15, ’17, was establishing a therapy regimen for Yankee outfielder Tim Locastro ’14, one of the few IC alumni to break into the majors. 

Locastro was rehabbing from a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and Bello was quick to assess the situation.

“Once a Bomber, always a Bomber,” he told Locastro, alluding to the unofficial Yankee nickname, the Bronx Bombers.

Bello and Locastro are among four IC graduates and former students who currently work for the New York Yankees, which will welcome the Cortaca Jug game to Yankee Stadium on November 12.

A Singular Franchise

The Yankees are a singular sports franchise, the second highest valued in the world, according to Forbes, and arguably the best known globally outside of the international game of soccer. They play in the largest city in North America, a bucket-list destination for many, and their nickname is synonymous overseas with “American.” They are highly successful, having won more titles than any North American team in the four major sports leagues, and their top players have become larger-than-life legends: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle.

“The New York Yankees brand resonates, whether you're a fan, whether you're trying to become an employee, or whether you're holding a Cortaca football game at the stadium. The power of the brand is global, and it's strong.”

Justin Pintak ’18, specialist, premium sales and service, New York Yankees.

Not all of the IC alumni affiliated with the Yankees were fans growing up, but all recognize they are with a premier franchise.

“The New York Yankees brand resonates, whether you're a fan, whether you're trying to become an employee, or whether you're holding a Cortaca football game at the stadium,” said Justin Pintak ’18, specialist, premium sales and service, New York Yankees. “The power of the brand is global, and it's strong.”

Beating the Odds

So how do you land a job with the Yankees? Probably the most unlikely path was the one forged by outfielder Tim Locastro, who is now in his seventh major league season. Professional baseball players rarely come from the country’s short-summer regions like Auburn, N.Y., Tim’s hometown, nor from Division III baseball programs, like IC’s. Indeed, fewer than two percent of the 1,200 or so players drafted each year are from D3. Further, only about 20% of draftees make the major leagues, according to Baseball America, and most of those are drafted in the early rounds, unlike Locastro. He was drafted in Round 13 in 2013—also not the luckiest draft numbers.  

“The coaching staff [at Ithaca College] was great. They welcomed me with open arms and it turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life.”

Tim Locastro '14

How did he beat the odds? He points to teammates, coaches, family and friends who have supported him along the way. After a standout high school baseball career, Locastro was encouraged by his mother, Colleen, to investigate Ithaca College, where he’d attended summer baseball camp. It’s also the alma mater of his high school coach, T.J. Gamba ’89, an all-American outfielder and former assistant coach at Ithaca who is in the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame.

Card of Tim Locastro

Tim Locastro is in his second year with the Yankees.

“The coaching staff there was great,” Locastro said. “They welcomed me with open arms and it turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life.” He still speaks and texts frequently with his former IC coaches George Valesente ’66 and Frank Fazio ’67 and many teammates. “We know each other’s swings, and we know each other's style of play,” Locastro said. “And it's nice to have an outside perspective.”

His strong collegiate play put him on the radar of pro scouts, particularly in his junior year when he earned All-American honors and was named Empire 8 Player of the Year while leading the Bombers to a third-place finish in the Division III College World Series. They qualified in regional playoffs in Tim’s hometown, Auburn, beating rival Cortland State. “That was a really cool moment,” he said.

He joined the Toronto Blue Jays organization that summer, 2013, following his junior year. “My teammates and coaches helped me get there. They put me in a position to succeed,” Locastro said. “Then you’ve got to go out there and perform.”

Locastro has done just that, playing with 10 minor league teams and three major league squads (Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and the Yankees) at six positions—all but pitcher, catcher and third base. Among his many attributes, his speed has set him apart. He holds the Major League record for most steals without being caught to begin a career with 29. Taking better advantage of his speed was also the reason he transitioned to playing the outfield, giving him a leg up covering a more expansive territory than in his IC position at shortstop.

“Whatever this team needs—whether it's coming off the bench to pinch-run, pinch-hit, or play late-inning defense, or to start a game— I'm willing to do that to help this team win,” he said.

With a Little Help From My IC Friends

The other IC alumni working for the Yankees typically found entrees through contacts, many with IC ties. Internships played a role for three of them.

Joe Bello card

Joe Bello started working for the Yankees just a few months after completing an internship.

The physical therapy program required Joe Bello ’15, ’17, to take 36 weeks of internships and, to support his ambition to work in professional sports, the Long Island native worked a contact he had with the Yankees to secure a summer 2017 internship with the organization. When it ended, Medical Coordinator Mark Littlefield asked him to let them know “when you get the good news that you’ve passed the board” certifying his professional credentials. Bello passed in October, and the Yankees hired him in January. 

“The internship turned out to be a three-month job interview,” Bello said. “Looking back on it, it’s almost too good to be true. I’m very fortunate the way things worked out.”

Similar good fortune shined on Justin Pintak ’18, first in getting an internship at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he helped manage downhill events like the luge. But additionally, his group advisor, Annemarie Farrell, associate professor and chair of the sports management program, later provided him with the contacts at the Yankees that led to his hiring. “It’s kind of awesome to get to work for one of the biggest names in sports right out of school,” said Pintak, who majored in integrated marketing communications with a minor in sport studies.

As you might expect, having a professional association with the Yankees projects a certain aura.

“At the party, everyone wants to talk to you because you’re with the Yankees,” Pintak noted. “When you think about it from their perspective, it is a cool thing. I mean, I’m talking to you (on the phone) while I’m sitting in left field watching the grounds crew work on the field. It’s a beautiful day, 60 degrees and sunny. So it’s nice, you know?”

The View From the Spreadsheet

As the Yankees’ Executive Director of Financial Operations, Mike Parker ’06, ’07 has a distinctive view of the team, for he works with all 60-plus Yankee departments to develop budgets and forecasts that give senior management and ownership a full view of the operation. He’s not involved in player salary and acquisition decisions, though he says he’s occasionally called upon to lay out the impact on the budget of “signing Player X,” taking into account the salary cap and luxury tax implications.

Baseball card of Michael Parker

Michael Parker's job with the Yankees allows him to be in the locker room to help authenticate game-used items. 

But those aren’t the only responsibilities for Parker, who majored in accounting at IC before getting his MBA.

We're a big brand obviously, but we're still kind of a small family-run organization. The front office is only about 200 or 250 people,” he said. “So, each of us takes on something a little bit outside of our day jobs.”

His department also manages the club's game-used authentication program, working with a Major League Baseball representative at each game to authenticate items that were used in the game—baseballs, bases, broken bats and whatnot—that will go up for sale. This is one way the league combats counterfeiting.

Fulfilling those duties led to one of his fondest Yankee memories when, during his first year with the team in 2013, he needed to be in the locker room on Old-Timers Day as former players gathered and signed memorabilia. “Just to see Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, Bobby Brown, Bobby Richardson and some of those great players from the great teams in the in the fifties and the sixties was another of those pinch-me type moments. It was just cool to be a fly-on-the-wall in that situation to see those guys reunite and swap old war stories.”

The pinch-me atmosphere often bubbles up, he said. “The goal of what we’re doing is to try and help the team win the World Series. And just the fact that that’s the ultimate goal of what I do is a little bit unbelievable, like ‘How the heck did I get here?’”

On the other hand, it’s a long season and a demanding job. “Like last night, there was a rain delay, and I was at the stadium until about 11:00,” he said. “So sometimes you can offset that feeling of ‘I can't believe I get to work with this team’ with, ‘I can't believe I'm still here at 11:00 on a weeknight.’ But yeah, that comes with the territory.”

The COVID Pause

Card of Justin Pintak

The COVID-shortened 2020 season — played without fans in the stands — was a challenging one for Justin Pintak.

What didn’t normally come with the territory was the pandemic. It brought uncertainty to the game over the last two years, with a late start and shortened schedule in 2020 and reduced stadium capacity into July 2021.

“It was the most stressful, uncertain time in my professional career,” Parker said. “We normally do one budget every year and then four or five forecasts during the season. I think we did 30 or 40 in three months for all the different scenarios they were throwing around.”

Life was also stressful for Pintak. “We work in sales, on commission primarily and if we have no seats to sell, we're not making any money,” Pintak said. He made it through on optimism that things would turn around, he said, and he’s anxious to have a “normal” season this year.

Locastro also sought a silver lining, contacting IC during COVID about the possibility of completing his degree by taking online courses. “They were great about it, but then the baseball season started up again, and I wasn’t able to do it,” he said.

Cortaca in the Bronx

Needless to say, the IC grads with the Yankees are over the moon about the Cortaca Jug game coming to Yankee Stadium. When Parker began hearing rumors that inquiries were being made about hosting Cortaca, he said “to anybody that would listen that we absolutely have to do that event,” especially given the success of the MetLife game. He bought a block of 20 tickets for him and his old college friends shortly after tickets went on sale. Bello also was quick to buy a block of tickets then for a group of IC friends that includes his fiancé, Brittany Asito ’16. 

“I do in a way kind of feel like I'm hosting all of my friends this time around. You know, they're coming to my house.”

Justin Pintak

Pintak plans to meet up with alumni friends before this year’s game at Billy’s Sports Bar across the street from Yankee Stadium, continuing a tradition started at the MetLife Game. “I was in my second year living in the city with all my friends from Ithaca, and it was really special for us to have Cortaca come to us.

“I'm not part of Cortaca at Yankee Stadium by any means,” he continued. “I'm not selling it or any of that. But I do in a way kind of feel like I'm hosting all of my friends this time around. You know, they're coming to my house.”

And this time, the welcome mat has pinstripes.

Stay in the Loop

Planning and preparation continue for IC in the City and Cortaca Jug 2022. For more information and to learn about opportunities for alumni, students, faculty, staff, and IC community members, please visit the “IC in the City” homepage.