Seton Hall baseball utilityman Mike Esposito was awarded the Coach Sheppard Legacy Award during the 2020 Mike Sheppard Senior Golf Outing last Monday.
The award was created two years ago by a group of alumni to honor former Seton Hall baseball coach Mike Sheppard, his son head coach Rob Sheppard said.
Sheppard said he provides his panel of judges with a preliminary list of players from the baseball team, and the winner is then afforded the opportunity to join the selection committee for future awardees. Coach Sheppard emphasized that this award is more centered around an athlete’s personal contributions rather than just pure statistics.
“The award itself was given to [Esposito] on dedication, success in the classroom, and all of the things that he brings on the field as well,” Sheppard said.
What made Esposito stand out, Sheppard said, was his commitment to the Student-Athlete Activity Committee (SAC). Esposito currently serves as the president of the SAC, which puts active student-athletes on campus into certain leadership roles and entrusts them to serve as liaisons between the athletic department and student-athletes. Sheppard described this as “integral” to University-athlete relations.
It was one of two specific developments that Sheppard pinpointed when asked about Esposito’s path to this honor. The other started to take shape even before the now-senior first established himself as a force on the diamond for Seton Hall.
“Mike was cut from the team as a freshman, and he had the courage and the ability to try out the following year and he made it as a sophomore,” said Sheppard. “I think that was an indication to them. Here’s a man who is really persistent and resilient, and really took that as an opportunity to come back the following year.”
Esposito said being cut initially “devastated” him after nearly a half year of training for the tryout, but he was motivated to prove himself. He said Sheppard encouraged him to return next year to try out and cited Sheppard’s motto of “never lose your hustle” as one of the major factors in his motivation to return for his sophomore year. Esposito named former players such as Matt Fortin, Matt Leon, Zach Prendergast, Chris Villa, Sebastiano Santorelli, and Matt Ponsiglione as other influences on him during his time with the team.
“I used to go in at 8 or 9 o’clock and hit,” Esposito said. “All summer I was playing in competitive games. I honestly came in very undersized, so I needed to catch up. I think it was good that I got cut because I think it made me realize how much I wanted it. It made me realize not to take anything for granted.
“My first at-bat in inter-squad, I faced Chris Morris and he struck me out on three pitches. I spent more time putting batting gloves on than actually in the box.”
Even finding out he made the team wasn’t as straightforward as Esposito would have thought. Had he not checked the team’s equipment list for the underclassmen to take care of, he would have missed the good news entirely.
“[Sheppard] actually didn’t tell me if I made the team or not,” Esposito said. “We have an equipment list for sophomores and freshman to do. Guys take tees, another guy takes the Gatorade bottles. I checked the list, and, sure enough, there was my name.”
Esposito spoke at great length about the emotional reaction of himself and his family at the news that he was this year’s recipient.
“Chris [Villa] texted me because he has a say in the vote as well,” Esposito said. “When they decided on me, he said he was so excited to tell me. He texted me saying it was of the ‘utmost importance’, and I said, ‘He’s definitely going to offer me some stupid trade in fantasy.’ I wish the award could have gone to all four of us.”
As the players and coaches navigate these trying and uncertain times, particularly after having their last season cut short after just 14 games, Esposito said the obstacles have not altered the mindset of the team as they prepare for what they hope will be a more familiar year ahead.
“We’re just doing our thing, not skipping a beat,” Esposito said. “We still have that mindset like it’s a regular season. We’re just getting ready. You can’t control the uncontrollable, but you can control what you can do to prepare for that. We believe that ‘you are your brother’s keeper,’ and we’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
Regarding whether it was an easy decision to return for one more year with the team, the competitive fire and desire to maintain the “camaraderie” of the team was apparent in Esposito’s naturally-jovial voice.
“We were all talking about it after the end of the season,” Esposito said. “We’ve got unfinished business and those are the people I want to be standing side-by-side with when we go into war. I’d rather have one year of regret, than 40 to 50 years of regret over not coming back.”
Ryan Woodhams can be reached at email@example.com.