WSU Baseball: Fearless Joe

PULLMAN -- At first, he didn't even need cleats, or shoes of any kind. Just playing in his socks on the baseball field outside his family's home in Montana satisfied Joe Pistorese. Any chance he had, he'd play some type of sport -- even in the house, said his dad, Brent Pistorese. Even the harsh winters in Montana could not keep Joe from playing outside.

Born in Seattle, young Joe Pistorese moved with his family to Kalispell when he was about six years old. On the weekends, kids would come over to the house to play at the field, but Brent said there were other times when his son would be out on that field playing ball, all alone.

Pistorese has been the Cougs' ace this season, in full uniform, shoes and all.

"Baseball has always been so much fun for me, and it's just nice that I got to play and get to still play now," Pistorese said. "My biggest achievement is just the fact that I still get to come out here, put on the Cougar uniform and pitch here under the lights, which is amazing."

Pistorese, 3-2 in his junior year, leads the Cougar starters with a 3.16 ERA, had held batters to a .246 average and has tossed three complete games. No other Cougar pitcher this season has a complete game to their credit.

The southpaw has earned the right to pitch on Friday nights, the most coveted spot in collegiate starting rotations. And it's expected he'll take the mound this Friday when WSU opens a titanic three-game series at Pac-12 leading Washington. He did not begin this season in that spot.

Instead, he found himself relegated to the bullpen. Pistorese started on Fridays as a sophomore, but WSU head man Donnie Marbut said Pistorese was not yet disciplined enough this offseason to earn that position in the starting rotation again. That didn't last long.

"When you're talking about competitiveness, he's as competitive in between the lines as anybody we've ever had," Marbut said.

That competitive edge didn't simply appear in college. Joe spent a lot of time with his dad in a house that included three sisters. The two did all kinds of things together, including all kinds of sports.

"I would never compete against him," Brent Pistorese said. "By the time he was in ninth grade, he was already better than me at everything, but he and I are both kind of competitive, in a good way. He's not an angry guy, but he sure plays hard, and he likes to win."

THE ELDER PISTORESE is a doctor, and Joe calls him his hero. The profession kept the elder Pistorese extremely busy when the family lived in Seattle. But when the Pistoreses moved to Montana, Brent was able to spend less time at work and more time with his kids.

"That's one of the reasons I changed my job was so I could watch him play, and watch my kids grow up," Brent said. "And that's been really fortunate that I've been able to do that. The baseball diamond where he played Babe Ruth, American Legion, and Little League was less than a mile from my office so I could always go coach and hit ground balls, and watch him play so I got to see almost everything."

Joe's dad still tries to see as many games as he can, and he said he usually finds a way to see about 30 WSU games each season.

"My mom and my dad both work really hard and I think that every little bit of credit, and every little bit of what they do well, they deserve, so I'm happy," Pistorese said.

ALTHOUGH A natural athlete, he struggled in another area growing up. His grades in school suffered at times, especially in math, prompting his dad to help him with his homework. He eventually overcame it, though there were times where Pistorese was interested, and other times where he just wanted to play outside.

"He's an action child. Little toys aren't his kind of thing," the elder Pistorese said. "He likes bats and balls, and games of action. It was more difficult for him to sit still and do things in a focused manner. Although he could do it, it was harder for him for sure."

SOMETHING NEW has crept into the mix this year. The WSU pitcher has developed a habit before every inning of running out to the mound and skipping over the line.

"I don't know what made me first start doing it, but I did it the first time and then it just turned into part of my routine," Pistorese said. "Usually I keep my routine basically the same, and then for whatever reason, that somehow snuck in there and I don't know why, but it's uncomfortable if I don't do it now."

He's also become much more comfortable in the classroom.

"My parents are really easy-going people, and they trust me a lot," Pistorese said. "I think that needs to be heard because they definitely were hard on me about grades but it was more just because they wanted me to be able to be in the position I am now…just the fact that they knew I could come play sports at this level and didn't want grades to hold me back."

IT BECAME APPARENT that Pistorese could play beyond the college level when he was chosen by the Chicago White Sox in the 44th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Pistorese chose instead to return to WSU, where he is majoring in fine arts. But the dream to play baseball remains alongside his goal to earn his degree.

"It was nice to have that feeling because now I know what I'm hunting for," Pistorese said. "This year I'm draft-eligible and it will be nice to see if I can get that again."

JOE PLAYS BALL in his shoes now instead of socks. He skips over the line of the base path as if he is motivated by baseball superstition.

But his dad still watches him play, and Joe still stares toward the plate with the same competitive fire he has always had.

WSU hosts Gonzaga Tuesday night at 6 p.m. The game will be streamed live for free, click here and scroll down

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