Editor’s note: Mount Pleasant native Nick Ciuffo is projected as a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft tonight. A left-handed hitting catcher who played for two years at Wando High School and last month led Lexington High School to the South Carolina Class AAAA state baseball championship, Ciuffo received steady support since T-ball from his parents, Tony and Kim. The Post and Courier asked Tony Ciuffo, a former College of Charleston sports information director who now works in the public relations department at MUSC, to share some baseball notes from the last few exciting years.
By Tony Ciuffo
Special to The Post and Courier
Attending Nick’s home games at Lexington High School this season was often an adventure. By 4 p.m. on game days, the parking lot next to the baseball field was scattered with rental cars and clothes hanging in the backseat, the telltale sign of traveling baseball scouts.
As Nick would make his way to the first base dugout carrying his equipment bag, the car doors would fly open. Nick’s not much when it comes to making his bed or cleaning his room, but two hours before first pitch he’s meticulous as he prepares the home plate area for batting practice. Scouts watched every move and took notes on everything Nick did.
Since the fall of 2009, his freshman year at Wando, Nick has been evaluated and scrutinized by scouts, fans, parents, etc. … It was back in December of 2009 when South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner offered Nick a scholarship to play for the Gamecocks.
My reaction was, “Ray, he’s only 14. You really think he’ll be good enough to play for you?”
“I know he’s only 14 and I know this may sound crazy,” Tanner said, “but he’ll be plenty good enough to play for us. I want to offer him a scholarship.”
My son was no longer just Nick Ciuffo, he was the youngest Gamecock commitment ever and officially under a very big microscope.
One my greatest thrills involving Nick was finding out that he was picked to play for the Team USA 16U National Team in 2011. And finding the baseball card. Parents of Team USA players were allowed to purchase 100 Topps trading cards of their sons and a complete set of Team USA cards.
The Team USA set was sold at Wal-Mart stores around the country. A friend called to tell me the Rivers Avenue Wal-Mart in North Charleston had three complete sets left at just $10 each.
Nick and I headed over and purchased all three. In each team set was a card of each Team USA player and one bonus card, an actual signed card from one player. Nick opened set No. 2 and there it was, Nick’s autographed card.
What were the odds?
My 2012 trip to Wrigley Field to see Nick play wasn’t my first visit; I saw Mets lefty Frank Viola outduel Cubs ace Greg Maddux, 3-1, in a 1991 matchup when Harry Caray was still singing “Take Me Out to The Ballgame.”
But this one was more memorable. It was the day before Nick was to start for the American squad in the Under Armour All-American game. Nick was hanging out with a member of the National team, Kacy Clemens, when I was summoned over to meet Kacy’s dad.
“Mr. Ciuffo, have you met my father Roger,” said Kacy.
Later that night, the players and parents met with officials from Major League Baseball. It was an hour of learning about the draft, how it works, how teams pay for college tuition, how much kids are paid in the minors. It was an A-to-Z on what we could expect as parents for the next 10 months.
But nothing can ever really prepare you.
Our draft day itinerary includes tours of New York City, the MLB FanCave and Yankee Stadium. Nick has a pre-draft reception with MLB dignitaries Tommy Lasorda, George Brett and others. We’ll board a bus for the short trip to MLB Network’s Studio 42.
We’ll join commissioner Bud Selig and possibly millions watching on the MLB Network for the draft. Nervous, excited, apprehensive are all words to describe how all of us, family and close friends, have felt as this day approached. All along, Nick seemed to handle the pressure better than anyone.