Filomeno hopes to return for MustangsSt. Rita's Joey Filomeno pitches against Joliet Catholic.
Updated: April 25, 2011 6:24AM
This wasn't the way Joey Filomeno saw his senior season playing out. Ditto for St. Rita baseball coach Mike Zunica.
Filomeno is one of the state's premier two-way players, a power-hitting first baseman who slugged 14 home runs and drove in 63 runs last season who's also a hard-throwing lefty with a fastball that's been clocked at 91 mph.
He's a guy to build a team around, and that's what Zunica expected to do.
"I told him the season was keyed on him being healthy and getting quality starts," Zunica said.
The Mustangs, who finished second in Class 4A each of the past two seasons, are off to a 16-1-1 start through Friday. But Filomeno has played only three games because of a back injury.
The pain is psychic as much as physical.
"Mentally, it's really been taking a toll on me as an athlete for my entire life, just sitting back and watching just kills me," Filomeno said. "I hate it."
The cruel irony here is that Filomeno got hurt trying to make himself a better player for the next level (he has signed with the University of Louisville).
He was going to speed training workouts six times a week for six months and believes the injury happened during a weightlifting session at the end of February.
"I thought it was a strained muscle at most," Filomeno said. "I figured it'd be a couple days [of inactivity]."
He practiced and played through the pain, through St. Rita's first three games of the season.
"I was running, I was playing all-out like I always do," he said. "It was killing me to run. Running and throwing really hurt bad."
In a win over Clemente, Filomeno hit a home run and was in agony rounding the bases. He knew he couldn't continue like that and finally saw a doctor about three weeks after getting hurt.
Since then, he's been sidelined. But he's been able to resume baseball-related activities and has a doctor's appointment scheduled for Tuesday when he's hoping to get clearance to return to action.
Zunica knows what his star is going through. "It's driving him crazy," Zunica said. "I feel terrible for him. He puts a lot on his own shoulders."
Much as Zunica wants to relieve that burden and get Filomeno back on the field, he's equally determined not to make the move too soon.
"We're going to use him," the coach said. "We definitely want to win the Catholic League. But we're not going to put his health in front of anything. I'll try to do my best to make sure he doesn't push anything."
The silver lining in this black cloud of a season has been the way other Mustangs have picked up the slack for their out-of-commission leader.
"It takes a lot of weight off [my] shoulders," Filomeno said. "I'm watching the younger guys step up."
Some of those guys include sophomore outfielder Connor McClain, junior third baseman Stefano Belmonte and junior catcher/infielder Zach Soria.
Then there's junior right-hander Eddie De La Riva, who has emerged as a bona-fide ace in Filomeno's absence by starting the season 7-0.
"Last year ... he was definitely a lot better than a sophomore should be," Filomeno said. "I remember in the offseason, me and [Brian] Sicher would get on him, [saying], You've got to have a big summer.'"
De La Riva did just that and Filomeno and everyone else have been wowed by the results. "He was still Eddie, but he was Eddie the pitcher."
Now Filomeno is hoping he'll get the OK to return and join De La Riva at the top of the St. Rita rotation. If it happens this week, it couldn't come at a better time.
The Mustangs are hitting the meat of their schedule in the Catholic League Blue, which is as loaded as it's ever been with the likes of Providence, Mount Carmel, St. Laurence and Brother Rice along with the Mustangs.
"There's nothing like Catholic League baseball," Filomeno said. "We're arguably the best conference in the country."
Filomeno is undoubtedly one of the best players in the conference and he can't wait for the chance to prove it.
"It's going to be awesome," he said of his impending return. "Coach Zunica says it all the time: Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody.'"
Right now, Filomeno would be happy for a few more pain-free days on the baseball field.