Like many college baseball players, Columbia sophomore Joey Falcone watches videos of MLB greats to help improve his game.
But very few get to hear their dad suggest, "Joey, why don't you give Keith Hernandez a call?" when discussing ways to approach an at-bat.
That's what happens when your father is former major league pitcher Pete Falcone. The elder Falcone stood on the mound and faced countless All-Stars, MVPs, and batting champions over his 10-year career—winning 70 games with the Giants, Mets, Cardinals, and Braves.
Born in Atlanta after his father's Major League Baseball career ended, at just three years old Joey was running through his house with a whiffle ball and bat. His interest in baseball grew as he was exposed to the game on a daily basis while living in Italy, where his father played ball.
"When he was really young, he was just natural—he just played," Pete said. "I never really had to tell him anything. He just liked it and was successful, and he just had good tools. He had good eye-hand coordination. He was strong."
Joey later moved to Louisiana where he attended high school. He enjoyed playing baseball, but did not put much effort into schoolwork and never thought about going to college.
"I didn't think forward at all," Joey said. "I didn't have the willpower to put in the time to make good grades."
But his attitude changed after graduation when he enlisted in the military at the age of 17. He trained to be a corpsman and spent six years in the military, during which time he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He really had to mature quickly, because he was pushed into a situation where he had to succeed," his father said.
As for what the military taught him, the younger Falcone simply said, "To roll with the punches."
After being discharged, Joey moved to his family's hometown of Brooklyn and applied to colleges, hoping to play baseball again. He was accepted to schools throughout the country, but his poor high school transcript prevented him from joining those schools' baseball teams per NCAA rules. He decided to attend the College of Staten Island, where he could both boost his grades and play ball.
"Once I got to community college, I wasn't the same person I was in high school," Joey said. "I was very militant about things I could control—like my grades."
His work ethic was nothing like that of the short, slender kid he was before becoming an infantryman. His baseball coach at Staten Island suggested he apply to Columbia's School of General Studies, where Joey enrolled in the spring of 2012.
After his first semester at Columbia, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound veteran visited Light Blue head coach Brett Boretti to introduce himself and inquire about joining the team.
"After hearing Falcone answer questions with "yes, sir" and "no, sir," "I could just tell that he was a little bit different than your everyday Columbia student," Boretti said.
"Obviously with Joe, the first impression is he's a very physical young man," the head coach added. "And we found out that he had some ability offensively, hitting-wise. That was something we saw early in the fall, and something we felt we could definitely work with and try to continue to improve upon."
Though Falcone is nearly a decade older than many of his fellow Lions at age 26, the age difference has not been a barrier because he and his teammates understand how different their pasts are.
"A couple of years ago, people that were 18 were calling me by my rank and last name. And now, they're calling me by my first name," he said, noting that he continues to adjust to civilian life.
"I think the team accepted him wholeheartedly," Boretti said. "He has developed some leadership skills that are a little different from what the guys have seen before from others."
Falcone is still figuring out how to balance his immense amount of schoolwork with baseball.
"It's really, really, really difficult making good grades now, or the grades I grew used to making at the community college," he said. Because he leaves campus for practice at 2 p.m. and doesn't get back until 8 p.m., he has started doing his homework early in the morning but is still trying to find a daily routine that works.
"He's pushed to the max now," his father said. "It's amazing how these guys can play sports and deal with the workload."
As for the work on the field, Joey has a father with 10 years of MLB experience one phone call away. Although his parents live in Louisiana, Joey often calls his dad to catch up and pick his brain.
"We talk about what the game is all about," Pete Falcone said. "We talk about hitting, we talk about mechanics. I try to get in his mind a little bit, tell him what the pitcher is trying to do with him, so now that he's a little more mature, I can really help him out more than I have in the past."
These discussions have paid off, as Boretti noted that Joey's middle-of-the-order presence has already made a great impact on the team—and he continues to improve.
"He's hungry, he's open to suggestions, and he's very coachable," Boretti said. "He just wants to help the team any way he can, and he's done a great job of doing so."
Joey's parents attended one of Columbia's games in Texas earlier this season, and his dad continues to follow the team's progress online. He said he's proud of Joey's accomplishments and has the utmost admiration for his son.
"Joseph is a veteran war hero, and I have a lot of respect for what he did for his country," the elder Falcone said. "I don't think he's the kind of guy that would command that respect, but people realize what these guys went through at a young age, and it's really unbelievable."