By Wayne Witkowski
Left-handed journeyman pitcher Joe Testa has always managed to land on his feet in professional baseball. This time, it’s with a team in Parma, Italy.
“I’ve been keeping in shape, so it’s not that tough,” Testa said. “I’m always ready to play.”
He’s waiting for the call when his visa and other paperwork clear.
Testa starred at Brick Township High School and at Wagner College, relocating to Jackson during his college career, before signing with the Minnesota Twins and also playing in the Washington Nationals organization. He spent the last eight years playing for 20 different professional managers. That includes in 2015 and 2016 for Caribes in the Venezuelan League.
“That was my greatest experience,” Testa said of the competition. “Many players there had spent time in the majors — guys like Mets shortstop Asdrúbal Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies. That was the most awesome experience where the managers are so intense and guys played to win; 2015 was the best year.”
In 2015, Testa was 5-3 and had a 4.02 ERA with 51 hits in 47 innings pitched for Caribes. He struck out 40 and walked 13, keeping that ratio in his favor as he has throughout most of his career. He pitched the final month of the 2016 regular season with Caribes.
“Italy is very good competitive but not as high as Venezuela, which is like Triple A. Italy is more like Double A ball,” Testa said. “But I’m excited. I feel good, ready to pitch.”
Testa has gotten as high as Double A class teams on six different occasions in five states.
“I’ve been to so many places — all around the U.S., Canada, Venezuela, Puerto Rico,” Testa said. “I’ve tried to get to as many places as I can in baseball. I’d like to pitch in the Australian winter league and talked to a coach about it.”
Testa started this year in spring training with the New Jersey Jackals, playing at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, but he was cut to make room for another player sought by that manager. Testa also has been coaching the junior varsity baseball team at Allentown High School, which ended this spring with a .500 record and kept players ready if needed for the varsity team that has been ranked in the top five in the state.
“That was a good experience. I liked it a lot,” Testa said of his first coaching experience. “A lot of guys were hoping to get on varsity, so this level is more developmental. I learned some things as a coach about deciding whether to play to win or getting guys in so they can get experience and when to put in the substitutes.”
Shortly after his stint with the Jackals and coaching at Allentown, Testa got a text message from Billy Horn, whom Testa played against, looking for players to sign with Italian teams.
“I texted him back and in 10 minutes, I was talking to a guy from Italy,” Testa said. “This season is three months long, like Independent League ball.”
Testa said the team is a month into the season and he’ll be a starting pitcher, but he does not expect any problem catching up. He will be ready for any relief role if needed and pitched in both roles in Venezuela.
“I’ve never had to build up,” Testa said of innings pitched per start. “I’d throw one inning in the bullpen and then [be] asked if I’d start [the next game], and I’d throw five innings right away. I can get right into it.
“Many times, I’d sign late [with a team], get released and then picked up quickly by another team, so I’ve had to be ready,” Testa said.
Testa is a three-pitch player, relying on a fastball and a curveball for outs and using a cutter to keep hitters off stride.
Testa said his heritage may help him, but he does not speak Italian and is brushing up on it a bit along the way.
“I think I’m the only American on the Parma team, but I understand a lot of guys on the team are good with English,” Testa said.