A Basketball Household
2018 Fireflies pitcher Joe Cavallaro was a star at Sarasota High School in Florida. The 22-year-old posted a 1.06 ERA on the mound and earned All-County Honorable Mention his senior season. Cavallaro also played basketball growing up and his days in the gym or out on the cul-de-sac felt extra special. These days were almost always with family.
"We had a basketball hoop and played family pick-up games all the time," Joe explained. "We played some one-on-one against our siblings."
Joe, his sister Juliana, and brother Stefano were competitive in these battles. There was always the debate over who was the best.
"I think I'm the best now, but my sister was the champ for a long time," Joe laughed. "One time, she's sitting in the house and is like 'let's go, c'mon play me' and I'm like nah I'm good. She's like 'don't be a chicken' and I was like fine I am out here let's go. She drives in on me and boom…that right elbow clocks me right in the lip and I'm bleeding. I went inside and had my mom patch me up. It got intense."
This was just the scraps of a family journey filled with dribbling, sweating, and play calls. Joe's father, Steve, was a varsity basketball head coach for 21 years. He groomed his three kids to be basketball junkies from the very beginning.
"You first started off as a water boy or water girl in my sister's case," Joe chuckled. "Then you work your way up…so next thing you know you are shooting video and then you get to do the scorebook. All three of us [siblings] kind of went through this process."
"I wanted it to be a family operation," Joe's father Steve Cavallaro said.
Joe - being the youngest child - took pride in being the last one to take on the water boy duties.
"When timeout was called, you gotta move, you gotta go and get the waters going," Joe laughed. It was serious…at times I heard my dad yell 'water' and I had to run around the huddle. But it was fun and you had to do it. If you were slacking, he'd let you know about it."
Steve coached varsity basketball in Portland, ME for six years before the family moved down to Florida. He coached at Sarasota High School, moved to Venice, and then finished back at Sarasota.
"I was really lucky to grow up in a basketball family," expressed Joe. "My dad studied the game and got people to get to a level they don't even think they could get to. He had some very clever late plays and you were looking forward to when he would draw something up."
Those last couple years at Sarasota were different, in a good way. Once a water boy and scorekeeper, Joe molded himself into an impressive player on the court and got the chance to lace up for his father.
"It was pretty special to not only coach my older son, but to coach Joe as well," Steve reflected. From a coach's kid perspective, there was a tendency to be a little harder on Joe. He always brought a smile on his face and was competitive. I think his last two games of his senior year I remember him scoring 29 and 31 points."
"I wanna sit here and say I was Michael Jordan in high school, but that wasn't the case," Joe giggled. "I wasn't the greatest shooter, you know, I wasn't the fastest guy. I just played hard, tried to be a team guy, and took charges."
Sometimes, it wasn't just about performance. Steve the coach and Joe the player shared a relationship that extended beyond the game and beyond the days of running suicides.
"Being able to ride home to and from practice with Joe was special," Steve said. "I also used to take him to Bogey's Sports Pub in Venice after games. One of the biggest things I miss about coaching is spending time with my kids."
These memorable rides started at a young age and weren't just to and from basketball practice. Joe had a crazy schedule sometimes with baseball games in the mix as well.
"When I was around 10-years-old, we were running between basketball and baseball tournaments on the same day," Joe described. "I would have basketball, for example, in Tampa and then a baseball tournament in Kissimmee [just over an hour away]. So I had the first game at 10 in the morning and then the baseball game at one in the afternoon. We would always be rushing in the car going back and forth. I appreciate all the efforts my parents made with this."
Despite the family bond through basketball, Joe ultimately stuck with baseball after high school as something to pursue for a career.
"While he liked basketball quite a bit, I knew Joe had a passion for baseball," Steve remarked. "I never wanted to force my kids into a passion that I had. It's about what they want to do. What is most important to us is he is growing up to be a responsible young man. He's really a good kid."
Cavallaro spent three years as a pitcher at the University of South Florida and finished with a stellar junior season in 2017. The righty had a team-best 2.28 ERA in 30 games that year. He was eventually selected by the Mets in the 24th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.