Playing the Game and Living Life: The Strovink Story

Playing the Game and Living Life: The Strovink Story

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The Strovink family, including, from left to right, youngest son Kyle, dad Eric and oldest son Brennan. Photo by Christine Strovink

By Rich Acritelli

“As a major league scout for over 38 years and the last 18 for the New York Mets, the Strovink family is without a doubt the finest players and people that I ever scouted.”

Eric Strovink playing baseball with his two children at a young age. Photo by Christine Strovink

So said longtime baseball scout Larry Izzo, who watched some of the best talent to emerge from Long Island to play in the major leagues. Izzo wrote the earliest scouting reports on Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio from Kings Park, career hitter and Smithtown native Frank Catalanotto and over the last couple of years Ward Melville talent and pitcher Stephen Matz of the New York Mets. Izzo repeated several times how wonderful his relationship was with the Strovink family from Rocky Point over the last several decades. Armed with the ability to hit the ball over many different fences and a trademark smile, Eric Strovink and his two boys, Brennan and Kyle, always present a natural passion and respect for this game.

As a kid growing up in the 1980’s, it was likely that when you read the local papers and Newsday about the prominent players in Suffolk County, Eric’s name was a constant presense. During his first season playing the game, he only made contact once and it seemed as if baseball might not be the sport for Eric, but through the guidance of his father who coached his earlier teams and a strong determination, Eric began hitting the ball consistently and became a feared player on the local fields and teams of Wading River. His talent was noted when Eric as a fifth grader hit a homerun 325 feet in a game.

His father was not originally tied to the game, but he went to work at an early age, was an ROTC army officer after he graduated from college and was a noted photographer and film maker that worked on projects for Brookhaven National Laboratory and Grumman. But his father loved the game and believed in the importance of analyzing baseball statistics. It was this aspect of the game which allowed Eric to identify his own strengths and weaknesses and for him to closely watch the opposing pitchers. He also learned about the unique way of harnessing “visualization” from his dad, who taught his son how to properly concentrate about future playing situations.  Eric always credited the devotion of his father for helping prepare him for the most stressful games.

Always smiling, this 50-year-old physical education teacher from Mount Sinai School District vividly recalled his earliest moments of success on the diamond as if it just happened. After his varsity game was over, it was observed by his coach, mentor and friend Sal Mignano during an at-bat junior varsity game in Easthampton the explosive potential that Eric held. He was amazed at the past ability of the then-13-year-old to hit a homerun that completely surprised the older members of the varsity team. Mignano marveled at the strength of his former player and the extensive knowledge and motivation that Eric held in his early years. 

As a junior, Eric’s batting average was .465, where he drove in 45 runs and batted in and hit another nine homeruns. During his senior year, his average climbed to .516, and while pitchers attempted to throw around him, he was continually on base. He was a three-time all league, two-time all-county, featured as a Daily News all-star and was an all-state player. Along the way, he guided his team to many winning seasons in league, county, and capped it by achieving a New York State Championship title in 1987. Eric recalled the benefits of the visualization that his father taught to him and the lessons his good friend Keith Osik taught him about where they saw themselves in pressure game time situations. Izzo recalled Eric’s father and believed that “he was one of the kindest and sincerest parents that was extremely supportive, and he could always be seen taking pictures at the games with a high-powered camera.”

Eric Strovink was a renaissance man of sorts, playing Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo from Strovink family

Always with a genuine manner, Eric laughed that he was not even the best player within his own household. For a time, Osik lived with his family and he is considered a brother to Erik and an uncle to the Strovink kids. Osik was a phenomenal athlete and a dominant pitcher that was recognized as the best baseball player in Suffolk County through the Yastrzemski Award winner, while Eric was the runner up. These players were a dynamic hitting duo that saw Osik constantly reach base and Strovink drive him home numerous times during a game. Osik played at Louisiana State University and was later a professional ball player for several years with the Pittsburg Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and Baltimore Orioles. Both Osik and Eric’s hitting skills tormented the best pitchers in state.

Eric also demonstrated his athletic presence as a feared Suffolk County Wrestling Champion at 215 pounds. Although he did not wrestle until the sixth grade, Eric held his own against all-state and national wrestlers like that of Adam Mariano from Comsewogue High School. And when he was not playing sports, Eric was a devoted thespian within his school’s drama program. He performed in an arousing performance as Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” 

Eric was motivated to further his baseball career in college where he garnered interest from the powerhouses of Clemson, Georgia Southern, Nebraska and North Carolina State. When a scout from Louisiana State University watched Osik during a high school game, Erik showed his own skills by hitting three homeruns. In 1988, this powerful tandem left the to play baseball within the deep south in Louisiana.

At college, Eric was amazed about the vast amount of instruction that was given to each player through every part of this game. Always a student of this game, Eric always absorbed the intricacies of baseball information from this college and when he was an instructor for Mignano’s clinics and camps. For years as a coach, he constantly presented tidbits of wisdom to his players. 

“You can learn more baseball tips in one practice from Eric, compared to what others learn in a season,” Said Rocky Point’s athletic director Charlie Delargy.    

At LSU, he became good friends with pitchers Ben McDonald who played seven years for the Baltimore Orioles, and Russ Springer, a pitcher for 18 years who played for 13 different teams that included the New York Yankees.  

As Eric enjoyed attending LSU, he had to leave school and play closer to home. It was a hard time for him, as his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to be near his family.  While he was dealing with this sickness, he played for a junior college in New Jersey and eventually made it to C.W. Post in Brookville. This was a bittersweet moment for him, as he dealt with the sickness of his beloved mother, Eric once again excelled in front of local fans by hitting 17 homeruns and driving in 50 runs to help his team win their conference.

This was a painful time for Eric, while he played well, his mother passed away after a battle with cancer. While he dealt with this heavy loss, it was Izzo that wrote the scouting report on Eric that allowed him to be signed by the Texas Rangers to a free agent contract. Leaving CW Post and Wading River, Eric was sent to Port Charlotte, Florida. He earned $850 a month, lived with several different teammates and was a “starving” rookie within this league. Eric was on the field with ball players that were just drafted and were rehabbing from injuries. His time with this organization came to an end after the following spring training, after it was explained to Eric that while he was a solid player, he might not have the chance to reach the major leagues.  With baseball behind him, he returned home to finish his college education, to coach wrestling at Shoreham-Wading River and to work for his father. By May 29, 1994, he married his high school sweetheart Christine and they looked to start a family of their own.

Resembling his father, Brennen Strovink was also a dynamic figure within the Rocky Point High School baseball and wrestling teams. Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, this 2014 graduate of Rocky Point was a three-year starter on the varsity team. Brennan immediately made his mark as a sophomore who attained a .370 average and led the county with six homeruns. As a senior, Brennen was a finalist for the Yastrzemski Award, and he was named most valuable player for his league. Many teachers and coaches enjoyed having Brennen in their classes, club’s and teams. 

These warm thoughts were echoed by his former baseball coach Andrew Aschettino, who said he was a “larger than life personality and incredible role model. My kids simply look up to him and I can’t think of someone better in that role.”

Like his father, he was an aggressive wrestler who enjoyed the competitiveness of this sport.  During his junior year, he took first place as a heavy weight in his league and was the runner-up as a sophomore.  He wrestled extremely well through the difficult Eastern States Tournament where he placed sixth in the contest. While he established himself as one of the premier heavy weights, Brennan was unable to reach his goal of possibly being a county champion because of a necessary back surgery.

Brennan Strovink rounds a base during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

As an all-state baseball player, Brennan received a scholarship from Division I Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He was excited to hit against some of the best college pitchers in the nation, but after a year, Brennan suffered another back injury that led to a second surgery. Brennan had to stop playing baseball and for a brief time he came home and attended Suffolk Community College. At this moment, his grandfather believed that his lefthanded hitting grandson had the chance to change his luck by hitting righty. In an amazing accomplishment, Brennen resurrected his college career by learning how to hit from the right side of the plate.

With his best friend Joseph Zabbara who was a college baseball player who was recovering from a serious arm injury, both young men had the opportunity to suit up for Hudson Valley Community College. With a positive mindset that enabled him to become a switch hitter, that old feeling of consistently making contact returned to Brennan as he attained an over .300 batting average. In a short period of time, his confidence returned, and he again faced pitching from the left side. When this happened, Brennan in his first eleven hitting lefty, he was on base with eight hits. Once this rejuvenation occurred, both Brennan and Joseph hit the road again as they enrolled into Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina.  

During his first at-bat for this school, he hit a homerun and was a fixture in the lineup as a first baseman and a designated hitter. Although he was in a different atmosphere, Brennan was nagged by reoccurring back injuries that made him make the permanent decision to stop playing.  Always with a positive demeanor, Brennan was pleased with his time at Limestone where he was able to become a first base coach and attain a degree in physical education.  

Finally, Kyle is the youngest Strovink to continue the family tradition of playing this game hard and doing it with a smile. Like his dad and brother, Kyle was a dominant varsity player during the extent of his high school years. As a capable catcher, Izzo stated Kyle has a “major league arm” to quickly prevent base runners from stealing bases.  

With grit and determination, he handled the pitchers and challenges of this strenuous position.  Like the two elder Strovink’s, he was a fierce competitor that opposing pitchers struggled to get out. As a sophomore, Kyle hit .392 with two homeruns. As a junior, his average climbed to .429 with four homeruns and eight doubles, and while he batted .349 as a senior, he was playing with a broken hand. Kyle was Rocky Point’s first All-American and one of his proudest moments was playing in front of a thousand local fans in the semi-finals set against Shoreham-Wading River.

During the winter months, Kyle, like his brother and father, was a tough wrestler. Unlike the other males in his household, Kyle wrestled only for one full year and still he placed second in his league at 195 pounds. Though he had limited experience, Kyle pinned two all-county wrestlers during his senior year.  Longtime assistant wrestling coach and a state champion Billy Coggins was always pleased with the progress. 

Kyle Strovink during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

“Kyle was a rare athlete that you could plug into any sport and he would find a way to succeed.  He was an important factor that helped our team secure a county championship,” Coggins said. 

Always with a big smile, Kyle was the President of the Rocky Point Varsity Club where he made two speeches for the 9/11 and Veterans Day programs. This genuine young man shook the hands of the rescue workers, veterans and alumni and thanked them for their service to our nation.

Like his brother, Kyle had the plans to play at Lamar University, but he decided to play at a junior college in Douglas, Arizona near the Mexican border. Kyle played in excessive, dry heat of 110 degrees — vastly different from the conditions at Rocky Point. At Cochise College, Kyle was 2,500 miles from home, and he wanted to transfer to play at the east coast school of the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. Right away, he enjoyed his head coach that still calls Kyle during special moments and holidays. After playing extremely well, Kyle was offered a scholarship to play ball at Limestone, where he was reunited with his older brother Brennan.  Again, Kyle demonstrated his ability to hit with a commanding .308 average and he eventually became the clean-up hitter for this team through a shortened season due to the COVID-19 virus.

At Limestone, Kyle continued to demonstrate his catching prowess in throwing out opposing runners through his impressive arm strength. During a pro-day scouting program, it was estimated that Kyle had an extremely quick release from home plate to second base that was only 1.8 seconds. Izzo was not surprised about this catcher’s abilities and he believes that Kyle is a “special player.” While Kyle has lost part of his season, he is pleased to be spending time with his family. Looking at the Strovink’s, it is easy to see why people are always drawn to their good will. Every year Kristine Strovink organizes a team community service trip to a soup kitchen, she helps run the Live Like Susie fundraiser baseball game against Mount Sinai and serves the team an annual breakfast. While this family is led by these likable big men, Eric credits the devoted role that his wife and daughter Katie play in running their household.  

Retired social studies teacher Brooke Bonomi loved to joke with the boys and talk sports with them on a regular basis. As the teacher that created the Live Like Susie Kindness Award Night, Bonomi enjoyedStrovink’s participation to help honor the character of Rocky Point High School students through the outstanding memory of Susie Facini.  Bonomi glowingly stated that the “spirit of happiness runs deep in each Strovink. Their good cheer always inspires others to become better people.” Similar feelings towards this North Shore family has also been described the by the decades of respect that Izzo holds within these local ball players. This long-time major scout sums up the make-up of this family whom he considers to be the absolute best, saying “the way you play the game, is the way you’ll live life.”

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.