As he is hitting the cover off the ball now, the freshman year for La Salle junior first baseman Ben Faso is a distant memory — but not a forgotten one.
Faso, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound product of Garnet Valley High School, had always hit on every level until his first season in college.
The jump from high school to college is a major one in all sports, and Faso experienced that first-hand. In the beginning, he played sparingly as a freshman but got more time as the season wore on. At the end, he failed to hit his weight and batted just .186.
Granted, he had just 70 at-bats while making 17 starts. But for the first time the unbridled joy he had playing the game was missing.
"Honestly, it was not fun. But in times like that you have to find your true passion and love for the game," Faso said before a recent game 5-2 loss at Villanova's stadium in Plymouth Meeting. "Baseball will bring you down sometimes, but it will also be the best thing in your life at other times."
The summer after his freshman year, Faso played for the South Jersey Giants in the Atlantic College Baseball League. He regained his stroke and also his confidence.
"I attribute a lot of my success from playing there that summer," he said. "I got a chance to play that summer in a stress-free environment."
As a sophomore, Faso batted .290 and led the Explorers with six home runs and 26 RBIs.
This year, he has taken it to another level.
Entering the weekend, he was hitting .346 with three home runs, 31 RBIs, and an .856 OPS while starting in 44 of 45 games for the 14-31 Explorers.
"Ben has been a blessing," said first-year La Salle head coach David Miller. "He is a quiet kid who wants to learn and has taken the advice on hitting, defense and base running and has been like a sponge, trying to absorb as much as possible."
Miller knows the difficulty of dealing with the day-to-day grind of baseball. A former all-American at Clemson after starring at Chestnut Hill Academy, Miller was a first-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians, chosen 23rd overall in the 1995 draft.
In his best minor-league season in 1997, he hit .301 in double A. But he said injuries shortly after that season curtailed his career.
"Playing baseball is not an easy grind," Miller said. "At this level, they can be playing five games a week. So getting rest is important, and [so is] understanding that you need to put schoolwork and baseball ahead of your social life at times."
Miller said that isn't a problem with Faso, who is a business major.
A former assistant coach at Villanova, Miller said that Faso has the ability to play at the next level — just not yet.
"If I could get one more year with him, I think it would be best for both of us," Miller said. "He is definitely a late bloomer and with a few more years of developing could be a potential power bat. He has all the power in the world, and we just have to get it out of him."
Faso appreciates the chance he has, knowing that some players who put up his freshman statistics would have trouble getting on the field.
"My coach [last year], Mike Lake, had a lot of confidence in me, and now Coach Miller has a lot of confidence in me, and I couldn't do it without those guys," he said. "They are putting me in the lineup every day."
He has earned that spot, overcoming a rough beginning to be the Explorer's leading hitter. And the game is fun once again.