May 9, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
In our latest installment of “Touching Base,” we go one-on-one with St. John’s senior ace righthander James Lomangino. He tells us of a decision he made last year that made his mom cry, why his loyalty to St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer led to his decision to come back for his senior year, the “group therapy” session he held in Florida that turned the Johnnies season around and where he sees St. John’s going this season – and where he sees himself going after it.
BIGEAST.com: Last year you were drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 14th round. Can you take me through that day? When did you receive word you were picked and what did the whole day feel like?
LOMANGINO: “I was actually coming home from Taco Bell with one of my friends and my catcher from last year, Danny Bethea, called me up and was congratulating me and I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know what’s going on. Can you tell me who picked me?’ He went on and told me that Oakland picked me and while I was on the phone with him they called me to let me know they drafted me. Then I went home and told my parents about it.”
BIGEAST.com: Why did you decide to come back for your senior year at St. John’s and not sign with Oakland?
LOMANGINO: “Well, we had a pretty poor year last year (the Johnnies were 23-35 overall and 10-14 in the BIG EAST) and I had a pretty sour taste in my mouth. I owe (St. John’s) Coach (Ed) Blankmeyer so much that I just felt like I couldn’t leave him on that note. So I wanted to come back this year and have a good season and resurrect some things.”
BIGEAST.com: The Oakland A’s organization is one that has a reputation of getting their better young arms to the majors quickly, guys like Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. I know you said you had some unfinished business to attend to with St. John’s, but was it a tough decision to make to pass on the A’s?
“Yeah. Anytime you get drafted by a team, since you’re young you dream of playing in the big leagues so for that to actually happen it was a surreal feeling. And then to turn it down, my mom actually cried because she thought I was giving up on my dreams. But I just wanted to make sure she knew that I just wanted to finish up school and I was going to do my best to get back at it again this year.”
BIGEAST.com: You’ve put up perhaps even better numbers than you did last year so, a year later, do you think you made the right decision to come back and how is mom feeling about it now?
LOMANGINO: “My mom is proud of me. She knows what I wanted to do when I came back. And working with (St. John’s pitching) coach (Corey) Muscara, I think I made the right decision to come back. I’m working on all my offspeed stuff and I’m leaps and bounds ahead of what it was last year. Having that extra year of working with him has really helped me out.”
BIGEAST.com: Do you think you’ve enhanced your value for this year’s draft?
LOMANGINO: “I believe I have. I think with the improvement in my secondary stuff and the way I’ve been able to go a little deeper in games and work on my pitch count, I feel like I’ve increased my stock a little bit.”
BIGEAST.com: What’s your “out” pitch and what do you have in your repertoire?
LOMANGINO: “My out pitch is definitely my slider. I also have a fastball, slider, curveball and a changeup.”
BIGEAST.com: As the ace of the staff, is there a lot of pressure on you knowing you’re going to face your opponents’ ace every Friday?
LOMANGINO: “Knowing that you have to go against anybody’s ace is always a little intimidating. But the coaching staff does a really good job getting everyone ready for that and giving us a lot of confidence going into the game. They tell me as long as I stick to my game and don’t try and overdo anything I can pitch with the best of them. And I think going out that first game of the year (at Pepperdine) and getting a ‘W’, we had the first shutout in a long time in the school’s history (actually it was the Johnnies first shutout on an Opening Day since 1981). So that was a good way to start the season for me.”
BIGEAST.com: OK, let’s talk about the team. After a 3-10 start to the season St. John’s has won 28 of its last 33 games and there is no hotter team in the BIG EAST right now. What happened to turn things around?
LOMANGINO: “We kind of had enough of (losing) at Florida Atlantic so the upperclassmen got everyone together at our hotel room and we kind of let it all loose. Whatever anyone had to say we put it all out on the table. That’s when we decided that enough was enough. Then as a team we started to play better. The hitters started to get a lot more confidence and the pitchers started to throw more strikes and once pitchers throw strikes and the hitters don’t have to worry about scoring a ton of runs all the time they kind of loosen up and swing a lot easier.”
BIGEAST.com: Were you one of the guys who called this meeting?
LOMANGINO: “I definitely was. It was the middle of that Friday game vs. Florida Atlantic (an 11-1 St. John’s loss) and I wasn’t happy with myself and we weren’t playing very well so I went up to one of the other upperclassmen, Dan Roland, and I said this has to change and right after this game we’re having a meeting and he said, ‘Absolutely.’ So we just decided to get everybody together and I decided to talk first and put everything on the table and then everyone else talked and said whatever they had to say.”
BIGEAST.com: Let’s talk home cooking. You guys are 20-2 at home this season. Do you have a feeling that you are unbeatable at home and do you think your home record can get in the heads of your opponents?
LOMANGINO: “Well, 20-2 is pretty good but we have (a sign) in our locker room and it says “Protect This House,” so we always go out there saying nobody should beat us on our home field. We have a pretty distinct advantage playing on our home field all the time. Nobody else really knows how big our field actually plays and being able to practice on it all the time and getting reps in the outfield I feel is a big advantage for us.”
BIGEAST.com: Obviously this weekend is a huge series with Creighton as you both go into it tied for first place in the conference with 10-2 records. How much are you and your teammates looking forward to this?
LOMANGINO: “Anytime you get to play for first place it’s a big game but I don’t think we’re going to put any extra pressure on ourselves. I don’t think that they are do-or-die games here. But I think if we go out and play the way we’re supposed to play we can walk away with at least two games this weekend. As long as nobody tries to overdo what we’ve been doing we’re going to be fine.”
BIGEAST.com: This next start for you is going to be the last home start for you in your career. Have you thought about that at all leading into this weekend?
LOMANGINO: “No, not really. I know we have this weekend and then next weekend we have another big series (at Seton Hall to close out the regular season) and then there is the BIG EAST championship so I’m just making sure I give this team an opportunity to win and as long as I do that I can go out with a smile on my face.”
BIGEAST.com: How cool was Senior Night this past week?
LOMANGINO: “It was great. Just to be able to be recognized for the work that I’ve put in and stuff like that and just to give Coach Blankmeyer a hug at home plate was pretty surreal.”
BIGEAST.com: Last year St. John’s finished 23-35 overall and was 10-14 in the BIG EAST. This season you have 31 wins and are 10-2 in the conference. Do you think the way this team is playing now you’re equipped to win the regular season title, the BIG EAST tournament or both?
LOMANGINO: “I definitely think we’re equipped to do more than just that. I definitely think the regular season (crown) is within grasp, we have an opportunity to control our own destiny. And as long as we stay healthy and don’t try to overdo anything like I’ve been saying, we can play with anybody in the country and I stick by that.”
BIGEAST.com: The Major League Draft is about a month away now. What are you hearing about your status this time around?
LOMANGINO: “I’ve filled out a few things for some teams but I try and keep that as far away as possible from what I’m doing on the field. I try not to think about it and don’t worry about it too much and it will work itself out.”
BIGEAST.com: When the day does come will it be cool to hear your name called again or was it cooler the first time?
LOMANGINO: “Absolutely. I tell people all the time, hearing your name called in the draft is one of the greatest feelings that I’ve had other than the (winning) dog pile during the regional in North Carolina. (That dog pile celebration came after the Red Storm eliminated North Carolina in the 2012 NCAA Tournament).