It was a holiday break for some but former Brick Township High School baseball star Joe Testa is still hard at work preparing for the start of spring training for the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.
The left-handed relief pitcher, who now lives in Jackson, said he is scheduled to report for spring training in February. But he’ll be going down to the Sunshine State on Jan. 20 to begin workouts and throwing.
“I’m going down early to get ready and staying with another guy on the team whose father has a place down there,” Testa said. “just want to get off to a good start this year.”
Testa has been substitute teaching in the Brick Township school district and has also been a pitching coach at Play Ball clinic in Toms River with Tom Baxter, former pitching coach at Rutgers University. Testa has also been lifting and running to stay in top shape after returning from a successful summer with the former Myers Miracle that made it to the championship series of the Florida State High A. League. He was one of the top-graded prospects during strength and conditioning testing at spring training. He also did some pitching in the Toms River camp this fall.
“I’m looking to get a substitute teaching job while I’m down there,” said Testa, who set a number of school career records while pitching at Wagner.
Certainly, Testa developed a clearer understanding of what is involved with spring training after his first stint there last year.
And it has helped him. Baseball America magazine ranked Testa 10th nationally in the entire minor league baseball system for all major league teams on strikeouts-per-nineinning average.
“I worked hard and I’m ready for this season,” Testa said. He’s gotten indications that he will get serious look for promotion to Double-A ball in New Britain, Conn., during spring training.
In his spare time, Testa has been working with and encouraging younger sister Giana, a freshman at Jackson Liberty High who participated in the soccer program and currently in the basketball program at the school. Gina had a fine McAuliffe Middle School career in both sports and in track and field, where she broke the Ocean County middle school record in the 400-yard dash and tied it in the 200.
Testa, who was signed as a free agent in late June and pitched for Fort Myers, went into spring training as one of the best-conditioned athletes there. But he had one tough outing while pitching against Triple A and major league players, and started the season in Low A with the Beloit, Wis., Snappers as a closer. He piled up some good statistics in the first half to earn selection to the All-Star team and had seven saves with an 0-2 record.
Testa earned his promotion from the Snappers with a 2.56 ERA and 63 strikeouts over 45 2/3 innings pitching for the Snappers. At one point, opposing batters were hitting only .148 over his first 35 1/3 innings pitched.
After that all-star game, Testa was called back to Fort Myers. The team eventually finished in first place in both halves of the split season and advanced into the playoffs, where it lost in the best-of-three championship series to Port Charlotte. Fort Myers won the opening game, 8-7, as Testa got the save but dropped the next two by 3-1 and 3- 2 scores. Testa did not pitch in the latter two games.
Testa, who signed a free agent contract two summers ago, pitched regularly for the Miracle last summer and had a 5-0 record with two saves while throwing 182 innings with only 56 hits allowed. Relying on a fastball and a cutter, Testa struck out 116 and walked 40.
In 2008, he also pitched one game in the championship series for the Miracle, which also lost in the finals. Testa with the Miracle that season was 3-0 as a starter and later in relief had a save in 28 innings, striking out 30 and walking eight with a 3.18 ERA. In his professional debut as a starter, Testa pitched five innings in which he allowed three hits, including a solo home run, with three strikeouts and two walks.
“I was happy with the way I played this season,” he said after the season ended this summer. “It was my first full season [in the minors] and they were wondering what they would get out of me because I was undrafted. I think I met their expectations and perhaps surpassed them. They told me I did better than they thought.” Now Testa has the opportunity to prove the Twins organization right.