University of Connecticut catcher Joe Pavone is as battle-tested as it gets for a ballplayer.
Pavone caught 39 games for UConn in a grueling Big East schedule this season, hitting .273 with five homers. He played excellent defense for the Huskies, leading the team to a 48-16 record.
But it wasn't enough for the young backstop. Pavone, like many other big-name college ballplayers around the country, plays in the Cape Cod League for the Chatham Anglers.
On Wednesday night at Fenway Park, Pavone will play in front of his family and friends in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game, an honor that he knows shouldn't be taken for granted.
"I'm really excited to be here," Pavone said. "I mean, it's Fenway Park. There's nothing better."
Pavone earned his way onto the Eastern Division All-Star squad by hitting .296 for Chatham. More importantly, he's been one of the best defensive catchers on the Cape this summer.
Pavone's manager in Chatham, John Schiffner, credits Pavone's strong summer to his incredible work ethic.
"Joe does everything for us," Schiffner said. "He's caught well [and] comes up with big hits, but most importantly, works harder than anyone."
According to Schiffner, Pavone will volunteer to catch bullpen sessions — a task that catchers usually dread — even when he doesn't have to. It's just one of the ways that Pavone leads his team by example.
"I think I bring leadership," Pavone said. "I may not be the best player on the field but I'm always in the game mentally."
Pavone's hard work has paid off defensively, but his offense hasn't exactly caught up yet. He's hitting .293, but only two of his 21 hits have gone for extra bases. His coach doesn't seem worried, though.
"Joe has a line drive swing, which is the most important thing for someone his age," Schiffner said. "As he gets more accustomed to hitting with the wooden bat, the power will come.
"You know, Lance Berkman and Todd Helton combined for one home run when they played in the Cape. And look how they turned out."
While Pavone might not be able to envision himself as a major league All-Star like Berkman or Helton just yet, he realizes that playing in the Cape Cod League is as good as it gets for a 21-year-old.
"The Cape Cod League is the best you can get," said Pavone. "It's the best competition and there are tons of scouts at every game so everyone plays their best every inning."
You can't help but smile when watching Pavone. He brings an attitude to the game that defines amateur ball — heart, determination and the unrelenting will to win. More than anything, though, Pavone has fun. And playing in Fenway Park, which is a mere two-hour drive from his home field in Storrs, Conn., for Pavone is like playing in his Little League All-Star Game.
"Six or seven of my family members are coming from Rochester [N.Y.], so everyone's really excited to see me play," Pavone said.
It's impossible to not get excited about baseball when Pavone steps onto the diamond.