New York Boulders Pitcher Tim Ponto Journey From Overcoming Early Career Injuries to Achieving Dream of Playing Professional Baseball

Hailing from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Tim Ponto always kept busy by playing sports year-round.  Baseball in the spring and summer followed by basketball in the fall and winter.  Exhibiting a solid work ethic, Ponto would be shooting baskets all day and late into night that would cause a scene with neighbors.

“Baseball is a big tradition around there, especially the American Legion and a high standard of baseball,” Tim Ponto.  “Waretown, one of our rivals in the American Legion, and one of the most storied programs in history, and hear about growing up and upholding that standard from that area and led me and my high school classmates to having a passion for baseball.”

“Always had the utmost support from my parents, whether it was driving me to and from baseball practices and helping me putting up a basketball hoop/net.  They are still supporting me through this journey right now and never can repay them for that.”

Initially it was Ponto’s dream to play collegiate basketball but that outlook would change in his sophomore year at Owen J. Roberts High School, with a growth spurt that led to the option of being a pitcher on the baseball team.  In his junior year, Ponto registered a 9-2 record along with a 1.97 E.R.A. and 81 strikeouts in 74 innings.  Following that up with a dominating senior year by recording a 6-0 mark with a 1.87 E.R.A. and 70 strikeouts in 46 innings that earned Ponto First Team All-State honors.

In addition, Ponto twice was named to the All-Conference First Team and All Southeastern Pennsylvania First-Team.  Hurling a one-hitter in the opening round of the state playoffs, Ponto proved to be unstoppable coming out of the bullpen notching saves in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

“I always had a good arm growing up, played for a perennial powerhouse and high school program,” Tim Ponto said.  “We were a state championship runner up junior year and senior year and didn’t return as many players but still had a couple of pieces.  Some of the best times and when baseball was pure.  Playing with some of your high school buddies (Dave Raifsnider, Robbie Patete, Jeff Wiland, Brandon Englehardt), head coach Greg Gilbert, playing the towns around you and getting the honors I received in my senior year is something special and will never forget.”

“I remember down the stretch of the (senior) season we had a ton of pitching but remember having a conversation with our head coach and any chance to pitch whether it was late in the game or whole game to give me the ball.  I was on a roll later in the year and wanted to throw every chance I could get and mentality I had always taken.”

Ponto accomplished another feat was as a member of Owen J. Roberts basketball team winning its first ever league championship.  “Coming from a history of a competitive basketball area right outside of Philadelphia, we played against schools that we’re stacked with Division I talent,” said Tim Ponto.  “All the stars were aligned that year, younger that were not expected to contribute and I was a sophomore at the time and we were undermanned as it is but made it special being the Cinderella team.”

With aspirations to play basketball long-term, Ponto’s success on the mound led him to fall in love with the game of baseball.  “I started talking to some high-level colleges and hearing from professional organizations for the draft,” Tim Ponto remarked.  “I realized 100 percent baseball was the route to go with my future and would have made the choice 100 times out a hundred.”

A Philadelphia Phillies fan, Ponto’s dreams of getting his named called in the MLB Draft came true when the Phillies selected him in the 39th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.  “I know I was good enough to be drafted but didn’t expect to” said Tim Ponto.  “Getting the call from Eric Valent, their regional guy at the time and now with the Miami Marlins, I thought I was dreaming and a prank.  Just having the Phillies picking me, that had always been my team and super cool and something I will always have.”

However, Ponto decided instead to attend college with the vision of a college career and eventually catapulting him into a professional career.  Looking at Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Lehigh and Saint Joseph’s University, Ponto chose Saint Joseph’s in the end.  A successful freshman year where Ponto led all rookies in appearances on the mound including a pitching a gem against Bucknell to earn his first career win.

“I got drafted coming out of high school and decided to go to St. Joe’s,” Tim Ponto said.  “My first game against East Tennessee State, I came out of the bullpen and a dream come true throwing my first inning against a highly regarded collegiate program.”

Just when Ponto seemed to be on the trajectory upwards, an elbow injury shelved him for two years.  “Missing the 2013 and 2014 seasons were really tough because that was supposed to be my draft year and that team (2014) we had one of the best in school history and in the Top 25,” said Tim Ponto.  “It was great watching my teammates succeed but I wanted to be a part of that.”

“Missing back-to-back years were some of the most trying times of my life.  It made me really appreciate the game of baseball for what it is and I really missed playing at the time.  When I was cleared and overcame those injuries it gave me an extra appreciation to be able to play the game I love.”

Fast forward to Opening Day at Loyola Marymount in 2015, Ponto would make his after 33 months of inactivity.  “Fritz(Hamburg) came up to me the week before the season started and wanted me to start on Friday in our opening game,” said Tim Ponto.  “I said it would be an honor to take the ball after missing two years.  I don’t remember the first inning, honestly a blur.  I remember walking to the dugout after the third out and saying what happened”

“Coming out after four or five innings and sitting in the dugout and just super emotional of those two years of hard work and getting back on the field and coming to fruition and a really big deal for me and that’s one of the moments of college I will never forget.  Being able to get through a whole season and towards the end of the season enjoying the game despite the struggles and led me to being super motivated and encouraged and started to get some confidence in myself and I could compete on the field.”

Looking to build off the success of 2015, Ponto entered his final year in high spirits but that came down crashing like a ton of bricks when Ponto broke his ankle.  Remarkably Ponto did not allow the injury to sideline him for the rest of the season, instead opting to finish it out.  “I started to find myself pitching wise, unfortunately I ended up breaking my ankle in a freak scenario,” Tim Ponto said.  “I said what’s the worst playing through the injury, we had some other injuries on the team and thin on depth and said this is my last year.”

“I remember our last game down at George Washington in D.C. and actually threw the last inning of the season and most emotional I ever had been personally.  I remember after that game, my time personally not great there strictly due to the injuries and I was never myself there and struggled with injuries that took their toll and at St. Joe’s for six years, remembering the ups and downs I had been through and left there with a ton of new friends, (Brian O’Keefe, Jimmy Yacabonis, Deon Stafford, Tim Brennan), and two degrees and lifetime of memories.”

“I couldn’t speak any higher of the St. Joe’s baseball program and school.  Fritz (Hamburg) is one of the best in the game and I respect him as a coach and one of the best people I have had coming across.  St. Joe’s, one of the best schools in the Atlantic Region, a great business program and why I studied finance.  One of the upcoming baseball programs in the Atlantic 10 Conference and they got a great baseball stadium and beautiful campus right outside of Philadelphia.”

Surgery on his ankle would sideline Ponto for 2017 and force him to make a critical decision on whether to continue playing baseball.  “After my last year of school, I had to talked to a few of the independent leagues including the Atlantic League and American Association,” Tim Ponto said.  “Re-evaluating what my next steps were baseball wise and either time to step away and become a coach or grind through a rehab and get ready for the upcoming season.”

Fully recovered after two years and ready to resume his baseball career, Ponto found a home in the Can-Am League with the Rockland Boulders.  “I had some connections with the Boulders in Joe Maloney and Justin Topa and how that connection started,” Tim Ponto said.  “I didn’t have a great knowledge of the independent baseball world but hearing from Joe and Justin made me familiar with Rockland and when it was time for me to pursue opportunities.  I came in contact with Kevin Tuve, sent all my info there and they had me come up for spring training.”

Ponto’s first impression of Palisades Credit Union Park, “The first time I saw Palisades Credit Union Park I was speechless for a second.  It’s an A plus ballpark, one of the best minor league ball parks I have ever seen.  Combining with that being in a great area it doesn’t get much better than that.  Getting to play your season in a ballpark changes the dynamic of a season.”

Pitching for the first time at home would not wait until the regular season opener as Ponto pitched in the exhibition game against the NYPD.  “One of the coolest experiences of my baseball career, for a great cause and atmosphere in the stadium that night was something I had not experienced before,” Tim Ponto said.  “A really good warm-up for opening night, I remember running in from the bullpen and my heart was racing but as soon as I touched the dirt on the mound it was go time and like I did it a thousand times before.”

A memorable season for the Boulders clinching a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive year under first-year manager, Kevin Baez, before falling in the first-round against Sussex County while hosting the All-Star Game between the Can-Am League and Frontier League where Grant Heyman won the Home Run Derby.

“Last year we had a special team talent wise but if you look around every guy in the clubhouse was a legitimate baseball player and brought a lot to a table,” said Tim Ponto.  “The one thing about last year’s team, I was never around a professional team that had much chemistry and enjoyed playing with each other every day.  We all hung out outside of the clubhouse and you don’t see that in professional baseball.  You see guys every day on the field and get tired of them but that was not the case last year.  Everyone really enjoyed the comradery.”

“Sussex County was a good team but we looked around the clubhouse every day and we knew if we were healthy, we could go toe to toe with anyone.  Unfortunately, we had some health problems but even the guys we went to battle with in that playoff series.  We came up a little short but hats off to Sussex, their team is incredibly deep with talent and executed when need to in the series.  We had nothing to hang our heads for, all 23 guys towards the end of the year laid it all on the line and gave every ounce of energy.”

“When you are playing in front of a large crowd, that’s great especially with your home ballpark and 6,000 plus rooting for you and screaming is something great.  There is no better feeling and best part of playing professional baseball in an atmosphere like that and Rockland is one of the loudest stadiums I have played in at full capacity.  It makes it an enjoyable experience every single night you come to play and don’t wait to let the fans down because so many are rooting for you.  You see a lot of families out there, younger kids and that’s special if you can have an impact on a kid and just one time may change the kid’s perception of baseball for life.”

“Rockland does a great job at their ball park, they have the mini-golf course, interactive games, on the field entertainment and amazing pre-game concerts.  When you have a hierarchy, that brings a sense of accountability to the players and they have a standard to uphold and really important and such an honor to play for a prestigious organization like the Boulders and starts at the top.”

“You couldn’t have scripted it any better with (Grant) Heyman snubbing in the last second for the Home Run Derby and winning it.  “Six of our other guys in the All-Star Game and a really cool experience to see our guys competing on a big stage like that.  Mid-summer nights when the sun is going down and that’s why I remember the All-Star Game so vividly.  The sun starting to set and you are starting the ball game and there is not much of better feeling in the world with good weather in the Hudson Valley and having a ballpark in that setting makes for a great summer.”

During this past season not only did the Boulders organization but the Can-Am League undergoing major changes.  The team switching the first name from Rockland to New York, practically a brand-new roster and Can-Am League merging with the Frontier League.  With new rules in place including age restrictions and whether manager Kevin Baez would return for a second season weighed heavily on Ponto’s mind.  With the news of Baez returning and Ponto meeting the age requirements made the decision to return a slam dunk.

“I had no idea what was going to happen with skip (Kevin Baez),”Tim Ponto said.  “He has connections in higher places, a big-name guy but him coming back solidified me coming back.  There is a ton of changes for the Boulders this year.  Not a ton of guys coming back but we have a good core coming back.  A lot of younger guys on the roster and it’s exciting because they are going to be super hungry to prove themselves in this new league (Frontier League).”

“It will be a way different dynamic this year, because last year I was the young guy learning the ropes, excited to pave the way for the younger guys.  Hoping to have an impact on these younger guys starting off their professional careers.”

“I think it was a great move to merge with the Frontier League, excited to play some new teams and talent.  Being in the Can-Am League and playing five other teams, you really get used to play the same competition over and over and over.  It will be cool to play some new teams, players, in new stadiums, towns and getting to explore a different part of the country.  I think the name switch is pretty cool, Rockland is a great area but to open us with the New York Boulders is a huge honor.”

Posting a 2-3 record with 3.74 E.R.A. in 49 games along with 50 strikeouts Ponto understands there is no down time in the off-season and training began once last season ended in September.  “To perform at a high level you have to eat, sleep and breathe baseball and your routine has to follow suit,” Tim Ponto said.  “You just can’t pick up the ball the day before the season starts and be ready to go.  It’s the 12-month process, out typical season is May through September, but I’m in the gym the next week after the season ends and starting my throwing program for the off-season.”

“I wanted to be ready for working out in the winter and we do a bunch of live at bats with the affiliated guys and I had some workouts with affiliated teams.  Staying in shape and keeping the arm ready and trying to get better.  I want to have a season this upcoming year than I did last year.  I have plenty of room to improve but I was very happy with myself last year and biggest thing I took away last year I belong in professional baseball and that I can compete at this level.”

“This off-season I focused on a little bit more of conditioning, see if I can become a starter that I was prior to college and before the surgeries.  I love coming out of the bullpen but wanted to see if I could stick in one or two starts.  Working on my off-speed pitches and being able to put guys away late in counts.  I struggled last year with putting away guys late in counts and hug focus for me this off-season.  My best pitch is throwing a sinker that lead to a lot of ground balls and trying to fill up the zone.”

Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the start of the 2020 Frontier League regular season has been delayed and forced Pinto into different methods of training and keeping in shape.  “It’s a crazy time right now, first and foremost everyone’s health comes first and being selfish we want to play but have to see how it pans out in the next couple of weeks,” said Tim Ponto.  “We had some hope because our season opens up late, but when all the news came out and how big of a pandemic is, we knew that it was inevitable and just hopeful it can be contained to the point where we can start at some point this year.  If we can get any games this year is a huge moral victory in itself.”

“Doing my best running outside and throwing at Little League fields and different than any other season.  You want to be creative and just go with the flow.  The one thing that keeps me going is the potential for a season and be mad at myself if I let the fire slip away, so I’m doing the best under these circumstances.”