Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip isn’t the ultimate destination, but it’s another step closer to Nick Bottari’s dream.
Bottari has ascended to higher level. Now, as a first baseman for the defending Atlantic League champion Long Island Ducks, he can rightly call himself a professional baseball player. That’s awfully nice, yet Bottari hopes even bigger things are in store for him down the line. He still has major league aspirations.
“It’s been a long journey and it’s all been to play professional baseball, and the fact that I’m able to continue to play baseball at this level means a lot,” Bottari, 25, of Wading River told the Riverhead News-Review Friday morning. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this over the years, and with my parents’ support and my girlfriend’s support and my family’s support, I’ve been able to continue this baseball journey.”
Bottari joined the Ducks last month after he completed his final season with Southeastern University (Fla.) in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series and went undrafted. He said he reached out to Ducks president/general manager Michael Pfaff and signed a contract with the independent league club, which is aiming for what would be a fifth league championship. The Ducks won their fourth in 2019 (the 2020 season was scrapped because of the pandemic).
So, it’s another team for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Bottari, who has played for a number of them over the course of a career that has given him plenty of experience.
In 2010, Bottari became the first eighth-grader to ever play varsity baseball for Shoreham-Wading River High School’s vaunted program. He was a three-time all-state player and played on two county champion SWR teams. Following his junior year he transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida. From there, Bottari red-shirted his freshman season at the University of Miami because of Tommy John surgery. He transferred to Hofstra University and played two seasons there before transferring again to Southeastern in Lakeland, Fla. In his first season at Southeastern, Bottari helped the Fire win the NAIA World Series.
Bottari spent the summer of 2017 with the Westhampton Aviators of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. He was named the league MVP and selected as Baseball America’s No. 2 college prospect from the HCBL after hitting .454, with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 29 games that summer.
This past season at Southeastern, Bottari set a school record with 24 home runs to go with a .424 batting average and 86 RBIs. His glove work was excellent, too, with only two errors from 402 chances. In recognition of all that, he was named an NAIA First Team All-American and the Sun Conference Player of the Year. He also holds the Southeastern career record with 38 home runs.
Entering Friday night’s game, Bottari had a .370/.438/.444 slash line from 11 games with the Ducks. Hitting has always seemed to be a strength for Bottari, who once drove in nine runs in a game for SWR. “Hitting is something that I’ve always felt confident with,” he said.
All of that experience, Bottari said, has taught him to “roll with the punches.” He said, “I’ve really been able to gather so many different experiences and meet so many different people throughout the years and throughout the different colleges and I think it really helped me grow up and it really helped me appreciate the game in so many different ways.”
Playing in the Atlantic League has Bottari competing with and against experienced veterans.
“It’s pretty cool to play side by side with some of these guys,” he said. “I mean, if you look around at some of the guys, I mean, we have guys who have played in the big leagues for five-plus years. We have guys who have won World Series rings.”
Bottari wants to be a hit with the Ducks, who he hopes will help launch him on a path to Major League Baseball. He appreciates the fact that he’s able to not only play ball for a living, but able to do so in front of his parents, Greg and Kerri, his girlfriend, Kellie Fioto, and other family and friends.
“It’s awesome that I can call myself a professional baseball player, but it’s another thing to be able to do it in front of my friends and family. It’s cool,” he said. “To have my entire support system be able to come to the games whenever they want, it’s pretty special.”
Almost like a dream.