“Sorry, there isn’t anything weird about me, guys,” disappointingly claimed Jeff Cusick. “I am just an average joe.”
“Average joe” Cusick, on and off the field, is the best the UC Irvine baseball team can ask for of a first baseman.
When speaking to Jeff Cusick, one will immediately notice his calm, stoic demeanor. He stands tall and big at 6-feet-2-inches and 205 pounds and rarely raises his voice.
When watching Cusick play defense, he exhibits well-calculated movements, and never seems to get riled up.
When watching him bat, he looks like a man ready to execute a plan he already developed before stepping to the plate. And more often than not, he comes through.
One would expect this kind of maturity from a junior or senior in the program, but Cusick is only a sophomore. He plays as if he has played for years.
While it is only his second year of collegiate baseball, he has been a part of the college game for a while now. Matt Cusick, Jeff Cusick’s older brother, played baseball at the University of Southern California under current UCI Head Coach Mike Gillespie. After a successful campaign at USC, Matt was drafted in the 10th round by the Houston Astros, and is currently playing for its minor league affiliate in Kentucky.
“I grew up looking up to him. He taught me how to hit, and how to play the game. More importantly, [he taught me] how to go about playing the game mentally,” Cusick said.
Matt Cusick taught him extremely well. This is what Coach Gillespie told the Daily Trojan about Matt Cusick, not Jeff Cusick, as a player in 2006.
“His makeup is perfect. He’s a worker. His demeanor is always the same; never too high, never too low. He’s got no issues (with his temper). He’s a jewel.”
This very same quote could apply to Jeff Cusick. He has learned well from his older brother, and as long as he keeps performing as he has this season, he will be on the same successful path.
In only his first season as a regular first baseman, Jeff Cusick is batting .373 on the season, which is good for batters with at least 100 at-bats. He provides the Anteaters with a consistent bat that will bring Ollie Linton and Ben Orloff home.
This isn’t the first year Jeff Cusick is making a splash for the Anteaters. Last year, he brought the Anteaters one of the greatest memories of a historic season when he hit a ninth-inning grand slam in the 11-8 victory over University of the Pacific.
With the score 8-6 and the bases loaded, Jeff Cusick was called upon to pinch hit. As a freshman, he stepped up to the plate and delivered, slogging the ball over the fences and setting up a dramatic win.
“I went for a quality at-bat and waited for a pitch I knew I could hit,” said Cusick. “I’ll probably never forget that. However, people don’t realize we scored eight runs without an out in that inning. A lot of people remember the grand slam, but forget that we scored three runs before the bases got loaded. That win was about the team.”
That one moment can define Jeff Cusick as a player. He focuses on making each at-bat a quality at-bat. Not caring about the result, his aim is to keep focus, without getting caught up in the emotions.
His leadership style reflects his personality and play, but he will deflect the credit to his older, more experienced teammates.
“I’m not the most vocal guy,” said Jeff Cusick. “I hope that by the way I go about practice and the game is leadership by example. I believe that’s the best form of leadership. I see it in guys like [Aaron] Lowenstein and Orloff.”
Jeff Cusick is setting examples for the younger, and even older, Anteaters. His believes that the mental aspect of the game is of utmost importance. He recognizes what the wear-and-tear hitting can do to the mentality of a player, and that is why he stresses the importance of passion and enjoyment from the sport.
“At the end of the day, you are out their doing what you love, day in and day out. And you do it for those reasons, not for results,” said Jeff Cusick.
When speaking to Jeff Cusick about this topic, one is astonished with how such a young hitter can have so much insight into the game; perhaps this is due to growing up in a family that has loved baseball since day one.
Growing up, Jeff was at the batting cages. He even admits that when he isn’t on the field now, he still thinks about being on it. The biggest reason he is so literate in the game of baseball is the time spent with his brother.
From the age of eight, Matt and Jeff would go to baseball fields late at night and collect lost balls. All the way through college, their father would use those balls for batting practice for his sons. They claim to have over 1,000 balls in their Mission Viejo home.
As a younger brother of a stud baseball player, Jeff has seen the college and minor league game in a light most have not. His exposure has not only made him extremely knowledgeable of the game both mentally and physically, but also has helped him gain a perspective that most do not have.
“I’ve seen so many minor league games,” said Jeff. “You have to cherish these times. Nothing beats college baseball and how fun it is. You are never going to be with a group of guys like this that are with each other day in and day out.”
It may not seem like it, but Jeff is having fun. He is just keeping things in perspective, calming himself down. He knows he can’t get caught up in the heat of the moment. Instead, he will keep his wits and stay calm in the biggest situations.
You’ve seen Kobe Bryant before a game-winning shot. You’ve seen Tom Brady before a game-winning drive. To be exceptional, you have to block everything out. Make an extraordinary situation ordinary.
Jeff Cusick has got that down.