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Outfielder Joey Falcone, former Marine medic, knows about pressure

This week has been a wonderful blur for Columbia outfielder Joey Falcone.

Monday, he stood on the mound at Citi Field, which might as well have been a mountaintop.

It was Memorial Day. The former Marine medic, with two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan behind him, was to throw out the first pitch before the New York Mets and New York Yankees played. A perfect time to reflect.

Yet Falcone said the only thought in his mind was: “I had to throw a strike.”

Thursday was another day on another coast. Falcone was taking batting practice at Cal State Fullerton in preparation for Columbia’s NCAA Division I baseball regional opener Friday against the Titans. And he experienced a different kind of pressure.

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“I tensed up today,” he said. “New field, new environment.”

After six years of military duty, it’s a good bet that he will find a way to adjust.

His baseball career was reborn when he rotated home to Hawaii in 2010 and found himself making use of the batting cages at a base at Kaneohe Bay on Oahu.

“All I wanted was to play baseball,” Falcone said. “I didn’t even know if I was any good. I just decided to try out for a college team. I was very naive.”

Or maybe not.

Falcone is a big reason why Columbia — Lou Gehrig’s school — reached the NCAA playoffs for only the third time in school history. He is hitting .333 and is second on the team with five home runs and 27 runs batted in.

The Lions have a seven-game winning streak, during which Falcone has 11 hits in 22 at-bats with two home runs and eight RBIs.

Falcone, who turns 27 Sunday, is the oldest player in Division I baseball — and has two years of eligibility remaining.

“When I was hitting in those batting cages, my blood was boiling,” he said. “Something was there. I don’t even know why.”

Falcone played at Alexandria (La.) Bolton High but attracted little interest from scouts. He enlisted in the Marines in 2004.

Talking about his military experience, Falcone slips out of what had been an easy, conversational tone and the “yes sirs” and “no sirs” surface.

Falcone saw a boy and his sister blown up in Afghanistan when the donkey they were riding stepped on an explosive device. And Falcone was unable to save a close friend, John Malone, who had been shot in the neck.

“I was a medic,” Falcone said. “I saw all the bad stuff.”

It was numbing.

“It’s kind of like how a fireman doesn’t get fazed by every fire anymore,” Falcone said. “After a while, as much as I don’t want to say it, it was kind business as usual.”

Not entirely. Asked if there was a moment that overwhelmed him, Falcone said, “June 9.” He paused and added, “Wow, my mood will change if I talk about that.” So he didn’t talk about it.

After returning home, he landed a spot on the College of Staten Island baseball team in 2011. He transferred to Columbia and tried out for the team last fall.

“They never actually told me I made it,” Falcone said. “I just kept getting emails and my name and photo were on the baseball website.”

It was a good pickup. In a doubleheader against Penn, Falcone hit a walk-off two-run homer. Then he drove in five runs in the second game, when the Lions clinched the Ivy League’s Lou Gehrig Division.

After that: six hits in nine at-bats in a two-game sweep of Dartmouth in the league championship series.

Now his military life is out of sight, though never out of mind.

“It never fades, no sir,” Falcone said. “I’ve improved at being able to fall asleep. I’m still working on that. The mind-set stuff never fades. It’s OK, because it is possible to make it a positive. You know, Semper Fi, always faithful. Always faithful, always ready.”

And was he ready for the opening pitch at Citi Field?

“It was a little high,” Falcone said.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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