Cusick signs his first professional contract (Chas Dorman/Penn Athletics)
Fresh off a brilliant 2011 campaign that landed him the coveted Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award, Penn baseball’s Paul Cusick C’11 was riding high. And then he was riding even higher. On June 7, not long after graduating from Penn, Cusick was drafted by his favorite team – the Philadelphia Phillies – in the 29th round of the Major League Baseball Draft. The ace right-hander was the first Penn baseball player to be drafted since Brian Winnings in 2004, but, remarkably, the Quakers kept the momentum rolling when fellow Penn righty Vince Voiro was picked by the San Diego Padres in the 47th round and then catcher Will Davis C’11 was signed by the Phillies, joining Cusick in Clearwater with the Gulf Coast League Phillies. The Gazette caught up with Cusick just hours before he signed the contract with the Phils from his Wilmington, Del. home and a few days before he reported for duty in Florida.
So where were you when you heard the news?
I was actually watching the Phillies game with my family in our living room. And [Phillies scout Eric Valent] gave me a call. My dad saw it on the computer, and right when he saw it I got the call.
What was your family’s reaction?
We were all pretty excited. I got hugs from my parents. And my two little brothers were there and they were excited about it. One of my brothers, he’s a year younger than me, he was giving me a hard time. He said, ‘You know this is all fun and games until I get taken in the 27th round next year.’ He doesn’t even play baseball. It was pretty funny.
What was the reaction from your Penn coaches and teammates?
They were all super excited. Growing up playing baseball, it’s something you always dream about. Me and [Penn baseball coach John Cole] were talking about it at the beginning of year. It was definitely a goal – after, of course, winning an Ivy championship and other season goals. It’s been a goal for me since I started playing baseball, and it’s pretty awesome to achieve that. The coaching staff was ecstatic.
When did you first think playing pro ball was a realistic goal?
I started talking to scouts this summer while playing out in California [with the Atwater Aviators of the Pacific West Baseball League]. I had a pretty good summer, and then carried that into a strong short fall season. I started receiving things from scouts and that’s when I started to think this is a real possibility. It was a really cool feeling.
How much sweeter is to get picked by your favorite team?
I would have been ecstatic for any team to take me. But growing up a Phillies fan, living 30 minutes away, it was just a dream come true.
How big of a Phillies fan are you?
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I went to ballgames all the time as a kid. Going to school, any time I had an off day, I would try to go down to the ballpark. I’ve been to some playoff games, some World Series games. I went to games at the Vet growing up, and I’ve been to the new ballpark a ton of times since it opened. Being able to join that organization is surreal.
What’s been the best moment for you as a Phillies fan?
I had an opportunity to go to game when they clinched the 2008 World Series against the Rays. That’s got to be the pinnacle for most Phillies fans. It was pretty awesome.
Cusick was at Citizens Bank Park when this happened
Who’s your favorite Phillies player, both now and ever?
I was a big fan of Brett Myers when he was on the Phillies. He’s a hard-throwing righty with a good curveball. Growing up, that’s how I was in high school. I really liked him. The pitching staff now is unreal, but Chase Utley is a real good player. I like him a lot.
The minor leagues can be a grind and unglamorous – are you prepared for long bus rides and everything else that comes with minor league ball?
I played in summer ball leagues the past three summers and it’s basically the same thing. We were packed into these vans, 16 of us, and we’d go on eight-hour bus rides. That was a glimpse, a taste, of what minor league baseball would be like. I love baseball, I’m sure like everyone else in the minor league system does, so I have no problems sitting in the back of the bus for a couple of hours to go play some games.
Do you feel like you really put it all together this past season at Penn [he went 5-3 with a 2.70 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings]?
I think a lot of things went right for us this year. It would have been nice to win an Ivy championship before heading out there. But we had a lot of individual success on our team this year. It’s a shame it didn’t translate to more wins.
Cusick had a big senior season but the Quakers went just 19-21
What do you think you need to improve on to make it to make your way through the minor league system?
Every pitcher, their main goal is consistency and being able to show up every single start and consistently make good pitches. That’s something every pitcher struggles with and every pitcher works on.
What do you think you do best?
This season I had a lot of success striking people out and I was able to get ahead in the count. I have the ability to throw not just fastballs but off-speed pitches for strikes, which really helps with putting hitters back on their heels.
Is there a certain pitch that can carry you through and also a certain pitch you’re trying to improve on?
I mean, I’m gonna need all of my pitches. I had good success this year with my fastball, curveball and slider. I feel like my changeup is definitely something I’ll need to develop more and work on going forward as a good fourth pitch.
You graduated with a degree in economics so you have a pretty good backup plan if you can’t make it to the Big Leagues, right?
Yeah, but I mean I’m gonna try to play baseball for as long as I can. If someone is going to offer me to play something I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old, why not milk that until it runs dry? One of the reasons I wanted to go to an Ivy League school is to obtain that degree, but I want to play baseball for as long as I can.
Is it also nice a fellow Penn teammate got drafted too?
Oh yeah, it’s awesome. Vince is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met in my entire life. To see him have the chance to further his career, it’s an awesome feeling. I’m so happy for Vince.