“I am large, I contain multitudes,” the famous American poet Walt Whitman once wrote. Individuals are not just of one identity, rather they are a conglomeration of the different segments that make their being.
Such explains the existence of Anthony Prato.
There is Anthony Prato, junior shortstop for the UConn men’s baseball program who hit .324 last year, led the team in hits and was exemplar defensively.
Then there is Anthony Prato, the diehard fan of the storied St. John’s men’s basketball program who, despite recent struggles, he remains a fervent follower.
Will Lucas, a freshman apprentice in the middle infield, acknowledges both about his teammate: “Prato is a great baseball player. One of the best fielders I’ve ever seen.” Also, on St. John’s basketball, “It’s a little weird, but everyone has their thing.”
Prato came to Storrs from Staten Island where he won numerous league championships and MVP’s and was an All New York City First Team member in 2015 and 2016. In his UConn debut in 2017, he was a Freshman All American and Second Team All-Conference with a .303/.386/.376 slash line in the infield. His numbers increased across the board last season and he cut his errors while improving in the field. He went to play for the Bourne Braves of the prestigious wooden bat Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer where the strong play carried over. He was selected as a member of the 2019 American Preseason All-Conference team and will almost assuredly be a MLB draft pick this June.
Being an elite baseball player requires a lot of time and hard work. Yet Prato has found a way to be ardently attentive to his beloved Johnnies.
“My dad went to St. John’s which probably had something to do with it,” Prato said. “It was 2009 and they were like 5-0, playing Marist. I turned on the TV and realized their next game was at Duke and I hated Duke so ‘Why not just root for this team?’”
That team played Duke close and finished that year 17-6. Next year, they made the NCAA Tournament. The success hooked Prato.
The Red Storm also have a Division One baseball program that had been successful, including producing a MLB shortstop and first round draft pick, Joe Panik, right as Prato was coming of age. They won the Big East last year and have been to multiple NCAA tournaments recently. It seemed like a natural spot for the New York City kid to commit to.
“I really liked St. John’s, but ultimately I knew (UConn) was the place I really wanted to go. I wanted to separate baseball and being a fan of the school. I fell in love with the UConn players, coaches and everything about it,” Prato said.
UConn and St. John’s played each other last year in Queens where the Huskies took two out of three games. But they do not meet regularly on the diamond or the hardwood since The Big East split up. Prato the baseball fan might see it as favorable for baseball success, but the basketball fan is dismayed.
“Definitely I miss it. One of my biggest regrets here is not being able to go to a UConn-St. John’s game while I was here,” he said. “I actually went when I was younger. 2012 at the XL Center and St. John’s got killed. It would’ve been great right now because St. John’s kind of has the upper edge basketball-wise.”
Prato’s perspective on the two’ team success and quality is subjective, but what is a matter of fact and is further paradoxical for him that the current UConn Men’s basketball team has two former Red Storm players who transferred to UConn in redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson and graduate student Kassoum Yakwe.
“I’m actually tight with Kassoum,” Prato said. “I knew him from before because of St. John’s and he’s a New York kid. Sid Wilson, we (St. John’s fans) don’t talk about him as much because he left before even playing for us, but I respect his decision and he’s another New York kid.”
Few are as qualified to assess the program as Prato and he is happy to do so.
On the Chris Mullin era, where the program has brought in lots of talented recruits, but lost just as many if not more to transfer or careers overseas:
“For what he was given, (and) he still needs, he has done a decent job. I still think he needs more of an X’s and O’s guy on the bench because that’s kind of his biggest problem coaching,” Prato said. “But the players he’s gotten…Shamorie Ponds is one of the best players in school history. They have a good recruiting class for next year. Hopefully we’ll finish strong and build off it.”
On this year’s squad’s postseason prospects:
“I think if they finish the year strong, then yes. They kind of got hosed in the Seton Hall game. That one should’ve been a win and would’ve had them locked in. They blew a big lead at Villanova too but they just have to finish games and they’ll be fine.”
On the season in general: “Obviously best we’ve started since like 1992 or something but the injury bug has hurt. Five of our last eight games are at home so I think we can make a run.” Since I spoke to Prato the Red Storm went three and five in those final eight. A known side effect of fandom is temporary blindness.
Being such an invested fan for many years has cultivated a lot of memories, positive and negative.
“Last year’s Duke win was unbelievable. The Villanova win right after that too,” he pointed to, “One of the biggest ones that stands out was November of 2011, we were playing Texas A&M at Madison Square Garden and Nurideen Lindsey missed a dunk in the first half, and then got fouled with three seconds down one, shot two free throws, missed both and transferred like a week later. That was one of the most painful ones ever and sticks with me the most.”
According to ace pitcher and Prato-roommate Mason Feole, Prato it tears of happiness following the Duke and Villanova stretch.
“He is obsessed, to say the least,” Feole said. “It is truly his first love outside of baseball. He is always watching their games; I don’t think he’s missed one since 2009.”
It is not known what information from within UConn baseball he can rattle off, but his St. John’s basketball memory is photographic.
When asked who his favorite player was, he listed Dwight Hardy, and quickly elucidated, “He lit up UConn at the Garden. They beat ‘em 89-72. It was 2011 and he brought them back.”
Like Yakwe and Wilson, Hardy earns points for being a New York kid. Prato also likes Mo Harkless, who at one point was committed to UConn. The conflict is unescapable apparently.
He follows the players, like Harkless, as they progress in their professional careers as well.
“I’ve seen him do some ridiculous things to watch them (St. John’s), to appreciate them and to just be involved with it,” Feole said. “Last year we had a 5 a.m. bus trip for one of our games, but the night before he drove his car to Queens for a St. John’s game. He’s locked himself in his room after losses and we’ll go in his room and mess with him.”
Prato, Feole and friends were supposed to go to a UConn-Providence hockey game last year in Providence but then Xavier beat St. John’s, ending a streak they had been building prior to the Big East tournament. Prato no longer made the previously scheduled trip to Rhode Island.
St. John’s is not on the baseball calendar this year, but Prato is still invested in one big battle between the two. Precious Achiuwa, a five-star recruit from the NYC area but prepping at Montverde Academy in Florida, is strongly considering UConn and St. John’s for next season, along with UNC, Kansas and Western Kentucky. Would he be disappointed if such a program changing talent picks UConn over St. John’s?
Storylines like recruiting means there is always ways to consume as a fan, and St. John’s basketball will keep going and be there after his time in Storrs. Right now, Prato the baseball player needs to thrive and be deeply invested as well. As mentioned, he is the team’s shortstop and is trying to be a presence in the program’s future success.
“I’m more of a lead by example guy. I’m not going to be a rah-rah guy who is rallying the troops with speeches. But I’m have them on the running the right way at all times,” said Prato.
There is heavy burden on him to produce, but he has the talent, and has done the preparation for it.
“Last year, I kind of struggled and, the year before that, I struggled with staying healthy, so that’s one of the things I’ve worked on,” Prato said. “Also adding more power to my game, my arm strength and hitting balls gap to gap.”
He is off to another strong start. Through 13 games, all of which he has started, he is hitting .327 with a .413 on-base percentage, and six doubles, most on the team. Meanwhile St. John’s, who finished 7th in the Big East, kicks off Conference tournament play against DePaul tonight and wants as many wins as possible to feel comfortable heading into the NCAA tournament. As he always has, Prato will surely muster the passion for both. He wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.