Pitch Perfect

Softball star Jessica Cusimano didn’t let injuries stop her from bringing a big league tournament to her hometown of Jensen Beach, gaining national attention along the way.
Softball star Jessica Cusimano didn’t let injuries stop her from bringing a big league tournament to her hometown of Jensen Beach, gaining national attention along the way.

Nerve damage and a freak accident may have cut short Jessica Cusimano’s time on the mound, but that didn’t stop the star softball player from delivering a perfect pitch.

“I thought, ‘Why not Jensen Beach? We have such an amazing town here,’” Cusimano recalls telling executives from the Babe Ruth League.

At the time, the then-17-year-old was coaching in the World Series of softball in Alachua, Florida. The executives needed a new host city for the summer tournament, which draws the country’s top softball teams for weeks of fierce competition.

“For a young person to make that impression on a national organization, persuading us from where we were possibly going to pause and consider something else – it’s really kind of amazing,” says Rob Connor, commissioner of the Babe Ruth League.

Cusimano’s pitch was received. Late last year, the League made it official: Jensen Beach will host the World Series of softball this August at Pineapple Park. The tournament, which is supported by the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, is projected to bring in thousands of out-of-state visitors and generate $1.3 million for the local economy.

After a decade in North Carolina, Mike and Beth Cusimano moved their three children back to Jensen Beach. Early on as a ballplayer, Cusimano was in a league of her own. Really. There was no softball league for girls her age, so the 6-year-old played baseball.

Having coached youth sports, Mike Cusimano understood the burdens of travel ball. He started the Treasure Coast Athletic Association to sponsor students of limited means and to cultivate local talent.

His daughter, meanwhile, blossomed as a pitcher, making varsity at Jensen Beach High School as a freshman. But, just before her first game, she tore a ligament in her elbow. Doctors advised she hang up her glove. Defiant, she taught herself to throw left-handed. Still batting righty, she moved to shortstop. By junior year she needed surgery. She recovered from the surgery, but during practice in her other role as captain of the high school swim team, Cusimano collided with a male swimmer. Doctors ordered emergency surgery on her rotator cuff.

“I said, ‘Jess, I don’t teach you to feel sorry for yourself, but this is so unfair to you,’” Mike Cusimano remembers. “She put her arm on my shoulder and said, ‘Dad, we could have just come from an oncologist who told me I had cancer. This isn’t that bad. We can deal with this.’”

Deal she did. While enrolling in broadcast journalism classes at Jensen Beach High School, the now 18-year-old has worked with trainers to fully recover from her injuries, has completed half-marathons and has even coached 10to 13-year-old girls. After her team’s elimination in the Alachua tournament, Babe Ruth League’s media network let her conduct an interview. She performed so well that they invited her to broadcast the tournament. Soon after, she learned of their impending move.

Cusimano, who just received the Frank A. Wacha, Sr. Achievement Award from the Jensen Beach Chamber and a full scholarship to Caldwell University in New Jersey to play softball, hopes to earn the Babe Ruth League’s commitment to stay longer in Jensen Beach.

“It’s a great location,” Connor says. “We’re definitely intrigued by the possibilities.”

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