The start to Vinny Messana’s story is one that’s all too familiar. A baseball-loving kid grows up obsessing over America’s pastime. Through trips to Shea Stadium and a budding young career, he learns the ways of the century-old game and becomes a good ballplayer in his own right.
But even a stellar high school career and a shot at college baseball couldn’t save Messana from injuries and the reality that his childhood dream of professional baseball was no longer on the horizon.
So, he used his passion for the game to lead himself to another passion: journalism. After two mediocre seasons at Farmingdale State College, Messana decided to transfer to Adelphi University, whose baseball team had been one out away from making it to the College World Series a year prior to his transfer. In an unfortunate turn of events, Messana tore his rotator cuff in his first year at Adelphi.
“That was the first real obstacle that I ever faced in my life,” Messana admitted. “I’ll say it. I pretty much had everything made for me up until that point. So, that was like the first dose of reality [that told me] there’s life after baseball, and I had to figure it out quick.”
But life wasn’t done throwing changeups at Messana. In January of 2013, Messana’s father passed away from a heart attack. The man that had accompanied a young Messana to Mets games and supported his endeavors on the field was gone, just like that. Amidst the despair, Messana needed a positive outlet, and he found a haven in his first love.
In the trying times, Messana just wanted to keep tabs on friends who were playing college baseball. He found this task to be harder than he expected as every college team had its own website, and there was no central hub of information.
Undeterred, Messana saw an opportunity to fill a void in the world of sports journalism. His initial venture started out as a baseball blog called Baseball on the Island. Messana wrote recaps from box scores and tried to cover college baseball on Long Island. His previous experience in the field came from journalism classes at Adelphi and several internships at Bleacher Report, Patch and Anton Media Group.
Initially, liftoff was slow for Baseball on the Island. With just 10 colleges and 300 collegiate baseball players on Long Island, Messana struggled to get even 50 page views a month. But, he soon found that his unique perspective as a former high-level pitcher allowed him to bring a nuanced voice to the game, and before he knew it, he was up to 500 Twitter followers.
After a brief hiatus to work at a sabermetrics-based baseball analytics company for one season, Messana found himself without a job. It was at this point that Messana decided to couple his experience in baseball and the professional world to go headfirst into his baseball blog. With the money he had saved up, the young writer and entrepreneur hired some freelance writers to expand his team. He also teamed up with local universities to give journalism students college credit for completing internships with his company.
Messana continued to build his company through new events like an awards banquet for the top college baseball players in Long Island and a last chance all-star game for Long Island’s top collegiate baseball seniors. With an expansive network that he had cultivated through his playing years at Centereach High School and local universities, Messana was able to give Long Island baseball fanatics what they wanted, a website that combined baseball news, recruiting, and social networking for players and coaches.
Now, what began as a small blog called Baseball on the Island has transformed into aXcess Baseball, an all-encompassing baseball hub that covers college and high school baseball from Manhasset all the way out to East Hampton. The aXcess Baseball staff now includes retired professional players that offer tips on how to reach the next levels of the sport and a retired team physician that gives pointers on injury prevention and recovery. Messana also recently hired a video producer to run a weekly show that recaps games and features top players.
Moreover, with website memberships, advertisements and more than 100,000 page views a month, aXcess Baseball is far from the one-man blog that it started out as.
“It’s not just a blog, it’s more than just a hobby [now],” Messana said. “I have higher standards for myself than anybody. So, I want to continue to grow this and eventually turn this into local news on a national scale.”
When Messana began this venture as a lost young adult looking for a new path, he could not have imagined these results in his wildest dreams. But as he now begins to field offers from investors and weighs the prospects of expansion, he hopes his story will inspire others.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that you can be down and out and almost be directionless but as long as you still have a passion for something, there’s still hope,” he said. “Things will happen that you can’t control, but there are things that you can control, and that’s your mindset.”
Visit www.axcessbaseball.com to see what Messana’s baseball passion has transformed into.