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Overlooked: How Josh Ferro Went From Substitute Teaching to the Astros

Houston Astros' Josh Ferro
Josh Ferro

It’s not everyday a commercial is the first domino to a professional opportunity, but for Josh Ferro, he experienced the one-in-a-million chance.

Sitting on his couch last October, Ferro turned on the American League Championship Series, where the Houston Astros took on the New York Yankees. Ferro, a native of Queens, New York, watched along with his father, Pasquale, while his hometown team fell to his future employer.

As the Astros stomped past the Yankees in four games, a commercial ran in between innings that caught Ferro’s eye: The Tryout. The reality television show looked for the “next big baseball star,” targeting free agent talents that missed a professional opportunity out of college.

“Why don’t you give it a shot, Josh? You really got nothing to lose,” Pasquale said.

One last shot to prove he could play professionally was on the table, just when Ferro thought he was ready to give up on playing and focus on his master’s degree in teaching. He filled out the application and heard back soon after with an invitation to the first round of evaluations.

And when he showed up, Ferro stood one of 400-450 players with the same idea.

Just like Ferro, those prospects looked to continue playing baseball. Many excelled at the college level, including Ferro, who posted an .813 OPS across four seasons — two at Castleton University in Vermont and two at SUNY Purchase which is north of New York City.

From transferring after his sophomore season to losing most of his junior campaign to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferro found himself looking to summer leagues for extra at-bats. But nothing sparked a phone call during or after the MLB Draft in 2020 nor in 2021. Seeing his best offensive output in his junior and senior seasons, he bolted for independent baseball in the Empire League, slashing seven singles in 28 at-bats over the following three months after his graduation.

But Ferro put in a pin in his career from there. He took a year off from baseball, from the sport he dedicated nearly his entire life to.

Although no longer on the diamond, Ferro couldn’t get away from the game. He offered catching lessons through RPM Baseball in Queens and was also a substitute teacher at his alma mater, Richmond Hill High School.

“Something really told me to just save up money,” Ferro said. “Still focus on my training. I was still practicing baseball. I was still training hard with my strength coach over at the baseball facility and on my own. So sometimes I was working out one-to-two times a day, still keeping up with my catching work.”

Ferro found a new passion for coaching, guiding a 12-U team through tournaments around the Northeast last year. Fresh out of college, he built strong connections and respect with his players, being able to connect with each of them on a personal level.

“The good thing about coaching is you get a different sense of learning the game of baseball, because when you’re coaching you’re also learning on that different aspect,” Ferro said. “They say that catchers make very good managers.”

And as he settled into this batter’s box at the United States Merchant Marine Academy baseball field, everything clicked. There was no rust from either side of the plate, coming off a year without facing live pitchers.

“You know, it kind of shocked me a little bit. It just felt like muscle memory,” Ferro said. “Honestly, it just felt natural. It felt easy.”

His success at the plate drew a microphone to his face, as the host, Grace Cashman, daughter of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, interviewed him for the upcoming reality show. Giving his backstory to Grace, Ferro saw more of this next step in baseball as a day in production, rather than a day of just the game.

With the consistent movement of cameras and equipment, everything still felt relaxed to Ferro. Throughout the long day of filming, he paid no mind to what the outcome of the tryout sessions would be.

“I did this type of tryout; it was fun. It was cool,” Ferro said. “I’ll probably be on Netflix… So I said, ‘Alright, I’m done with that.'”

A couple weeks passed into November, and in the back of his mind, Ferro kept telling himself to check his email. Then one Thursday night came, and as he was about to clock out for the night, Ferro took one last look at his spam folder.

“And I see, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been picked for (The Tryout),’” Ferro said.

Twenty players from the original tryout were selected by the production staff to fly down to Florida to film the next step in the television show. And after reading through the email, he rolled out of bed and ran down stairs to tell, his father, Pasquale, who told his son to give The Tryout a shot over a month prior.

This next step in baseball with a twist on television wasn’t anything new to the Ferro name. Pasquale made his way through the acting world, being an Elvis Presley impersonator, a stunt man and also an extra in Hustlers and The Many States of Newark.

“He’s a jack of all trades, my dad,” Ferro chuckled. “He knows about the filming stuff, and he was the first person I told.”

On the expenses of the show production, Ferro traveled down to Brandenton, Florida, arriving at a three-story, $4 million mansion he called home for the first week of December. Alongside 19 other players, Ferro competed in challenges based on position skills from arm velocity to batting practice on the Yankees’ spring training field in Tampa.

The judges ranged from current Brian Cashman to former Yankees players and staff — Ray Negron, Dom Scala, Wade Boggs and others along with Enos Cabell, an Astros special assistant to general manager Dana Brown. Through the adjustments of performing in front of New York legends to learning how to act on a reality television show, Ferro came out of the first rounds of challenges to the finals with five other contestants.

But of the six finalists, Ferro, the only catcher of the group, didn’t win, as a pitcher from Rochester, New York, took home a contract to play in the American Association of Professional Baseball, an independent league.

“We were all thinking that it would be a Major League contract,” Ferro said. “Because one of the judges owns the Tampa Tarpons — the Single-A affiliate for the Yankees. But he still got that contract. Still very blessed for him to win the show.”

But it didn’t end there for Ferro.

Boggs told Ferro and two other runner-ups that one of them would be offered a contract by a Major League Baseball team. Looking to his left and to his right, Ferro didn’t know among the three of them who would be offered the deal.

As the production crew packed up, Ferro approached Scala, a former bullpen catcher of the Yankees, to thank him for the opportunity and the relationship the two built on the show. Scala pulled him to the side and told him the Astros were interested in what he showed.

“I did well, but I didn’t think that the Astros were looking for any form of catchers,” Ferro said.

On his last day, Ferro took his swings and showed off his pop times, and again, he didn’t think much of it, especially not enticing interest from a Major League organization. Although appreciative of the news, Ferro filed it away and awaited a call.

Two weeks went by, and Ferro, who already returned home, received a call while substitute teaching. Kris Gross, the Astros’ director of scouting, was on the other end of the phone, furthering the conversation of Houston’s interest in him.

“And the minute I got that call, the heart sinks; the heart drops,” Ferro said.

Ferro, who continued to stay in baseball shape, accepted a workout with area scout Steve Payne. Into the holiday season, the Queens native dedicated every day to the weight room, the batting cages and to catching bullpens, awaiting his next tryout with the Astros in mid January.

Taking batting practice and showing off his ability to frame and block pitches, Ferro impressed Payne to the point of opening the next chapter to his baseball story.

“We really need catchers,” Payne told Ferro. “And when you come down to spring training, you know that this is all the catches are going to be doing… It’s very long and gruesome. Do you think you’re up for it?”

Without hesitation, Ferro told Payne, “yes.” Waiting his whole life for the opportunity, there wasn’t anything in the world going to stop Ferro from uttering acceptance of the offer.

“I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do,” Ferro said.

Two weeks passed. It was now Jan. 26, the day Ferro won’t ever forget. The Astros offered him a minor league contract and told him he has a month to prepare, before the organization shipped him down to West Palm Beach, Florida, for spring training.

Quoting Rocky, Ferro called it “freak luck.” The one-in-a-million opportunity was his, and throughout the whole process he couldn’t be more thankful to every person who pushed him to where he stands today.

Two years ago, Ferro watched his teammates sulk in the moment of their last games of baseball, but deep down, he knew he wasn’t done. He weighed opportunities from independent baseball to playing overseas, but an opportunity sprouted in an unorthodox way.

“You really don’t think of, ‘Alright, yeah. That’s the last game I’ll really be playing, until it actually happens,’” Ferro said. “And then you really start to think, ‘Alright, yeah. Did I really go hard and did I really give everything I have?’ That was just what was really in my mind, but I really had no regrets for that.”

Ferro looks to continue to make an impact on the game of baseball. From being overlooked to being considered “undersized,” he never once accepted failure. Coaching middle school baseball players, he instilled hope in all of them to continue playing no matter their limitations, furthering his ability to continue coaching beyond his playing career.

Always told he was never big enough or never strong enough to play college baseball nor professional baseball, Ferro wants to impact the lives of athletes who were always left out.

“I want somebody to look at me and really think to themselves that dreams do happen,” Ferro said. “They are possible, but you need to put in the work. And you need to be resilient, because you will fail a bunch of times and you will be told no by a bunch of people. And you have to look for that one person that says yes to change your entire life.”

Ferro, standing 5-foot-8, 180 pounds and now 23 years old, believes any goal is reachable with hard work. Looking to strike hope into his students in Queens to any youth baseball player, who feels overlooked, Ferro wants his story to instill a belief that dreams can come true no matter the limitations someone else places on them.

“This is just a story of the underdog, who was really picked for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ferro said.

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