He has long been known as the reliable one – the guy teammates, friends, family and anyone else who has come in contact with him can depend on and rely on.
That is the essence of Damon “D.J.” Faldowski.
“I think as a player or friend, D.J. is one of those guys you want on your team or on your side,” said Nick Cataldo, who was a teammate and friend of Faldowski through youth baseball and Trinity High School.
“He’s one of those back-alley guys and you want him in your corner, no matter what. He has always been dedicated to his teammates and to his craft. He always shows up, especially in the huge moments. Mentally and physically, you always knew D.J. would give you everything he had in every game and every practice.
“That goes hand-in-hand with his life outside of sports. He is a stand-up guy. He is respectful and respected. You always knew he would lead you down the right path.”
Faldowski, a 2002 graduate of Trinity High School, attended the Naval Academy and played four seasons on the baseball team.
He went on to a distinguished career in the service and became a Navy Seal.
Before he entered Trinity, Faldowski established himself as a standout baseball player and was one of the driving forces for the Washington All-Stars winning the 1997 Pony League 13-year-old East Zone championship, helping the team to a 13-0 record.
The following year, he was the starting right fielder for Washington in the Pony World Series.
His booming bat helped Washington win three consecutive games and advance to the Pony World Series championship game, where it lost to Chinese Taipei.
Faldowski hit a clutch two-strike, two-run home run in the team’s second game to tie the score in the bottom of the sixth inning and set the stage for one of the most dramatic home runs in Pony World Series history.
Washington pinch-hitter, P.J. Hughes, hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Washington a 3-2 victory over Pasadena, Texas. The enormous crowd at Lew Hays Pony Field, which had been raucous the entire game, erupted in joy after both home runs.
“I have great memories of that World Series,” Faldowski said. “Really, that World Series was the culmination of a lot of hard work for a lot of years by a lot of people.
“That home run, I was expecting anything, and I just swung hard. We had played together for so long and in so many games. How far we went and how well we did wasn’t just about that week. Our entire coaching staff planned it and played it perfectly over a period of time.
“We were prepared for it. It was the pinnacle of the hard work and dedication we had to one another. We had the support of one another, our coaches, our families and the community. We fired on all cylinders that week. I will never forget P.J.’s home run. No one who was there will. We played great.”
Cataldo, the team’s second baseman, said the home runs are etched in his memory.
“I remember it visually,” Cataldo said. “D.J. always seemed to have another level. He has those strong wrists and hands and he is so quick through the zone. Then P.J. hits one to win it. You could never forget that night. It was a huge moment.
“With the dugouts being behind the field, I remember looking out and just watching D.J.’s ball and losing my breath. He put us back in the game. Teammates were jumping up and down and hugging each other. We were ecstatic. It didn’t matter where we went to school – Wash High or Trinity – we were all invested in our team.”
Joe Gregula, the manager of the 1998 Washington Pony team, was not surprised that Faldowski and Hughes – who tragically died earlier this year in an automobile accident – hit home runs. In fact, he felt it would take home runs to win the game.
Faldowski’s ability and demeanor made him a prime candidate to shine.
“D.J. was just a young man I enjoyed coaching,” Gregula said. “He did whatever was asked of him. He always gave you maximum effort. He was extremely humorous and funny. He always put the team above himself. He had tremendous power and was capable of hitting it out at any time. He had a powerful, potent swing.”
Gregula said it was Faldowski’s upbringing that helped mold him into a strong young man. He credits Faldowski’s parents, Damon and the late Roberta (Robbie), who passed away 16 years ago.
That powerful swing served Faldowski well as a player at Trinity then at Navy. He helped the Hillers find success and performed well at Navy, where he started his final two seasons and made an impact throughout his four years.
Faldowski played in 117 games for the Midshipmen from 2003-2006. He had a career batting average of .254 with 19 doubles, 30 runs batted in, and a .331 on-base percentage.
His best season was his senior year, when he hit .302 with five doubles, a home run and nine RBI. He posted a .396 on-base percentage and .395 slugging percentage (.791 OPS).
One of the highlights of his baseball career at Navy came against Old Dominion and their ace pitcher Justin Verlander, who went on to pitch two no-hitters for Detroit, win the American League Rookie of the Year (2006), Most Valuable Player Award (2011), Cy Young Award (2011) and a World Series with Houston in 2017.
Faldowski went 2-for-3 against Verlander and ripped a double off the future Hall of Fame pitcher.
“I’d be lying if I said anything but that I take great pride in that game,” Faldowski said. “My old teammate (Justin Gregula) was out on the field and it was just a fun day for me. I’m just glad I got out of their OK. Verlander was throwing 99 mph, the fastest pitcher I ever saw.”
Gregula played second and third base at Old Dominion with Verlander and still marvels at Faldowski’s big day.
“In my two years with (Verlander), except for a player from Princeton, I never saw anyone hit a ball as hard against him as D.J. did twice,” said Gregula, who won three Pony World Series games in 1998 and was in the starting lineup that day versus Navy.
“D.J. had four hits in that game, two doubles off the wall and two hits off the best pitcher I have ever seen in my life. He was calm and poised and raked up the field. After the game, he came to me, complimented my game and was so humble.
“That says everything you need to know about D.J. You could not help but love him as a teammate or as an opponent. He always could be heard, and he always tried to pump up his teammates in a positive manner.”
Ed Dalton, the athletic director and football coach at McGuffey, coached Faldowski in high school at Trinity. He recruited him to come out for football. Faldowski didn’t disappoint.
“He, and his brother Mark (who attended West Point), were unbelievable leaders,” Dalton said. “D.J. is probably one of five guys I have coached in my life that could lead and assimilate with anybody.
“He was unbelievably determined. He thought of himself as a short, fat kid. He wasn’t. For him, there was always one more step, one more repetition, one more thing to do. He’s one of my all-time favorites.”
Faldowski was a senior at Trinity when the United States was attacked Sept. 11, 2001. It spurred him to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he majored in economics.
He began his journey to become a Navy SEAL.
“That was an absolute challenge,” Faldowski said. “It’s the hardest thing I ever did physically and mentally. Right before I was to become a SEAL, we were sent to Alaska. Things changed.”
Faldowski was with others in the mountains when a glacier collapsed. He fell 80 feet and broke his jaw. It delayed his seal training two months. As always, he overcame.
“I succeeded with the SEAL team because of Western Pennsylvania values,” Faldowski said. ”It took hard work, resiliency and grit. Those are super helpful when you have to pick yourself up and get through something.”
Faldowski has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia and has won numerous awards, including the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Valor, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the NATO Medal.
In collaboration with his brother, Mark, and other veterans, he helped start Legacies Alive, a nonprofit organization with a mission to support Gold Star Families and honor those heroes who gave their lives.
In 2015, Faldowski left active duty to pursue joint master’s degrees in public administration and business administration from Harvard University and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated with both degrees in 2018 and with honors from Wharton. He was a Pat Tillman Scholar and was named a Zuckerman Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership.
He works as an investor in New York and resides in New Jersey with his wife, Liz, and their three children, Sloane, 3, Damon, 2, and newborn, son, Ford.
“Sports taught me how to win and how to lose,” Faldowski said. “I’ve been part of a lot of great teams. Our World Series team epitomized what being a team is all about. I’ve been everywhere in the world. This is true: the greatest teams are those with individuals who accept challenges and their role. Those individuals support one another, and it comes together in a special way. That bond and that feeling lasts forever.”