For Joe Tardif, it never has been about himself.
Depending on the situation, it could be about his family, his team, his friends, or about his twin brother John, who just happens to be his biggest fan.
John, confined to a wheelchair since he was born with cerebral palsy, attends just about every sporting event in which Joe has been involved at Mattituck High School the past four years, whether it be in baseball, basketball or soccer.
“John’s always at every one of my sporting events,” Joe said. “He’s always there cheering me on. I feel as if it’s my responsibility to give back to him because he’s always giving so much to me. So, whenever I am out there on the field or on the court, I try and give 200 percent, 100 for me and 100 for him. Just give back to what he has given to me.”
At the present time, senior Joe plays baseball for the defending state Class B champions as a standout center fielder and pitcher.
The 18-year-olds have forged a unique bond even for twins. “Probably inseparable,” Joe said.
“We’re always around each other,” he added. “I’m always hanging out with him, giving him what he needs.”
Joe is one of John’s caregivers. “Anything that John needs I can do and get for him,” he said. “I have to watch after him, feed him, take him to the bathroom. Just whatever he needs, I’m there for him.
“It’s going to be tough when I go to college because it’s going to be the first time that me and him are really actually separated. It is really an amazing relationship.”
At the Suffolk County basketball awards dinner, the twins were honored with the Fred Williams Award, given to young men who have overcome adversity at some point in their lives. Tuckers basketball coach Paul Ellwood finished his speech at the dinner by saying: “John lives to watch Joe compete and Joe lives to compete for Johnny. That is their relationship. They rely on each other a lot. Johnny’s Joe’s inspiration and Johnny’s biggest hero is his brother Joe.”
At first glance, Joe Tardif — he’s 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds — doesn’t exactly look like the most imposing athlete in the world, but looks can be quite deceiving, given his talent and determination.
“Joe has the kind of indomitable spirit like he just won’t be beaten,” soccer coach Will Hayes said. “You have to drag him off the court, the field or diamond kicking and screaming. If there is a way to beat you, Joe will find it.”
Joe was born weighing 1 pound 13 ounces, needing an incubator.
“So his legs were probably the size of my pinky finger,” his mother Shelly said. “He actually kicked the incubator door. The nurse said, ‘Oh, my God. I think you’re going to be in trouble with this one. Either he’s going to be really fast or you guys are going to have a real good athlete on your hands right there.’ ”
Actually, it was both.
Tardif was named Mattituck’s top high school boys athlete by The Suffolk Times last year.
“If he played cricket tomorrow, he would be pretty good at that, too,” baseball coach Steve DeCaro said.
In the fall, Tardif won All-Conference soccer honors, scoring 10 goals and assisting on 10.
In the winter, he was an All-Conference basketball player and was named to the state Class B 11th all-star team, averaging a team-best 16.6 points.
“He was the heart and soul of our team,” Ellwood said. “He played varsity for me for four years. I only had one other player do that since I’ve been coaching here. He was always full of energy and giving his best on both ends of the floor.”
Which is appropriate because Joe’s life is usually non-stop. He went immediately from soccer into basketball practice. He actually found himself with a week off between the basketball and baseball seasons.
“I was definitely bored,” he said. “I had a lot of time on my hands so I just caught up on all my school work.”
As the Tuckers’ leadoff hitter, Tardif batted .437 this season, with 21 runs batted in. He was lethal on the base paths, stealing 30 bases. Defensively, he did not make an error. DeCaro said Tardif will be the league most valuable player for the second year in a row.
“He gets on and it’s probably a triple on a walk,” Southold coach Mike Carver said. “Dangerous, dangerous. What a great kid. I wish him luck. Lightning, lightning.”
Tardif also was 6-0 on the mound, striking out 58 in 45 innings. His earned-run average was 1.56. DeCaro called him the best pitcher in League VIII. “The problem is that he is such a good outfielder, don’t know if it makes sense to have him on the mound,” he said.
He patrols center field. “One of his big things that he is daring,” DeCaro said. “He likes playing in and we model our defense around that.”
Tardif liked his team’s chances in the playoffs this year, despite losing last year’s core.
“Nobody really expected us to do much this year,” he said. “This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Everybody who has come up to the varsity has really stepped up and played better than what everybody expected. The goal is the same this year, to get back up to the state championship and see what happens from there.”
While the Tuckers came up short of that goal, falling in the playoffs Monday to Center Moriches, Tardif will leave Mattituck as a two-time state champion having also won in 2014 on the soccer team.
Next will be some more baseball during the summer with the Mattituck Ospreys in the Boys of Summer League 18 (coached by his father John), before heading to Division III baseball power Cortland in late August.
Photo caption: Mattituck baseball player Joe Tardif with his No. 1 fan, his twin brother John. (Credit: Garret Meade)