Speaking up for the belief he had in himself as a baseball player was the big step a frustrated Michael Rizzitello took last December, and now the youthful catcher has earned Rookie of the Year honors in one Independent league and is looking forward to continuing his quest for an eventual opportunity in the major leagues by playing in the American Association next season.
Rizzitello will follow in the footsteps of several other Pacific Association players in recent years who have moved to the Lincoln Saltdogs’ roster. This will be less than two years from when he was frustratingly sitting on the bench too much of the time in his final season at Dowling College, a Division II school in Oakdale, N.Y.
“I wasn’t playing as much as I should have been,” the 23-year-old recounted to the Long Island newspaper Newsday recently. “I had a thought in my head, ‘What if I don’t continue playing? What if I start working? What if that was it? What if I just start my life. It was honestly probably the toughest half-year of my life. It’s not fun not playing.'”
Rizzitello, who also plays first base and the outfield, was working as a hitting instructor near his Long Island home at the time, and he confided in a fellow instructor, Matt Connolly, who assured the 5-foot-9 athlete he had too much potential to stop playing. Connolly connected Rizzitello with a Tampa Bay scout who got him a March tryout in Arizona. The scout was impressed and when the Rays did not have a spot for him they put him in touch with the San Rafael Pacifics of the Pacific Association.
All Rizzitello did was hit .280 with five homers among his 70 hits in 65 games. He also stole a dozen bases, drove in 40 runs, posted a .371 on-base percentage and eventually won the league’s top rookie honor.
“Is it going to take a lot of hard work (to reach the major leagues)? Yeah,” he told the newspaper. “Even with all that hard work and opportunity, may I still not make it? Yeah. But you know, there’s also that chance that I work my butt off, I get the opportunities I need to get, and anything’s possible at this point. Why not? It just proves to me, ‘Why not you?'”
Kintzler’s Next Destination?
Brandon Kintzler has become one of the American Association’s most prized graduates, even making it to the Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game last season, and now the reliever seems to be in considerable demand as a free agent with MLB.com reporting St. Louis and Colorado are among the teams showing interest.
Although he was a high draft choice of San Diego in ’04 and spent two years in the lower ranks of the Padres’ farm system, it was not until he had had two years in Winnipeg and ’09 in St. Paul that the now 33-year-old’s career took off.
Kintzler has relieved in 298 major league games since 2010 with Milwaukee, Minnesota and Washington, highlighted by 28 saves with the Twins and another with the Nationals last season. His career log is 14-14 with 46 saves and a 3.26 ERA.
Youth Still on Nogowski’s side
The relative youth and inexperience of 24-year-old first baseman-outfielder John Nogowski may have showed up in the fast pace of the Arizona Fall League. Even though he hit .402 in 34 games for Sioux City this summer before the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract, Nogowski only went 6-for-32 (.188) in his nine games in the AFL. Four of the hits were doubles. Another year in Double-A might not be bad for this onetime Florida State athlete.
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at traditional book-buying sites, or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.
Photo: San Rafael Pacifics