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Monday, January 30, 2012

Tony Blasucci Interview, Part 1: Pumped Up

Tony Blasucci early in his career, with the Pirates organization. (Tony Blasucci Photo)

Part 1: Pumped Up | Part 2: First Thing | Part 3: Hard Work

June 2014: I had the opportunity to speak with Tony Blasucci in January 2012 and tell his story here. A friend of Tony's informed me that Tony passed away May 28, 2014, from injuries suffered in a boating accident. Tony's obituary: Anthony "Tony" Blasucci.

January 2012 interview:
Tony Blasucci disagreed with the Pirates assessment.

After four mostly unproductive seasons as a starter, the Pirates released Blasucci in spring 1987. That landed Blasucci on the doorstep of the White Sox camp, the left-hander looking for a tryout and a chance to prove that Pittsburgh assessment wrong.

"They brought me into the batting cage, I'll never forget it," Blasucci recalled recently, "I was very, very pumped up. My adrenaline was flowing. I threw the ball very well. I threw the ball hard."

He pitched well enough to get an invitation to camp, one with no guarantees. By the time the spring was out, Blasucci was a White Sox minor leaguer, having a career year.

And, while he never made the majors, within a year, Blasucci had himself in position to be competing for a big league job.

Blasucci spoke to The Greatest 21 Days by phone recently from his Florida home, speaking about his days growing up in southern Florida, to early, injury-induced position changes from pitcher to outfield and back to pitcher again, and seeing a big league stadium for the first time as he signed his first professional contract.

Blasucci also touched on his early struggles in the minors, as a starter, struggles that gave way to successes with his new team and a new role, as a reliever.

Palm Beach Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller in May 2011 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Tony Blasucci went to spring training games as a youth in southern Florida.

Blasucci ultimately made it to AAA for parts of three seasons, but he never could take that final step to the majors.

All the while, Blasucci's family was there to support him, including his wife, college sweetheart Kris.

Now, it's Blasucci who is there supporting his sons in their endeavors. With his youngest, now a freshman in high school, that support shows as the left-hander returns to the mound, throwing batting practice for his son.

Blasucci's path to his eight seasons as a pro began at the age of 7 or 8, he recalled. His father loved the game and passed that long to him.

Blasucci also played football then. But, by high school, Blasucci had quit the other game to concentrate on baseball.

By high school, though, Blasucci had also quit pitching, in favor of playing the outfield. An elbow strain, suffered playing baseball in middle school, didn't require surgery, but it did lead a doctor to recommend he take time off from the game. More importantly, the doctor also recommended he no longer pitch.

Pitching, though, was what Blasucci wanted to do.

"At that point, I was crushed, obviously," Blasucci said. "I was pretty upset. But, basically, all my focus turned to being the best center fielder and hitter that I could be."

Blasucci was the best centerfielder and hitter he could be through high school and into junior college, Broward County Community College. He also started as a center fielder after moving to Florida State.

But he left Florida State as a pitcher.

That happened on a throw from center, Blasucci recalled. It was the arm strength they saw, something that could translate well to pitching. That he was left-handed also didn't hurt.

"I figured I had nothing to lose," Blasucci said. "If my arm couldn't handle it, then so be it."

Brevard County Manatees pitcher Nick Bucci delivers to the plate at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla. in May 2011. The Florida State League's Digital Domain Park opened in 1988, the year after Tony Blasucci played in the league with the Daytona Beach Admirals.

But, despite the doctor's early suggestion, his arm could handle it.

Working with his pitching coach Mike McLeod, Blasucci showcased enough talent for the Pirates to select him in the June secondary draft, after less than a season on the mound.

But, after wanting to be a pitcher at the start, Blasucci got to prefer the outfield and playing every day. "I always wanted to be on the field," he recalled.

In the long run, though, he knew pitching was the best choice for his career.

Blasucci still had a year of eligibility left when the Pirates selected him that June. But he had passed up two prior draft selections.

Before the Pirates signed him, they made sure and have their doctors check out his arm, to makre sure it could hold up. They checked it and gave their approval.

The whole process happened in Pittsburgh and Blasucci got to see Three River Stadium. A native of Florida, Blasucci had been to spring training games, but he'd never been to a big league park.

Blasucci called the Three Rivers part of the trip "quite an experience."

"It was pretty amazing, especially being a Florida boy and really not ever being in a professional stadium, baseball stadium," Blasucci said. "I met with the president of the Pirates, if I'm not mistaken. It was pretty crazy."

Blasucci then started his professional career.

Part 1: Pumped Up | Part 2: First Thing | Part 3: Hard Work

Go to Part 2: Tony Blasucci, First Thing

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