Dario Pizzano is still living the dream — even if, on some days, that dream seems so elusive, yet so cruelly within reach.
Mike Scuzzarella has found different dreams at different stages of his life, yet 15 years after he became the veritable poster boy for the Saugus American Little League’s trip to the Little League World Series, he feels his life is on course and sees himself in a very good place.
Scuzzarella was the diminutive pitcher whose assortment of curve balls and changeups kept hitters from all over the country off-balance and helped the Americans make the U.S. national final against Florida.
Pizzano was the center fielder on that team — the one who came home to score the winning run in an improbable U.S. semifinal 14-13 win over Richmond, Texas, on Aug. 21, 2003 — a crazy game that is still considered one of the best in Little League World Series history. The game made the team of 12-year-olds national celebrities, so much so that they were runners-up in that year’s ESPYs to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
These many years later, Scuzzarella strikes a note of balance.
“None of us, parents, coaches, players, will ever, ever forget it,” he said last week. “It’s something we’ll always cherish.
“No matter where we are, what we’re doing, we’ll always remember it. We’ll always be a brotherhood.”
That said, life goes on, according to Scuzzarella. He’s getting married later this year, and for him, life is a combination of meeting with the wedding planner, being part of the hockey staff at Saugus High, and his job with HighRes Biosolutions in Beverly, where he is working in the field of robotics — something that has always fascinated him.
Scuzzarella went through a period where he wanted to become a pro baseball player and/or a professional hockey player. Pizzano got the bug to play in the Major Leagues when he was in Little League, and has yet to scratch that itch. And, he says, he’s going to keep trying until all avenues are exhausted.
He is a first baseman/outfielder/DH for the Arkansas Travelers of the Texas League, a Double-A affiliate for the Seattle Mariners. As of Sunday, he was hitting .301 with nine homers and 54 RBI. He would seem to be on an upward trajectory to make The Show but for the fact that a) he’s 27 years old; and b) he was in Double-A ball five years ago — also with the Mariners organization.
“It hasn’t worked out,” Pizzano says. “I’ve played for a lot of different teams, and in a lot of different places, and it is what it is.”
He says he’s ready for a change.
“The Mariners gave me this great opportunity, my coaches have been great, and I couldn’t ask for better teammates,” he said. “But I’m 27 years old, with a degree from Columbia University, and I’m still in Double-A ball. That’s how this game is.”
But, he says, he’s ready to go in another direction and since his contract is up at the end of this season, he welcomes free agency.
“I’ll be able to sign with another organization,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind coming closer to the East Coast. I’ve been away from my family and my girlfriend for a long time. I wouldn’t mind being closer.”
Pizzano says he sees a lot of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in himself.
“I’ll use these experiences to keep me motivated,” he said. “I’ve read all about how Brady was motivated by falling to the sixth round in the draft. I’m the same way.”
He can’t get too bitter, he said, because he knows how much he owes to his baseball ability.
“I mean, I know I’m smart,” he said, “but I’m not sure it would have been enough to get me into Columbia if I didn’t play baseball too.”
Scuzzarella received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Merrimack College in robotics and engineering systems. His has been a lifelong gravitation to science and technology — after he got all of his desires to play in the pros out of his system.
“I’ve always loved technology,” he said. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I wanted to be the next Joe Thornton (Boston Bruins) and play pro sports. I’d have loved to have played for an NCAA Division 1 hockey team.”
He gets it out of his system by competing in a summer hockey league where, among others, Philadelphia Flyers draftee Mike Vecchione skates once in a while.
Both played a role in that memorable game 15 years ago. Scuzzarella was the starting pitcher and left the mound in the sixth inning with a comfortable 10-4 lead. But Texas caught up, and went ahead, 13-10, in the top of seventh inning when the Americans rallied. With two out and three runs in (two of them courtesy of a single by Mike Muldoon), Pizzano stood on third with Dave Ferreira up. He hit a dribbler along the third base line that he assumed would go foul. Only it didn’t. Pizzano — making no such assumptions — had already crossed the plate before the first-base umpire ruled Ferreira had beaten the ball out.
There was some controversy over whether Ferreira had, indeed, beaten the hit out.
“There are times where it looks like he did, and times where it looks like he didn’t,” said Scuzzarella. “But at the end of the day, I’d have to say he was safe.”
That was as far as Saugus went. The Americans lost two nights later, 9-2, to Boynton Beach, Fla.
Pizzano said that summer taught him more about baseball than at any other time.
(Coach) Charlie Bilton taught us more than we learned from anywhere else,” Pizzano said. “We used to practice four-five hours a day and people would criticize us. But we liked it. We wanted it.”
Asked what he’d say to people today about the experience, Scuzzarella said that was easy.
“You play for the people on the field with you, the person next to you,” he said. “That’s pretty much all you can control,” he said. “You can’t do anything about what you don’t control.”