For as long as he can remember, Saugus native Dario Pizzano’s dream has been to play baseball in the Major Leagues.
In 2012, Pizzano was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and spent the first six years of his professional career in their minor league system. Pizzano took his talents out west and away from home as he pursued a shot at the majors.
Last month, Pizzano signed a one-year minor league contract with the New York Mets. A resident of Hoboken, N.J., Pizzano is excited to start a new chapter in his career closer to home.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Pizzano, 27. “It’s obviously good just to be part of this scenery after the last six years playing with the Mariners. It didn’t work out. Being out in the West Coast, my family and my girlfriend couldn’t visit often. The Mets are down the road from where I went to school (Columbia). I still live here and work out here.
“The Triple-A team is in Syracuse so they’re close by. They play teams like Pawtucket. My friends and family will be able to visit more often.”
The experience of being a free agent was new to Pizzano. A handful of teams reached out to his agent and showed interest but the Mets emerged as his top suitor.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” the Malden Catholic alumnus said. “I heard good things, but I also heard some ‘horror stories’ from other guys. I was excited to get away from the Mariners but there’s that uncertainty where you don’t know. You don’t know who’ll call or what you’ll get offered. My agent heard from three or four different teams but the Mets were the ones that wanted me the most. They offered me the most. Looking at their team, you might not call them a contender. Their minor league system’s the perfect place to get into with a lot of opportunity.
“The Mets told me they want me to play every day,” Pizzano said. “They came after me 12 days into free agency. I was pleasantly surprised. That showed me they really wanted to get ahead of it to get me. They told me they’d give me every opportunity to get to the higher level and try to help them out in the future.”
Pizzano believes the Mets are moving in the right direction. Brodie Van Wagenen was hired as New York’s general manager in October and has wasted no time in overhauling a roster that failed to compete for a postseason bid last season.
“Brodie came in as their GM and he’s looking to turn things around,” Pizzano said. “A week after I signed, they went out and traded for (slugger) Robinson Cano and (reliever) Edwin Diaz (also both former Mariners). That was a statement. They’re looking to win now.”
Van Wagenen also signed catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year contract.
The offseason has gone well thus far, Pizzano said. He’s working in the batting cages in hopes of keeping his swing sharp. Defensively, he’s getting in as much work as he can at first base. Drafted as an outfielder, he decided to expand his game as a first baseman a few years ago and played 15 games there last season with Double-A Arkansas.
“I always work hard,” Pizzano said. “It’s actually hitting the peak time in the offseason where the workouts are most intense. I’m starting to hit four or five times a week. I’m really working on my defense. That’s always been the knock on me, during my career.
“A couple years ago I took it upon myself to play first base. I’ve done it every day during the past two offseasons. The Mets want me primarily as a first baseman. I’ve gotten really good at first but it was outfield and then first base. If the Mets want me as a first baseman, I can’t make any mistakes.”
Pizzano’s first taste of baseball on its grandest stage took place in 2003, when he was a 12-year-old member of the Saugus American Little League team that reached the Little League World Series that summer.
“To this day I say that’s the craziest experience I’ve been through,” Pizzano said. “At 12 years old, you watch the World Series every year. We made it and we were mini-celebrities around the North Shore. We were on ABC, ESPN, it was crazy. I got that taste of playing on a high level, under pressure. I loved it. After that, I told myself I’d do whatever it takes to play at that stage. My teammates, we were all best friends. When I come home for the holidays, I still see them. We’re all still close.”
Pizzano admits he doubted himself, at moments, during his tenure with Seattle. Given the positive impression New York has of him, Pizzano feels his confidence is back on a good level as he moves forward with his career.
“It’s going to be good,” Pizzano said. “It gives me hope again. You kind of lose hope. I didn’t have much of a change in Seattle and it kind of became a job. I have that feeling back where I can’t wait to get out there and get back on the field. I have this opportunity and I have to make the most of it. I finally have a chance to reach my dream of playing in the big leagues.”