ONE BIG PAISAN
The Buffaslo Bisons are not having a very good season. They are mired deep in the International League North standings. They have virtually no chance of even a .500 record this year. One guy that has carried the Herd, sits smack dab in the middle of their lineup. Valentino Pascucci. With the ethnic name it sounds like Pascucci invented the radio or discovered some foreign land. At 6’7 and close to 270 pounds, the big guy looks like a stand-in for Paul Bunyan. (Replace the bat with an axe.) Pascucci lets his bat do the talking, although, as I discovered, he is an engaging guy, who speaks well, too.
Valentino, with 17 homers and 77 RBI is one of the very few bright spots for the Mets Triple A affiliate. He takes it in stride. “Well, when the weather started heating up, so did I. I’ve just been doing my work, getting in the cage and trying to do what I always do.” Even though the Bisons have no shot at the postseason, Pascucci continues to play as if it’s always game 7. “As long as there are games on the schedule, I keep playing. I play until the last out is recorded. You never know who’s watching. There are a lot of other teams out there and they could be keeping an eye on us. Maybe for next year. Maybe for later this year. I play the same way, no matter what the standings say.”
Pascucci is a former Oklahoma Sooner. He loved his time in Norman. “It was great. A bunch of my friends and I from California went there. It was a great place. Baseball is huge. They had won the College World Series a couple of years before I went there. As for football, I don’t think I ever missed a game while I was there. It was so much fun.” Bob Stoops had just taken over as head coach. “(Josh) Heupel was running around out there. I worked out with those guys in the weight room and the coach asked me of I had ever played football. I told him I had in high school. Those were some big guys. I don’t know if I could have kept up with them.”
With a name like “Valentino Pascucci”, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out his heritage. “Yeah, full blooded Italian, my father and mother. My father was born in Italy, so I’m about as Italian as you can get.” Pascucci says it’s his father that makes the sauce and meatballs on a regular basis. “My dad’s the cook. He just gets in the kitchen and starts throwing things together. He’s the big cook in the family, but on special occasions, my mom will take over. I’ve been lucky food-wise in my house.”
Pascucci has logged Major League time with the now-defunct Montreal Expos. In fact, he played in the last-ever game for Montreal. He says it was a little surreal. “It was crazy. We actually finished the season in New York. The clubhouse was packed after the game. Guys were trying to get flights. It was crazy. You played a game in Montreal and there might be 5000 fans. You’d go to a place like Dodger Stadium and there might be about 45,000 fans there. I realized that was what the Big League experience could be like. Montreal was a great place. I just wish we had more fans.”
Pascucci has played in the Bigs. He has played in the I.L. and the P.C.L. He also has toiled in Japan, an experience he says he enjoyed. “I played over there and we won the Japanese World Series in my first year (2005). Those fans come out and pack the place. They love baseball. It’s their favorite sport. It was a great experience and a great atmosphere to play in.” Pascucci also fondly recalls his manager. “Bobby Valentine. He was great. He’d be out there and he really enjoyed being ‘Bobby V.’ He let everyone know he was running the show. You were alright as long as you went out there and played hard. ”
Pascucci is 32 years old. He is well past the prospect stage. His numbers are great. He’s been around and takes it all in stride. “This isn’t the first time I’ve put up good numbers. I’ve had years like this before. It’s just another year for me. I’m here to drive in runs and be a leader for the young guys they keep sending through.” Mission accomplished.