1 Stony Brook Cinderella story was never written, 1 still possible - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:57 am
1 Stony Brook Cinderella story was never written, 1 still possible

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***

Angie Rizzino couldn't find his old Stony Brook baseball cap, the one he earned in 1966, so his wife bought him a brand new one.

He doesn't know many people at Stony Brook anymore — he's lost track of all his old teammates — and he bought two decidedly non-VIP tickets way down the right-field line.

Rizzino left work early Friday afternoon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, settled into his seat right before the first pitch and tried to push away a thought he feels is ridiculous

This coulda been me.

“Oh yeah, I think about it,” Rizzino says. “I really would've liked to have at least seen what I coulda done.”

Rizzino, now a veteran medical center researcher, played — or rather, almost played — on Stony Brook's inaugural baseball team in 1966.

His story is a footnote in the first chapter of the school's baseball history, a history that was almost entirely nondescript until this year's Seawolves made their odds-defying run to the College World Series.

Rewind 46 years, when Rizzino, a Stony Brook senior, heard that the newly established baseball team would hold open tryouts on campus. Rizzino was a top-rate sandlot player and often joked that “I majored in softball during college.”

Why not, he thought. I'll try out.

He made the team. So did pretty much everyone else who tried out, he says.

That gives you some sense of the state of Stony Brook baseball in 1966.

Here's another hint: The baseball coach was actually the Long Island school's basketball coach, Herb Brown.

You may remember Herb, who eventually coached the Detroit Pistons in the NBA. More likely you remember his brother Larry Brown, the hoops coaching legend.

So Stony Brook had a baseball coach whose real sport was basketball and players they had found on campus. The field's outfield fence was actually a snow fence. There were bleachers down the first base line, but no fans to actually sit in them.

“Most of us were at Stony Brook for a good education,” Rizzino says. “Playing baseball was just, you know, for fun.”

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That didn't temper his elation when Herb Brown gathered the team before its last preseason practice and announced the starting lineup. Rizzino in right field, he said.

In fact, the starting right fielder was so excited that when Brown said “let's do some sliding drills” he jumped to the front of the line.

Only one problem: They were practicing hook slides. And Rizzino had never done a hook slide before.

As he tried to slide, his cleat caught in the ground and his body crumpled on top of his right ankle. Teammates heard the crack. Soon he was getting X-rays and a cast at the nearest hospital.

He would never play college baseball, never even get a single at bat.

Rizzino stayed at Stony Brook for graduate school in biochemistry. He moved to Omaha on a frigid December day in 1983. He's established himself as one of the medical center's foremost researchers of stem cells, work he hopes will lead to breakthroughs in treating tumors.

He's also established himself as one mean slow-pitch softball hitter, one who can still rap doubles down the left-field line at age 67.

Still …

“I grew up in New York, so my dream was to play center field for the Yankees,” he says as UCLA begins to demolish Stony Brook's Cinderella story with base hit after base hit in the first inning. “Sometimes I've wondered, ‘What if I had hit really well? What if I would have gotten a tryout?' Who knows?”

It is a bad day for daydreams. UCLA scores five in the first inning on its way to an easy 9-1 victory.

That doesn't stop Rizzino from meeting and befriending the other fans in Section 100, Row 34, or clapping every time Stony Brook records a putout, or standing and singing all the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

As the eighth inning begins, Rizzino has already found a silver lining. The College World Series is a double elimination tournament, after all.

Today was the first Stony Brook game that Dr. Angie Rizzino, Stony Brook's almost first-ever right fielder, has seen in 46 years.

On Sunday, he will be back to see his second.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1064, matthew.hansen@owh.com

UCLA takes the field for practice at TD Ameritrade Park.

Stony Brook a big favorite at CWS.

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

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