Scout mines diamonds in search of baseball prospects

June 21, 1992|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff Writer

Ron Rizzi's summer home is a baseball diamond. Any baseball diamond.

As Middle Atlantic Scouting Supervisor for the Milwaukee Brewers, Rizzi scours diamonds from Pennsylvania to North Carolina looking for young men with the right stuff to play major-league baseball.

Most of the summer, Rizzi lives out of a suitcase and a Chevy Lumina.

"I just put a schedule up above the calendar for my wife showing where I'm gonna be every single day through Sept. 3," says Rizzi, a Harford County resident for 10 years. "I put a red H for the days I'm gonna be home. I think it averages four days a month. But I do call every night."

Joyce Rizzi is used to her husband's schedule. They've been married 24 years. He has been a major-league scout for the last 13.

Rizzi conducted an open tryout camp Wednesday for local boys aged 15-21 at Essex Community College. He was the host at another camp Thursday afternoon -- 100 miles south in Fredericksburg, Va.

By Friday, Rizzi had driven another 200 miles southwest to search for prospects in Abingdon, Va., near the Tennessee border. That is just the beginning of what Rizzi calls his latest "seven-state odyssey."

Like dozens of others scouting baseball camps and tournaments worldwide, Rizzi travels from February to late October.

He goes wherever there's a game, wherever there's a prospect. In November, he'll head for baseball's newest frontier, Australia. Rizzi thrives on the excitement.

"It's a little subculture," says Rizzi. "It's in your blood. Baseball's only a game. It's not life or death. But you just become so immersed in it, it becomes your world to an extent."

In three months, Rizzi, who pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor-league system, conducts three major-league scouting camps and 14 of his own camps. He also watches dozens of games.

If he's lucky, Rizzi might sign a player with big-league potential. More than likely, however, he'll offer a few contracts to fill out the Brewers' minor-league rosters.

"Most scouts, if they get one player who goes on to play in the big leagues, they're really lucky," he says.

But Rizzi has something to offer many young players even if it's not a minor-league contract. His contacts with college coaches have helped a lot of boys play college baseball -- many on scholarship.

"My phone at home is always ringing," says Rizzi. "I'm always getting calls from college coaches. They're always looking for players. One coach says he needs a catcher or they're looking for a shortstop or whatever. I can pass along names and tell him about a kid's athletic ability and academics."

Duane Rhine, a Bel Air High graduate who is now an assistant coach at Georgetown University, is one of those Rizzi helped place in college -- at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. "Most scouts are worried about their careers, how they're gonna move up the ladder into the front office. But Ron's not worried about that. He wants to make a difference in these kids' lives," says Rhine, who plays for the Bel Air Athletic Club team in the Maryland Semi-Pro Baseball League.

"Only a handful of kids ever get the chance to play pro baseball," says Rhine. "Pro ball is not for everyone, but college can be. If I have a son, I hope he has a guy like Ron Rizzi pulling for him."

A native of the South Bronx in New York, Rizzi began scouting for the big leagues while coaching Harford Community College's baseball team in 1980. An All-America pitcher in college, Rizzi had coached in New York and Atlanta before taking the job as the Owls head coach.

Rizzi became increasingly interested in scouting during the six years he coached at Harford.

"I started working with the Pirates, helping out at tryout camps and covering tournaments. And I just got more and more involved," says Rizzi, an assistant coach for the United States team at the 1974 Pan American Games.

For 10 years, Rizzi worked with Joe Consoli, the late Pirates scout considered by many in baseball to be the greatest ever in the United States. When Consoli died in 1989, he had 11 of his recruits playing in the major leagues.

Even if Rizzi's prospects never make it to the big leagues, he's happy just searching. The hardest part of the job is turning away kids with big-league dreams.

"As a scout, I would like to give every kid a chance to play professional ball, but that's not realistic," says Rizzi. "When a scout makes a mistake, it's with his heart, not with his head. To promote the game and help kids out -- that's what it's all about."

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