The Home Team

Dani Mazzilli, wife of the Orioles' manager, Lee Mazzilli, keeps her family's togetherness at the top of the order

Family Matters

May 16, 2004|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Staff

Dani Mazzilli is talking on the phone and the melodic b-l-i-i-n-n-g-g in the background betrays the fact that she is also online, instant-messaging someone else.

Suddenly, her cell phone rings, adding to the chorus, and she interrupts two conversations to begin a third with one of her three teen-aged children.

Yes, she will bring the equipment bag to school that the child left at home that morning. She will be at school anyway, she says, working on the '70s dance.

"Now where were we?" she asks when she returns to the phone in her hand.

Where, indeed? Dani Mazzilli is living in two places at once these days -- in her home in Greenwich, Conn., and in her new hometown of Baltimore.

She's the wife of the Orioles' new manager, Lee Mazzilli, who has been on what amounts to one long road trip since being hired in early November.

In baseball family fashion, Dani Mazzilli is both mother and father to a trio of busy, demanding teen-agers.

"I am a two-parent parent," she says.

It is a job made more complicated by her husband, an intense man who cannot last even hours without the sound of his children's voices and who needs the heaping helping of family served at the dinner table more than the food itself.

And complicated also by a battle with uterine and ovarian cancer that Dani Mazzilli appears to have won.

"They tell me I have a 95 percent survival rate," she says. "And I am the kind of person who sees the glass as half full, not half empty.

"But I never want to put all my eggs in a doctor's basket. I realize how important now is."

So, for now, Dani Mazzilli is making the 3 1/2 -hour trip from Greenwich to Baltimore every other weekend, balancing her husband's need for family with the busy lives of her teen-agers.

These are the kinds of little logistical miracles Dani Mazzilli, 50, has been pulling off for years, keeping her baseball family from splintering like a broken bat. But her husband's new job in Baltimore will be the biggest test.

"I need a clone of me," she says.

They heard bells

The only Dani Mazzilli there is was born Danielle Folquet in Corvallis, Ore., the oldest of two girls and a baseball fan.

"I was a huge Cincinnati Reds fan. We didn't get much baseball on TV on the West Coast and the Reds dominated Monday Night Baseball. Davey Concepcion was my favorite player," she says.

She went into television with a not-too-secret hope of being a sports reporter. She ended up in New York City in 1980, as host of PM Magazine.

She worked crazy, long days, six days a week, but found time for baseball, taking in games with her friend and neighbor, Rusty Staub, who had played for the Mets.

It was the 1981 season when one of the ushers behind home plate recognized her from television and introduced her to Fredo Mazzilli, whose brother Lee played for the New York Mets.

Fredo gave her number to Lee and the hunk of a baseball player known as the Italian Stallion called her for dinner.

"Bells went off," she says now. "I mean bells. For both of us. That was it."

It was a startling match.

She was this talkative, engaging blond from the Pacific Northwest. He was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, brooding Italian from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"She is just the opposite of what I am," says Lee Mazzilli. "Outgoing, extroverted, very intelligent.

"People say that at a party, you will find Dani in the middle of the room talking to everybody, and I will be in the corner with a couple of guys."

"He was so traditional, so old-fashioned Italian. I felt like a Neanderthal had hit me over the head with a club and dragged me off," says Dani.

Two-and-a-half years later, Lee proposed on the floor of the Coliseum in Rome, where he took Dani after winning the trip in a home-run-hitting contest with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"It was sundown. It was really romantic," she says now, her voice as dreamy as it might have been when she accepted his proposal.

Poor Lee. He had a tornado by the tail.

"He wanted to wait until after the next season to get married and I was, like, 'No-o-o-o.'

"He said OK, but only if we could get St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. He didn't think I could pull it off, but I did.

"February 4 is not a big day for weddings."

That was 20 years ago this year, and Dani Mazzilli has been pulling logistical rabbits out of her hat ever since.

"Lee has this expression that he uses. 'Need to find a way.'

"When you are part of a baseball family, you've got to find a way to be together. Whenever we leave, my husband is already asking, 'When is the next time I am seeing you?' "

When the kids were younger, it was easy. Dani just packed them up and visited her husband for long stretches when he was managing in the minor leagues in Tampa, Fla.

These last few years, he was a manager in Norwich, Conn., and coach with the Yankees and commuted to work from their home in Greenwich.

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