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Rizzotti Rocks

Some people just have a knack for what they do. Chefs cook. Teachers teach. Pilots fly.
Matt Rizzotti hits.
Rizzotti could always rope a line drive when called upon, from the moment he picked up a wiffle ball bat in his backyard at the age of three, to his record-breaking career at Archbishop Molloy, to his three splendid seasons at Manhattan College. It was almost natural - that smooth, free-flowing, left-handed swing - like riding a bike.
Yet, that all changed on June 8, when the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Suddenly, hitting was no longer just for fun. It was now his career. He was being paid to put bat on ball.
So far, it has not mattered. Although he did not start right away - because of his obligations at Manhattan, Rizzotti did not report to Williamsport, PA until the day before opening day - he has become the Crosscutters’ most consistent hitter.
In 24 games in the Single-A New York-Penn League, he is batting .319, with 19 runs driven in, 14 runs scored, and a .402 on-base percentage.
“I’d say I got off to a pretty good start,” Rizzotti said. “Nothing fantastic, nothing horrible. A good start, and hopefully I keep it up.”
From his first day in the cage, Rizzotti impressed his new manager, Greg Legg. In contrast to the other rookies, Rizzotti was not trying to jack every pitch out of the park. Instead, he was spraying balls line to line, laying off pitchers’ pitches, and working counts.
“He’s pretty difficult to pitch to,” Legg said. “Usually when you get guys just signed this year they are one-dimensional.”
Clearly, the 21-year-old Floral Park native is not in that category. Legg marveled at his patience for such a young hitter. Rarely does Rizzotti get himself out by chasing a breaking ball in the dirt, or “get big,” as scouts call it when a hitter looks for the long ball.
Of course, all the times he was pitched around in high school and college - at Manhattan, where he was called the “Barry Bonds of the MAAC,” he walked 56 times as a senior - has only refined his patience at the plate.
“He’s definitely got a shot to be in the big leagues,” Legg said. “He recognizes pitches sooner than other guys. He is not afraid to be a little late on a fastball and drive it (to left field). This helps you stay on off-speed pitches, and the higher you go, the more off-speed pitches you get.”
To those who have watched Rizzotti through the years, such praise is nothing new. He is arguably the best player to ever come out of Manhattan. He was the MAAC Player of the Year as a freshman, led the Jaspers to the NCAA Tournament and Regional Finals as a sophomore, and was a three-time all-MAAC selection.
Then there is his remarkable career at Archbishop Molloy under legendary coach Jack Curran. As a senior, he was a Louisville Slugger All-American. Rizzotti also won a city championship as a junior and owns the Briarwood school’s home run record.
“Coaching first base you got to be careful,” Curran joked.
But the first person to witness that sweet swing was his father, Pat Rizzotti. A sandlot player in his younger years, he bought wiffle balls and bats for his two sons at a young age. From the moment he picked up the plastic stick, Rizzotti was ripping line drives across the yard and over the house.
“You just saw the swing,” Pat recalled. “It’s hard to teach that swing. He had it.”
Still does. That sweet stroke has made him into a legit prospect in the Phillies organization.
In a way, his journey to professional ball came full circle last week, when he came home, back to New York City and Coney Island to play the Cyclones. Rizzotti found his way to the KeySpan Park diamond several times over the years, but that was for high school and college games.
“I was always thinking about how many people actually come to watch the Cyclones play,” he said.
In the opener of a three-game series against Brooklyn, he found out. As usual, the ballpark on the Atlantic Ocean was filled to capacity for the first-place Cyclones. Yet when Rizzotti strode to the plate in the top of the second, a growing chant of “Let’s go Rizzotti” from the third base line grew louder by the moment.
It was his own personal rooting section, a contingent of family, friends, and the Floral Park Little League. It was not a fairy tale ending. He struck out three times, trying to make too much of an impression perhaps, looking to jack a fastball out onto the Boardwalk.
The next night, though, was more like it - two hits including a ringing double.
“This is like a dream come true,” he said.
Actually, it is his career.

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