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Pettenuzzo, Lobo athlete and prep coach, dies at age 65

Mike Pettenuzzo, a former Lobo football and baseball player, in addition to being coach of the Albuquerque Academy softball team, died at age 65. JOURNAL FILE

He was as charismatic as he was athletic, as fun-loving as he was competitive.

Mike Pettenuzzo, said his longtime friend Marty Watts, was “what you’d call a guy’s guy. … He was just a guy you wanted to hang out with.

“He was like the Joe Namath of UNM. He was a good-looking guy, and all the girls loved him. And all the guys liked him.”

Pettenuzzo, who played baseball and football with distinction at UNM, went on to an outstanding slow-pitch softball career and coached the Albuquerque Academy girls’ softball team for 13 years, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 65.

Adam Kedge, who coached with Pettenuzzo, described his former colleague as dedicated and enthusiastic.

“We never had high turnouts for softball at Albuquerque Academy,” said Kedge, the Chargers’ highly successful track and cross-country coach. “But he loved those girls and loved working with them, and had some success despite having really small squads.

“I respected the fact that he enjoyed playing every last one of them and didn’t worry about just playing the superstar. That, to me, was one of the telling characteristics of what kind of a man he was.”

Pettenuzzo came to UNM in 1971 after a spectacular athletic career at St. Viator Catholic High School in Arlington Heights, Ill., a Chicago suburb. That spring, he had been named area Athlete of the Year by the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights.

At St. Viator, Pettenuzzo earned seven letters in three sports and was named all-conference five times. He pitched a no-hitter in baseball, scored 42 points in a basketball game (and 41 in another), and uncorked a punt of 66 yards – when he wasn’t catching passes as a receiver or making tackles as a defensive back – in football.

He chose to attend New Mexico, he told his hometown newspaper, because UNM had agreed to have him play both football and baseball.

But that wasn’t the only reason.

“When I left Chicago, there were 19 inches of snow on the ground,” he told the Journal in 1983. “When I came out here, in February, I saw people wearing shorts.”

At 6-foot-3 and some 205 pounds, Pettenuzzo played strong safety at UNM for coaches Rudy Feldman and Bill Mondt. But he was more successful as an outfielder on the diamond for coach Bob Leigh. As a junior in 1974 and as a senior the following spring, he led the team in hitting (.363 and .367), RBIs (46 and 50), triples (eight and seven), home runs (seven and three) and total bases (119 and 101).

“He was an amazing athlete,” Watts said. “I was always amazed at how fast he was for his size.”

His post-college slow-pitch softball career for the Albuquerque Diablos was equally impressive if not more so.

In 1977, the Journal reported, Pettenuzzo went 27-for-28 at the plate during a single tournament while hitting 16 home runs.

In 1983, he hit more than 80 home runs in a season.

Bill Piskorski, Pettenuzzo’s former UNM baseball teammate, was another Diablos mainstay. Former Lobo basketball players Bob Toppert and Mark Saiers were team members as well.

“It was a group of guys that had known each other from a lot of different places. … We became very competitive and traveled all over the country,” said Gary Allen, Pettenuzzo’s longtime friend and Diablos teammate. “We became one of the top softball teams in the Southwest.

“We actually know each other right out of college,” Allen said. ” (Pettenuzzo) was a great guy, as good an athlete as he was a person. … We did just about everything friends do together.”

It was just four or five weeks ago, Allen said, that Pettenuzzo was diagnosed as having cancer.

Pettenuzzo, who had coached at Sandia Prep before coming to the Academy – he took the Sundevils to the state playoffs in 2005 – also worked for BSM, an athletic apparel and equipment company. Kedge said he actually had dealt with Pettenuzzo more in that relationship than in coaching.

“Last Friday I’d gotten a text from him that he wasn’t doing that well and he was going to turn my account over to someone else,” Kedge said. “At that time, I knew without poking around that his health was a concern.

“My last text to him was, ‘Mike, I’m sorry you’re not doing well, and I promise to pray for you.'”

Pettenuzzo is survived by his wife, Lisa, and daughters Nicole and Carleigh.