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Valencia County man still pitching his dream

 

Hello, Dennis Quaid? We might have a part for you.

If you’re unavailable, do you happen to have Kevin Costner’s number?

Paul Risso’s story contains striking elements of Quaid’s movie, “The Rookie,” and of Costner’s “Field of Dreams.”

Yet, the story is very much Risso’s own.

Risso, a 60-year-old Valencia County resident, is scheduled to be featured this morning on the “Today Show.” Last month, he was the subject of a story in the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press.

It’s Risso’s quest for a spot on a professional baseball roster, as a pitcher, that has people fascinated. Some 40 years after a shoulder injury derailed his career, he’s still seeking to realize a dream.

And that’s not a figure of speech.

Risso’s father, Albert, pitched one year of pro ball in 1949 before an arm injury ended his career.

“He coached me my whole life,” Paul Risso said of his father Monday in a phone interview. “It was a big goal for me and him for me to play pro ball.”

But the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted the younger Risso in January in 1973, opted not to sign him after he suffered a shoulder injury while pitching for the College of San Mateo (Calif.) that spring. His baseball career was over – or so it seemed – and Albert Risso died a decade later.

Then, some 12 years ago, Paul Risso had a dream about his father.

Valencia County resident Paul Risso, 60, is scheduled to be featured this morning on the Today Show after catching the news media's eye with his tryout for a spot on the St. Paul Saints' pitching staff.   COURTESY OF PAUL RISS

Valencia County resident Paul Risso, 60, is scheduled to be featured this morning on the Today Show after catching the news media’s eye with his tryout for a spot on the St. Paul Saints’ pitching staff. COURTESY OF PAUL RISS

“We’re in a bullpen,” he said, “and like he always was he’s standing there with his arms crossed and he’s watching me warm up and throw. … He looks at me and says, ‘Hey, it looks like you’ve got a little left.'”

Risso didn’t think much about it until, some two years later, he had the same dream.

“That’s when I said, ‘You know, I’ve got to do something. I’m gonna try and throw.’ I mean, I had to.”

He began throwing a rubber ball against a wall and discovered, to his pleasant surprise, that he had no residual pain from the shoulder injury.

At age 53, he then showed up at a tryout for the Albuquerque Men’s Senior Baseball League. He’s been playing ever since.

“I owe them a real lot, just having that league available, and great guys to play with,” he said.

As Risso rounded into shape, his and his father’s dream of the pros came back into focus.

“My goal,” he said, “was to kind of close that chapter that was kind of left open.”

He attended several tryout camps for independent-league teams, which, though impressed, did not sign him.

One of those was with the St. Paul Saints, who play in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. After the tryout, Risso was told he had done well, but that his 84-mph fastball – while remarkable for a 60-year-old – was “just not where it needs to be.”

Risso’s story, however, came to the attention of the Pioneer Press and then to the “Today Show.”

At the “Today Show’s” request, he said, the Saints took another look at him. He threw about 60 pitches in the bullpen, then faced two of the team’s hitters five or six times apiece.

He gave up only two hits, he said, struck out one and walked none – though he did hit a batter.

Risso is a better pitcher today, he said, than he was as a 20-year old. Totally dependent on his fastball back then, he now has mastered a breaking ball and has learned to change speeds.

The second time around, he thought he detected a glimmer of interest from the Saints’ manager and pitching coach.

“I’m thinking. ‘Hey, if you get in a jam, you need somebody for a weekend, a game, whatever.’ That’s what I want to do, any shot I get to, like I say, close this chapter.

“I’ll just keep at it, and as long as I think I can compete, I’m gonna do it.”

If realized, Risso’s dream just might be a screenwriter’s dream as well.

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