Young ‘Maz’ a Natural Fit With Brooklyn Cyclones
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Forty years after selecting a switch-hitting center fielder from Lincoln High School in the first round of the 1973 MLB Draft, the New York Mets went “Back to the Future” last week to pick LJ Mazzilli in the fourth round of the league’s annual talent search.
And wouldn’t you know, the 22-year-old second baseman is more than likely to cut his professional teeth just a few miles down the road from where his famous father, Lee Mazzilli, starred for Coney Island’s Railsplitters.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, LJ Mazzilli will more than likely be assigned to Class A short-season Brooklyn, possibly as early as next week, once he signs his first pro contract with the Mets.
“If L.J. signs, he will probably come here,” the source told the Eagle, though the Mets have not yet released Brooklyn’s official roster for the upcoming 76-game New York-Penn League campaign.
The homecoming of sorts for the younger Mazzilli, who was reared in Connecticut and graduated from Pendleton High School in Bradenton, Fla., before starring at the University of Connecticut, is a perfect fit for the Cyclones.
Brooklyn’s first MLB-affiliated baseball club since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957 has made a habit of setting NY-Penn attendance records on a yearly basis since arriving on Surf Avenue in the summer of 2001.
Former Mets like Wally Backman, Tim Teufel, Frank Viola, Mookie Wilson and Bobby Ojeda have emerged as fan favorites from the Brooklyn dugout, either as the team’s manager or on the coaching staff.
But having a young, talented rising star with the last name Mazzilli on the infield at MCU Park this summer is bound to be a boon for the already ultra-successful franchise.
Especially as the Cyclones try to help the area recover from the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy last October.
The elder Mazzilli, who spent 10 of his 14 big league seasons with the Mets, including part of the 1986 World Series championship campaign, currently works in the crosstown rival Yankees’ front offices. He was also a member of Joe Torre’s coaching staff in 2000 when the Bronx Bombers beat the Mets in five games for the Subway Series crown, and managed the Baltimore Orioles for a stretch briefly thereafter.
But the player known simply as “Maz” during his days in Flushing couldn’t have been more thrilled to have his son grabbed by the Mets on draft day.
"This is a very happy moment for me as a dad, to see my son, 40 years after I was drafted, go to a team that I grew up in," Lee told MLB.com. "I'm a very, very proud dad.
"I work for the New York Yankees. My son now works for the New York Mets," Lee added. "A dad cannot be happier to be part of two great organizations in this city, in New York, and growing up in this city. It's absolutely amazing. It's wonderful, it's a wonderful feeling."
At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, the younger Mazzilli did a lot of “growing up” at UConn.
Last month, he was voted to the Louisville Slugger All-America Second Team after back-to-back All-Big East First Team selections.
The kid from Greenwich, Conn., who bears a haunting resemblance to his dad circa 1976, when Lee first broke into the Majors under then-Mets skipper Torre, finished his collegiate career with some eye-opening numbers.
“He's been on our radar for a long time," Mets Vice President of Player Development Paul DePodesta said. "He continued to improve from last year to this year and he had a terrific year."
Over four NCAA seasons, LJ hit a combined .343 with 21 home runs, 137 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .401. In 2013, he put up career bests in batting average (.364), RBIs (49) on-base percentage (.419) and stolen bases (28).
Now, he’s eager to form his own identity, albeit with his father’s legacy in New York firmly in mind.
"I am so grateful for this opportunity from the New York Mets and from Jeff Wilpon," LJ said. "I am so excited to start whenever I do start, and work hard and try to bring another Mazzilli to the Mets.
"I'm looking forward to making my own name out there and carrying my last name with a lot of pride from what my father was able to accomplish in his career, and then take my own career as it comes in my own hands."
Lee doesn’t think LJ will have a problem dealing with the New York spotlight, or following in his footsteps.
"There's always a lot of pressure in playing in this city and one thing that LJ is very good at is learning how to turn the page on a lot of things," Lee told the Associated Press. "LJ showed a number of times during his college career he could rise to the occasion."
He’ll more than likely get his first taste of playing under the bright lights of NYC at MCU Park.
This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones are likely to release their initial roster for the 2013 season on Friday or Saturday, according to team sources. Brooklyn will open what it hopes will be its Lucky 13th season at Verrazano rival Staten Island on Monday before hosting the Yankees on Tuesday in their home opener. Manager Rich Donnelly, entering his third consecutive season in the Brooklyn dugout and along the third-base line, will have former Cyclone outfielder Bobby Malek back as his hitting instructor while Marc Valdes returns as pitching coach. … Another player you might want to look out for on Coney Island this summer is Louisiana native Ivan Wilson, whom the Mets drafted in the third round, just ahead of Mazzilli, last Friday. The Ruston High School star was the 76th overall pick in the Draft after batting .383 with eight homers and 35 RBIs as a senior.
"Really a unique mix of power and speed," Mets director of amateur scoring Tommy Tanous said of the prospect. "As close to a five-tool athlete as you're going to find."