Tom Pagnozzi is having a blast these days. He loves every second of his time with the Arkansas baseball team. The former big league star doesn't know of anything else but having fun, unless it's instructing Brady Toops or the Razorbacks' young catchers on the finer points off of catching.
A lot has been made of Pagnozzi's work with Toops, the athletic Arkansas catcher living a dream world as a recent 10th-round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals, Pagnozzi's old team. Surely, Pagnozzi played a role in the Cards' decision to draft Toops.
Pagnozzi is in his second year as a volunteer coach for the Hogs after moving his family to Fayetteville following retirement with the Cardinals. Pagnozzi and wife Colleen quartered briefly in their native Phoenix before moving to the Northwest Arkansas area.
This could be Pagnozzi's last year with the Hogs. He's part of a group of businessmen in the running to buy the Montreal Expos baseball franchise destined to relocate either in Las Vegas or Washington, D.C. Pagnozzi revealed that tidbit during an interview Thursday, but declined comment on what his role with that group might be other than as an investor. However, don't be surprised if he ends up in a front-office role, possibly as general manager. It would be an ideal spot for Pagnozzi.
Either way, Pagnozzi isn't moving his family again. He's moving into a new home in the near future, something a little bigger. It's being built by Pagnozzi Properties, the new company he founded with brother-in-law Norman Wilcoxson.
"Norman left a good business in Phoenix to move here to build homes with me," Pagnozzi said. "We just sold our first finished home, a 4,250-square foot home in the Summersby sub division. We've recently broken ground on the second one and we have four lots there. We also will be breaking ground soon on some lots in the Bridgewater sub division.
"Norman wanted to move here and I said, ‘Come on.' He's the brain of our company and I'm the bank. The good thing is that now he has a stake in this company and he didn't in Phoenix. He was building the homes, but didn't have the primary interest. He does, with me, now. I wanted to build a bigger home here and he was the person I wanted to do it. That's what he came here for and we are going to keep building some nice homes."
These won't be your normal homes. They are big homes, with all the finer touches.
"Norman just finished a $30 million home in Phoenix before he came here," Pagnozzi said. "What I like about what he does is in the area of quality control. When you are building homes in the $10 million to $30 million range, things have to be perfect. That's what he's bringing to these homes. They aren't in that price range, but they are still nice. You'll see a lot of curved walls and arch work, things you don't see in a lot of homes around here. I love them and so do the people who have seen what we are doing. It's fun to build a home like that."
That is typical Pagnozzi. He's the fun guy on this Razorback staff. I can recall Chuck Barrett, our SportsRap radio lead man, telling me before this season that the Hogs might have the best coaching staff in college baseball. Joining Dave Van Horn's staff along with Pagnozzi, the former Gold Glove catcher for many years with the Cards, is pitching coach Dave Jorn and hitting coach Matt Deggs.
"There's an extensive playing experience on this staff," Pagnozzi said. "Van Horn played at the Double-A level with the Braves, and Jorn was both a minor league manager at the Double-A level with the Yankees and a pitching coach in the minor leagues. He has experience as a college pitching coach. Deggs has managed at the junior college level and is a very good recruiter.
"It's a nice mix of experience as both players and coaches. And, of course, with Van Horn, you've got a head coach who has been highly successful at different levels in college. But the key to all of that is that we all compliment each other."
In summation, Pagnozzi said he would agree with Barrett's assessment of the staff.
"I think Chuck's probably right about that," Pagnozzi said. "The key is that we have a good mix of a lot of things and we work well with each other."
Pagnozzi does a little bit of everything for the Hogs, but his biggest contribution might be as the fun guy in the clubhouse.
"We can get pretty serious as a staff," Pagnozzi said. "Our staff will chew you out if you don't do things right, or make a mistake. You can see some of those meetings in the outfield right after the game are very intense.
"But what I like to do on our staff is make sure to keep it a game. That was what I always tried to do in the big leagues. Yes, it was a business and it's serious. But if you stop making it a game, it's time to get out. I always wanted to make it fun.
"For our players, it should always be a game. And when they come back to the locker room or the bus or the hotel after a game, I want them to move on from that game and start thinking about the next game. Don't be down. Don't be mad or upset. Just realize that it's a game."
That may mean playing a few pranks to relax a guy that has had a bad night. A shaving cream pie can wind up in someone's face during an interview. Some other pranks will have to be left out of this space.
Pagnozzi might also be the guy who loosens up everyone on the road when opposing fans get a little too personal.
"There was a guy at Alabama who was getting a little crude and rude," Pagnozzi said. "I had a talk to him and asked him to keep it clean. He was talking about wives and girl friends in a low class way. I got that fixed, and told him that everyone appreciated a good rip, but there was a stopping point. I got his respect and we had fun after that."
Pagnozzi had enough of one lady – and that may be using that word loosely - who crossed the line at LSU earlier this year.
"I couldn't believe the things that were coming out of her mouth," Pagnozzi said. "We were about to sweep them at their place and she was talking about how much we must have paid the umpires. I finally turned to her and said, ‘Hey, why don't you give our guys credit for doing a good job and quit being so rude.' She was stunned and came back with some more stuff that was low class, and the LSU fans around her finally told her to sit down and shut up. They set her straight.
"I don't want to be combative. I will talk with them and try to have fun, especially on the road. I can remember when I was coaching first base last year and some of the stuff was so funny that I had to look down at the ground because it was really funny and I didn't want them to see me laughing.
"I do try to have fun with even the most combative fans. I learned that in the big leagues. If you have fun with them and talk to them, they'll eventually change their tone and it becomes a lot of fun for everyone. I always did that on the road in the big leagues. Just remember, it's a game and have good, clean fun. I can appreciate a good line with the best of them."
Certainly, Pagnozzi appreciates the ride he's had with Razorback baseball.
"Oh, Lord, yes," he said. "I love it here. I grew up in Phoenix, came here after two years of junior college, and then played one year here before I was drafted," he said. "I loved it here. It's so beautiful, the people are so much fun and so good and I just loved it. I told my wife that this is where we are going to always keep our home. She loves it, and our kids love it.
"Phoenix is getting too big. The census that just came out said it will be as big as Los Angeles by 2020. This is great because it's away from the crowd and the crime. My kids (Tiffany 13, Brittany 12 and Andy 7) wouldn't want to ever leave and Colleen and I feel the same way. With Norman here now, it's going to be fun.
"No matter what happens with the deal with the Expos and no matter what my role is with that club, I am not leaving here as far as our home base."
Sounds like his time as volunteer coach with the Hogs is about over.
"I don't know about that," he said. "I'll have to evaluate that after this season. But, it's been great. I will have to see how much time I have available. But I've loved it. Working with college kids is awesome. You put kids and baseball together and it's neat."
That's right down Tom Pagnozzi's alley, and it's a fun alley to be around.