Valentino Pascucci Down But Not Out

It was hot and about to get hotter in Glendale, Ariz., on March 19. Valentino Pascucci had just finished taking a few rounds of batting practice before the Los Angeles Dodgers' game with the visiting Colorado Rockies that day at Camelback Ranch.

Pascucci was feeling pretty good about his chances of making the Dodgers' roster for the 2009 season -- after all, he'd swatted three homers already and gone 9-for-21 in a dozen games -- and could be seen standing on the top step of the team's dugout, capless, during its loss to the Rockies.

"I've been doing real well. When I get my chances to go in and pinch-hit, I've been hitting the ball good and they like that," he said after BP. "I'm still going."

Three days later, Pascucci was demoted to the minor leagues. Again. So he's back in Albuquerque. Again.

Pascucci, 30, didn't need a map to find Isotopes Park. He played for the team in 2007, after being cut late in the spring by the Cubs. He signed a deal with the Florida Marlins on April 6, too late to be included in the Marlins' AAA affiliate's media guide.

Dubbed the "Italian Bazooka" by a local writer, Pascucci went on to have a great season, leading the Pacific Coast League in homers with what was an Isotopes' franchise record 34 (eclipsed last season by Dallas McPherson's 42), not only being named to the PCL all-star game but earning MVP honors along the way.

It didn't earn him any time with the Marlins, though, and he inked another free-agent deal before the 2008 season.

Pascucci hit .232 with one homer in 25 games at the Phillies' AAA club at Lehigh Valley. With New Orleans, he batted .290 in 114 games and swatted 27 homers and drove in 81 runs.

"It really went well. I started with the Phillies to start the year and ended up going over to the Mets after the first month of the season," he recalled. "I went down to (AAA) New Orleans there, had a great year. It was a fun place to play. I can't say anything else about it – I had a good year and was hoping for a call-up at the end and it didn't work out with the Mets. "They needed some pitching help, so I'm back here with another team."

The Dodgers invited the former Oklahoma University ballplayer to camp as a non-roster invitee and gave him number 71. "I'm not really worried about a number. As long as you've got a jersey, you can play," he said. "I'll let my bat do the speaking.

"Before I signed here, they basically said they wanted me to come in, be a back-up between first base and outfield – behind (James) Loney. They didn't have anybody else to play first besides Loney," Pascucci said. "They signed (big-league veteran) Doug Mientkiewicz the day that I left to go play with the WBC team."

Mientkiewicz, five years older than Pascucci, is on the 25-man roster that broke camp.

Although Pascucci, played for Italy (go figure) in the World Baseball Classic; he also played for Italy in the 2006 WBC. "Guys went out there and battled," he said. "It showed in the actual tournament games.

"We lost to Venezuela (7-0) and bounced back and played Canada in a game that nobody expected us to do anything in, and we ended up beating the Canadians (6-2) and eliminating them from the tournament.

"Then we had to face Venezuela again and their offense got to us in about the fifth inning – I think they hit four home runs in one inning or something – and we didn't bounce back from that (Venezuela beat Italy 10-1)."

"My dad was born there," Pascucci said. "He was proud I was going out and playing for Italy. I've been back there three or four different times, not like some guys who've never been there. ... I took pride in going out and playing. Even between the '06 team I played on to the '09, you could just tell those Italian players have gotten so much better."

The dream of getting "so much better" that he can get to the big leagues to stay is important for Pascucci who, like so many minor-league players, just can't get over that hump.

"I'm going to play until they kick me out of the game, really," he said. "As long as I can still get out there and run and throw and hit and do other stuff, be competitive and contribute to a team, I'm going to keep playing until somebody kicks me out, throws me out of the clubhouse, something like that.

"I can play all the corner positions. ... I'm versatile," he said. "For (the Dodgers), I can be the right-hand bat off the bench, a threat coming in late innings and having a power threat right there, off the bench."

?This will be his 11th professional season.

He was originally drafted in the 10th round by Milwaukee in 1996 but opted not to sign and went to Norman, Oklahoma, to play for the Sooners. He was drafted by the Expos in 1999 and signed, working his way through the Expos' farm system, hitting 21 and then 27 homers for Class AA Harrisburg in 2001-02. He was promoted to triple-A Edmonton in 2003, when he swatted 15 homers and drove in 85 runs for the Trappers.

Back at Edmonton in 2004, he hit 25 homers and earned a call to Montreal, for whom he appeared in 32 games, managing two homers in 62 at-bats. That's the extent of his big-league time. Pascucci headed to Japan and played for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2005 and ‘06, returning to the states and trying to make the Cubs in 2007.

Cut late that March, he signed with the Marlins and wound up in the Duke City for the first time, playing first base, right field and inserted in the designated hitter slot when the ‘Topes played American league affiliates.

He liked playing in Albuquerque and, all things considered, he'll enjoy being here again. It's not the big leagues, where all the Isotopes yearn to play, though.

Pascucci was asked to list his top three pro highlights. "I got to win a World Series championship when I played in Japan in 2005; those fans are great," he said. "That was a blast.

"Obviously, the first day you get called up in the big leagues. ... My first Major League at-bat, I faced Jake Peavy and he walked me on four pitches. ... My next at-bat, he struck me out.

"That (2007 All-Star Fiesta in Albuquerque) was a great event they put on. Hitting a home run and being able to get MVP of the all-star game was fun," he said. "It was a great place to play," he said. "If I have to go back, I look forward to it."

So he's down – in triple-A – but not out.

Isotopes fans can expect another great effort, a good attitude and a lot of home runs from the big (he's 6-6) Italian Bazooka in 2009.

And maybe he can expect a promotion to L.A.

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