It used to be that the United States was home to dozens of professional baseball leagues. As Major League Baseball grew and honed its empire, that number reduced dramatically. Proving how much Americans love the national pastime there are still some independent professional leagues that have persisted and continue to pump out a competitive and exciting brand of baseball. They are full of players with years of experience in the major and minor leagues who are able to keep doing what they love for a living. One of these players is Richard Giannotti, an outfielder now playing in his eighth professional season.
The switch-hitting Giannotti was a star for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Plantation, Florida. He was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 20th round of the 2001 MLB draft, but decided to play collegiately at the University of Miami instead, where he continued his stellar play. He remained on the draft boards of teams and ended up being taken by the Anaheim Angels in the 38th round of the 2004 draft, where he signed and began his professional career.
Giannotti played in the minors for the Angels and the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons, reaching as high as A-ball in 2005 and 2006. During the 2006 season he decided that more opportunity existed for him in the independent leagues and he signed with the Reno Silver Sox. He also played for the Nashua Pride in 2007, but his career turned a corner when he joined the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League in 2009. He became a fixture in the Southern Maryland outfield and finally found his niche in professional ball.
Giannotti is now in his fourth season with Southern Maryland. He is a stronger fielder with a productive bat. While he doesn’t hit a ton of home runs, he does a little bit of everything. Entering 2012 he has appeared in 496 games, producing a .243 batting average with 21 home runs and 176 RBI. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=gianno001ric.
This past off-season Giannotti answered my questions about his time in baseball. He is an interesting follow on Twitter and not just because of his baseball pedigree. He is also part owner of an up and coming clothing line called Bubucheek, and likes to write, making him one of the more well-rounded players in professional baseball.
Richard Giannotti Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: The New York Yankees and Don Mattingly. My family is all from the New York and Connecticut area, and are all Yankee fans. Also, I was born and raised in South Florida, and at the time when I was younger, the Florida (Now Miami) Marlins were not in existence and the Yankees had spring training in Ft. Lauderdale, so we used to go watch them play all spring.
What was the process like getting drafted by the Giants in 2001 and the Angels in 2004?: In 2001, it was an exciting time as I was fortunate enough to sign with the University of Miami to play college ball; a huge dream of mine since I was a little kid. But that also made the decision to not play pro ball that much harder. Being drafted by the San Francisco Giants was a huge honor because they are a first class organization and I was really impressed with how up front and honest they were with me.
I spoke numerous times with Brian Sabean (GM) and he gave me the pros/cons of both starting my professional career at the age of 17, and that of attending a great baseball program like the University of Miami. I vividly remember the morning of the draft in 2001. I went to go eat breakfast with my parents and sisters at a local diner. I had so many butterflies in my stomach I couldn't eat anything. Ultimately, my love for the University of Miami and the opportunity that route presented to me seemed like the best fit for me.
Fast forward three years and the draft process presented itself again for me as a twenty year old. I was fortunate enough to play in two College World Series and become a more polished player spending three great years with incredible coaches that pushed us to the limit as well, as meeting people I can call "friends" for the rest of my life. The 2004 draft didn't go quite how I imagined it, but that's how the draft is - it's unpredictable, and that's important for every young man to understand going into it. Regardless, I was given a great opportunity by the Los Angeles Angels and will be forever thankful.
If you could do anything differently about your career in the minor leagues, what would it be?: I would have tried to take better care of my body during the season and throughout the off season. That's not to say that I didn't train hard in off season, but through experience I've learned how to correctly train my body for a 140 game season. I believe if I could have stayed healthy I would have had a good shot at getting to the big leagues.
What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Playing in two College World Series is definitely one that sticks out first and foremost. But we fell a little short both years, and winning is the ultimate memory, so I would have to say the three Championships I've been a part of the last eight years.
Who has been your favorite coach or manager?: Butch Hobson (hands down). Not only does Butch bring experience (playing and managing in the MLB), he also brings a relentless energy and work ethic that rubs off on his players. He would stay at the field all day if it meant that one of his players would benefit from it. He also works hard to get his players back into affiliated ball.
How cutthroat is competition amongst baseball players in the minor leagues?: Extremely, but maybe not how most people imagine it. If you play long enough, you realize how many different personality types there are, and how differently people motivate themselves. Some do it through not wanting others to outwork them. Others do it by keeping things to themselves so they keep a leg up on another guy.
I've seen players completely change their demeanor with a friend once they've become in direct competition for the same job. Early on in my career I was oblivious to all this because I came from a close but extremely competitive family at the University of Miami. As I continued my career, I began to see players become bitter. Whether it was from them not getting their opportunity, being passed over, released, poor play; I realized I never wanted to be any of those things and made a promise to myself to continue working hard and stay the same guy I've always been, and if I were to ever change, it would be time to move on from baseball.
How much of a goal is making it back to the minors or to the major leagues to you?: It's a big one, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I continue to play for the love of the game. Each year you get older, the opportunity of signing back with an affiliated team becomes that much harder.
What are your baseball plans for 2012?: I love the people of Southern Maryland, enjoy the competition of the Atlantic League, as well as playing for manager Patrick Osborn (This guy will be a big league manager one day, he's only 30 years old).
What is the strangest thing you have ever seen as a baseball player?: First thing that comes to mind is from 2005, playing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Iowa is notorious for tornados, and we were playing a day game, and I remember the tornado sirens going nuts and all the players and fans had to evacuate the stadium. I don't think I’ve ever run as fast as I did back to the dugout to get underneath the stadium.
What do you think you will do once you decide to stop playing?: I've always been interested in becoming a businessman. I got my degree in finance from Miami, but I've also known for a few years now that I want to stay around the game of baseball. So I think my best fit would to try to be involved with baseball operations or possibly becoming an agent. I currently am part owner of a small clothing line called Bubucheek Clothing that I started with two friends a few years ago and it's a lot of fun. I also enjoy writing and have dabbled in writing screenplays, as I've completed three.
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