It was 12 years ago this month when a pair of Manhattan College baseball players etched their names in Jaspers’ lore for all time.
It was during an NCAA Regional in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the Jaspers — as heavy underdogs — were taking on the hometown favorites, the No. 9-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers and ace pitcher Joba Chamberlain.
Not much was expected for Manhattan that day. But in the second inning, Jaspers’ first baseman Matt Rizzotti greeted a Chamberlain fastball and parked it deep over the fence in right field for a home run. One pitch later, designated hitter John Fitzpatrick clubbed one over the left field fence, and Manhattan went on to post a shocking 4-1 victory.
Manhattan went on to knock off another nationally ranked team in the University of San Francisco in the tournament before being eliminated by Florida’s University of Miami a few days later.
But those two home runs? They are still remembered to this day.
Come this November, there are bound to be endless stories about that day when Rizzotti and Fitzpatrick join five other former Manhattan athletes as the school inducts its latest class into its Athletic Hall of Fame.
While it’s obviously an honor to be inducted, Rizzotti said it means even more to be going in with his former teammate.
“That’s absolutely great,” said Rizzotti, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Manhattan and reached Triple-A with both the Phillies and Twins before calling it a career in 2012. “Fitzie was a great teammate. The whole team, we were just very close, and I think that’s why we were so successful. We were talented, but we also had great chemistry on that team. I think that’s why we did so well and went as far as we did.”
Fitzpatrick, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and played two seasons in their organization, had similar feelings about induction night.
“Matt and I always had a friendly competition when we were” at Manhattan, said Fitzpatrick, now an electrician. “I hit behind him for the majority of our time together. We were pretty good friends, so it’s nice to share the honor with him.”
But the honor of being Hall-bound together didn’t preclude the former teammates from engaging in a little trash talking. When asked if he still talks about his homer off Chamberlain, Rizzotti said not all that often. Unlike his former teammate.
“Let me put it this way, Fitz will never let that one die down,” Rizzotti said, laughing. “I did the same thing, but you’ll never hear me talk about it. That’s Fitz though. That’s just his personality, and I mean that in a great way.
“But just remember who did it first. And mine wasn’t wind-blown over the fence.”
Fitzpatrick promptly returned fire.
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Fitzpatrick laughed. “ That’s Matt for you. We always had a real good friendly competition between the two of us. He was so talented and did so much.”
When people talk about Fitzpatrick’s baseball career, the conversation inevitably turns to “The Homer.”
“That’s the one thing they bring up all the time, the home run off of Joba,” Fitzpatrick said. “That was pretty much the defining moment of my Manhattan career.”
Rizzotti and Fitzpatrick are joined in the hall of fame class by track and field standouts Stefani Allen and Conroy Daley, football’s Robert Annunziata, Justin Otto of men’s lacrosse, and basketball star Chris Williams.
Rizzotti — who now works at his former high school, Archbishop Molloy in Queens, in alumni development — said he walked away from baseball the way he hoped he would: On his terms.
“It was my decision,” Rizzotti said. “I always told myself I wasn’t going to make baseball a lifetime career if I wasn’t going to make it (to the Major Leagues). As it was, life at home and life outside of baseball was great. I had a serious girlfriend at the time who I ended up marrying, and we just had our first son, Ryan, six weeks ago. So that’s why I made that decision.”
Both Rizzotti and Fitzpatrick said they are eager for their Nov. 10 gala, and for the chance to see many of their old teammates.
“I am really looking forward to it,” Rizzotti said. “It should be a great night.”
Rizzotti said he’ll try to arrive early, before Fitzpatrick, so he can talk about his home run off Chamberlain before Fitzpatrick gets that chance.
“That’s probably going to happen,” Fitzpatrick said with a laugh. “But I guess he’s earned that.”