Headed to spring training

Shepard alum gets second chance in pro ball

By Jeff Vorva

When Mike Recchia was given the bad news that he was no longer a member of the New York Yankees on Dec. 12, 2011 he was devastated.

The former Shepard High School star who lives in Worth was feeling pretty worthless.

But that didn't last long.

The right-handed pitcher had a brief pity party and then went back to work trying to get back into a major league organization. After a stellar season of playing independent ball with the Crestwood-based Windy City Thunderbolts in 2012 he got his wish. One year and six days after the Yankee call, he was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles organization.

The 23-year-old will report to minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla., on March 2. He is hoping to pitch well enough to make the Double-A squad but is bracing for a likely spot on one of the Class A squads.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound hurler is heading to Florida full of optimism and enthusiasm for his second chance.

But a couple of Decembers ago, he had just gotten off the phone with a Yankees executive who whacked him after Recchia spent two years in their organization and came off a campaign for two Class A teams in which he was 6-3 with a sparkling 2.49 ERA in 32 relief appearances.

"I'm not going to lie, it was one of the most difficult moments of my career," he said. "I'm a man but I'm not ashamed to admit that after that call, I broke down. I mean, here it was around Christmas and I was getting ready to get married on New Year's Eve. All my friends are telling me that I'm with the Yankees and getting married and that I had the good life.

"Toward the end of the season by numbers were great and everything was clicking. My last five innings, I gave up just one hit. I couldn't ask for a better ending. And then I got the call on Dec. 12."

His sadness after the call didn't last long, though.

Later that afternoon, he headed to Shepard for a workout with a new attitude.

"It made me look at life differently," Recchia said. "I had always lived on success and worked hard. I always worked hard. But then I knew I had to work even harder. I knew I was still young and could still play the game. I focused on having fun. There are people across the world fighting in the war and I'm playing baseball."

With Windy City he was mainly a starter and was 11-3 with a 2.51 ERA with 177 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings. He was the first player in team history to win the Brian Tollberg Award for being the best pitcher in the Frontier League.

Recchia credits several people for getting this opportunity.

He said his wife, Ashley, had been supportive when he was cut by the Yankees. Ashley, whose maiden name is Davis, is a Palos Heights native. The two knew each other since high school.

"She gave me the biggest hug and told me that things happen for a reason and that my career is not over yet," he said. "She wasn't mad. She knew that this is what I do."

The couple is expecting twins in May.

Another person who helped get him through the bad times is Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio. Recchia has an open invitation to work out at the Palos Heights school and the two huddle up frequently to talk about baseball and life.

"When he played for me, I saw incredible potential," DiFoggio said. "I never anticipated that I would coach someone who would make it to the professional level but in terms in being successful in whatever he was going to do, I definitely thought he would do well because he has a lot of drive and ambition."

The coach wasn't totally surprised Recchia was let go by the Yankees.

"If you look at the Yankees, they usually don't hold onto their prospects," he said. "Look at their roster. There aren't many guys that came up through the ranks. There aren't many Derek Jeters that are drafted by them and still play with them. I think Mike's going to be fine. He's got good stuff and he has a good work ethic. You could be talented but if you don't have the work ethic and the drive, you're not going to go far. He's got both."

Recchia also credits the coaching staff of the Thunderbolts and some of the coaches of other Frontier League teams for putting the word out to major league scouts about him.

When Recchia played in the Yankees farm system he got to be friends with prospects including Mason Williams, who is ranked at the team's No. 1 prospect by Baseball American. He is also friends with Gary Sanchez (No. 3 prospect), Tyler Austin (No. 4) and Mark Montgomery (No. 11).

While Recchia is on the lower end of the food chain in minor league baseball, all he wants is another shot in pro ball and he's getting it in March.

"With my intensity and the way I work, I have something to show them this spring," he said. "I'm going to go out and have fun and pitch."