With a new perspective about the game, Wichita Wingnuts outfielder Richard Prigatano is enjoying the game of baseball once again, and not just because of the success he is having on the field. It is a return to what started him wanting to play the game in the first place that has clearly helped to make this the most enjoyable season of his professional career.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said that “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” That sounds like great words of wisdom when you are in the middle of an ethical dilemma, but when you are making decisions related to how to improve your game on the baseball diamond, they seem a bit irrelevant.
That may seem to be the case to some, but the truth is that success in the sport is as much about what one does not do as it is about modifications and adjustments that they make along the way. If you consider it, baseball is a sport where you are likely to fail three times out of every four times, making many chase after the elusive formula that will give them an edge over every other and turn them from an average player to an elite one.
To accomplish this, most professional ballplayers will receive a litany of advice, adjustments, and suggestions from coaches, all professing that this one modification will turn them from Mark Gehrig into Lou Gehrig. However, more times than not, this is not the case and the game of failure turns into a game of disaster.
This was once how Wichita Wingnuts outfielder Richard Prigatano viewed the game. His obsession to be a good team player and prospect led him to make a series of changes that altered who he was as a player, eventually reducing his success and diminishing his enthusiasm for the game. However, a new location has also helped him to change his perspective about the game and now the outfielder is having his most enjoyable and successful season of his four-year career.
Looking to Get a Chance
Richard Prigatano always knew he wanted to play baseball. From the time that his father (Wayne), an avid baseball fan himself, introduced his son to the game Richard fell in love with the sport. He had interests in other sports, but baseball was always his first love, and also the track he saw to future success beyond high school.
“Growing up my dad put me in the sport when I was younger and it just kind of happened to be the one that I happened to take a liking to the most. It was my dad’s favorite sport growing up too, and still is, and so a big part came from him. I think I had the best future in it to be perfectly honest.”
During his junior season in high school, Richard made a rather insightful decision that if he was going to pursue his goal of playing baseball beyond secondary school, then he needed to look at becoming a position player. To that point, he had only pitched, but asked his coach about the opportunity to play the field. He was granted just “six unmemorable at-bats,” as Richard puts it.
However, the next season he started out the year as the team’s designated hitter. As the year progressed, his success at the plate coupled with injuries gave him a greater opportunity to get on the field. That year he had a huge season for St. Francis High School (Mountain View, CA), hitting .494 with 6-homers and 28-RBI.
The then senior was named by Baseball America as one the Top 200 draft prospects and he was chosen All-WCAL First-Team and All-California Second-Team. With the success and the accolades, the Toronto Blue Jays selected Prigatano in the 16th round of the MLB draft, however, he was not ready to pursue his professional career at that point.
“Once I started getting some recognition for the draft it became pretty clear that I had better opportunities to go higher if I was an outfielder. So, I went to college. I worked really hard on that and that’s where I developed myself more.”
Success Seems Destined at Baseball U.
Looking to improve his game, Richard Prigatano opted to attend Long Beach State. The school is one of the best in the country at producing exceptional ballplayers, and Richard knew that he would have the opportunity to exponentially improve his game. He knew that it gave him the chance to improve himself as a man as well.
“Every 18-year-old who says that they aren’t immature is pretty much lying. There was no doubt that I was more mature at 21 than I was 18 after going to college, living on my own. I would’ve been living on my own had I signed right away, but it would’ve been a lot different without a college coach. The University really took care of us being an athlete, guiding us in the dorms and all that. So, it probably would’ve been a different kind of experience that I don’t think I was ready for at that age.”
The choice to attend Long Beach State looked like a wise one. He would start 44-games as a freshman, appearing in 28-games in right field, hitting .278. The season was a true testament to his skill level and mental approach to the game. Not only was he playing as a freshman on one of the most successful college baseball programs in the country, but he also overcame a 1-19 start to his college career to hit just 22-points shy of .300. Richard also drove in 14 and scored 11-runs.
With a year under his belt, Richard had a huge sophomore season. He hit .302 with 22-runs scored and 23-RBI. He appeared in 44-games, but saw his season come to an end due to a wrist injury. Despite missing the games, he was chosen to the All-Big West Conference Second-Team.
His junior campaign was another solid one, hitting. 300 in 56-games with a career high 47-RBI, which led the team. He also stole 21-bases, which also led the team, and scored .34-runs. He led Long Beach State all the way to the regional championship game, and was an all-conference First-Team selection.
Off to a Rockie Start
After three-years at Long Beach, Richard Prigatano opted to enter the MLB draft, and was selected in the 11th round by the Colorado Rockies. While thrilled by the opportunity to play professional baseball, he was sure that he would be selected much earlier in the draft and this had a psychological effect on him that he did not anticipate.
“I made the mistake of being pretty bitter about it. They always do the pre-draft projections and they had me according to the projections going a lot earlier. They made it seem like me going to college would really pan out in terms of where I would be drafted; that it was a really good idea.
“Where I wound up getting picked I lost a significant amount of money after turning down the draft coming out of high school. “It was a mistake to be bitter about it because somebody is writing a report that is saying this is where you should be picked, but nothing is ever guaranteed. I think that is kind of the trap that people fall into. Whatever that report says they just expect to be drafted there. Even this year I looked at where guys were projected and I don’t think any of those guys got drafted before or right on to where they were predicted at.
“It was pretty tough to take at first, but you just take the attitude of you have the opportunity to keep playing and your grateful for it.”
Following the draft, Richard was assigned to Low-A Tri-City, where he did struggle. In 47-games, the rookie hit .172 with 11-runs scored and 9-RBI. He returned the next season to Low-A, but appeared in just 8-games. Shockingly, the Rockies opted to release him at the end of the season, never really giving him much of a chance.
Just Needing a Fresh Start
Released by the Colorado Rockies, Richard Prigatano was looking for a fresh start and it was a fellow Long Beach State alum that opened the door for his next opportunity.
“Once I got released it was kind of surprising. I was kind of upset but I really didn’t want to give up yet. I had just played an alumni game with T.J. (Mittelstaedt) and did really well. As soon as he found out that I was released he called our GM (Josh Robertson) and let him know that I had been released and I got offered a contract and jumped on it. It just seemed like the ideal place to come.”
Ideal may be the understatement of the year. In 2016, Richard hit .256 in 80-games, scoring 42-runs and driving in 38. He was hitting near .300 until a wrist injury limited his ability to drive the ball over the last month of the season, yet he still put up solid numbers.
This season, he has been one of the most consistent hitters for the Wichita Wingnuts, hitting .328, eighth best in the American Association, and has scored 48-runs and driven in 38, all career highs. Richard also has 25 stolen bases in 28 attempts, ranked third in the league.
While the numbers have been impressive, what has made this season special is that the Wingnuts outfielder is simply enjoying playing baseball again. His experiences in affiliated ball were not as he had envisioned, but playing in independent ball is giving him the opportunity to simply play the game for fun.
“A lot of times baseball wasn’t fun. When you’re struggling you hate it, obviously. A lot of times you get away from that it’s a game. It’s meant to have fun. As soon as money becomes involved and it becomes a business then some of the fun disappears because you’re now chasing a paycheck instead of chasing wins or having fun with your teammates. That’s why this is the most fun I’ve had since I have been playing pro ball.
“We know we’re not going to make a ton playing here. Everybody’s goal is to get out of here to go back to affiliated ball, but this has been the most fun because there is less pressure because we’re not getting a big paycheck. Sometime in the future you’re not going to be able to play anymore, whether your body goes down or you just get too old, your skill set kind of disappears. We need to have fun now because that 0 for 4 day is a lot more fun than sitting behind a desk.”
The Style of Play Is Right in the Wheel House of Richard Prigatano
Going out to the diamond every day is a lot of fun again for Richard Prigatano. The Wichita Wingnuts have a huge lead in the South Division and are heading toward their seventh straight division title. It is definitely a fun time for the team.
The atmosphere of the Wingnuts is also another reason to be enjoying playing in Wichita. It isn’t just about winning, but the fact that Manager Pete Rose, Jr. gives his team the leeway to just be themselves. As long as they show up on time and play hard, then he believes that success will soon follow. It is an attitude that Richard fully embraces.
“I think just playing hard is a big part of what I do really well. I get on myself when I don’t really play hard because it’s disrespectful to the game. So, playing really hard at all times, being focused, running everything out, being gritty is kind of the way I was raised to play by my parents and at Long Beach State. You have to play hard no matter what the score is, whether we’re up by 12, down by 12, you don’t play any differently.”
Going Back to Basics
Playing hard each day is not a problem for Richard Prigatano. It’s the work ethic his father and mother (Debbie) taught him early in and which the coaches at Long Beach State reiterated. However, working hard does not always result in success on the diamond. It also takes a tough mental approach of remembering what got you to this level and ensuring that you stay true to yourself. This is a new way of looking at things that Richard is fully embracing.
“Every time you struggle you look for something to get you out of it. In baseball, you have so many coaches who are telling you so many different things and something that I’ve realized in sports is that when you struggle at the plate, if you keep changing your swing, you’re going to keep struggling because you’re so inconsistent. I really battled with trying to make every coach happy, so I changed my swing a lot to suit their needs and then it wouldn’t work, so another coach would call me in and have me do something else.”
This is a game of failure, so it is easy to start making all kinds of adjustments when things are not going your way. Richard acknowledges that he, too, was lured into the idea of making changes to try to get back on track, but is now seeing things an entirely different way thanks to some advice from the Tampa Bay Rays Matt Duffy.
“Making changes develops more problems trying to fix something that really doesn’t have a problem. Matt Duffy told me something that Hunter Pence taught him. That sometimes when you’re in a slump the best thing that you can do is to stay out of the cage, which is something that sounds funny because it goes against everything I was taught. You’re taught if you’re not playing well then you need to fix it, you need to do drills, but Pence told Duffy that often times that when it’s not going well there’s nothing wrong. It’s just not falling or you’re just not hitting it. You shouldn’t change anything. A lot of times you wind up creating problems by changing your swing, so the only reason that your slump continued is because you changed something to try to fix what really didn’t need to be fixed.”
Trusting in What Got You to This Place
All of that sounds like great advice theoretically, but it is hard to stick with that when things are not going your away. In reality, no one gets hits in every game and everyone is going to have a prolonged slump at some point, even the greats of the sport. When those things happen, you have to trust yourself and know that you earned your place in the professional game.
“You have to have confidence in yourself. If you’re walking up to the plate thinking you’re going to fail then you’re going to fail. You have to go up there expecting to get a hit or to drive the ball every single time. It is easy when things are going bad to get down, but something that my manager here says a lot is that you have to trick yourself into feeling good. So that definitely is a huge part of everyone’s slump. You lose confidence and start feeling bad about your own play. You have to believe in yourself.”
In a game driven by numbers it is easy to lose one’s faith, and Richard admits that his confidence has been shaken at times. However, he is now looking at different kinds of results, not necessarily the ones you see in the boxscore.
“Instead of looking at the results I kind of look at how I got there. If I line out to the center fielder, the approach is to drive the ball up the middle and hit it where it’s pitched, so if I line out three or four times then I take it as a success. It’s frustrating at times, you want to get that hit, you want to see that batting average go up, but you have to see how you approached each at-bat and how you accomplished what you were looking to do.”
An Eye on a Higher Calling
With the season that Richard Prigatano is having, it would not be surprising to see an organization reach out to the Wichita Wingnuts to purchase his contract. The skill set has always been there, and now his approach to the game is sure to make him a sought after commodity over the coming months.
Until then, the Wingnuts star is simply enjoying his time in a Wichita uniform. He loves the host family he is with, referring to them as “really awesome,” and is enjoying professional baseball for the first time in his life. Richard Prigatano is having a great deal of success on the field adding to the enjoyment. However, pitchers facing Richard are not having very much fun at all.
Wingnuts Images of Richard Prigatano Courtesy of Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA