Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Mel Zitter is already thinking about summer nights at Yankee Stadium, watching two of his former pupils working in the bullpen, wearing pinstripes.
"That's going to be a trip," Zitter says, chuckling.
It should be a point of pride for Zitter, since he runs Youth Service, the Brooklyn sandlot club that new Yankee teammates Dellin Betances and Adam Ottavino both pitched for in the mid-2000s.
But the more dominant feeling for the old coach might be admiration for both relievers.
"It's not all that often that people get their just rewards, but they have," says Zitter, who has been involved with the program for 60 years and coached New York kids who turned into big leaguers such as Manny Ramirez, Nelson Figueroa, Shawon Dunston and Julio Lugo.
"Adam and Dellin, they took their God-given ability and worked themselves to where they are today. It's never easy. More than anything else, it was a work ethic. They wouldn't quit. That's my best memory of both of them."
Ottavino, 33, agreed to a deal with the Yankees earlier this week, bolstering what could be a super-bullpen in the Bronx along with Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Chad Green.
It's a long way from the summers when Youth Service played at the American Legion Fields in Canarsie, and the two were starting pitchers and young pro hopefuls. Betances, who will be 31 in March, attended Grand Street Campus High in Brooklyn and was "a tadpole, very skinny," as Zitter puts it. The tadpole had a live arm, but had trouble throwing strikes.
Ottavino was a "nice, normal Park Slope, Brooklyn kid," Zitter says, who had more control and was a star at a private school, Berkeley Carroll. Yes, Ottavino wore jersey No. 0 back then, too.
"Adam always threw more strikes," says Zitter. "Dellin, because he was so big, he had some problems repeating his mechanics. But both were blessed with great arms, great baseball bodies. But I've seen so many kids with that who haven't made it. They had the intelligence to keep working."
That never stopped, as Zitter points out. Ottavino famously spent last winter training in a vacant Harlem storefront tracking his delivery and pitches with cameras, the better to further analyze his arsenal. Then, he had the best year of his career with Colorado, one that led to his three-year, $27-million contract with the Yanks.
Billy Blitzer, a scout for the Cubs who lives in Brooklyn, saw plenty of both pitchers as they grew up. To Blitzer, though, a third Youth Service hurler looked even better - Pedro Beato.
"Beato was the best one - he had velocity and more control," Blitzer recalls. "Dellin hadn't grown into his body. Adam blossomed when he went off to college (at Northeastern), and he made himself a first-round pick (30th overall by the Cardinals in 2006). His velocity increased and he had a better breaking pitch. His delivery had some deception to get swings and misses."
Beato, who went to Brooklyn's Xaverian High, was the 32nd overall pick by the Orioles in 2006 and plucked by the Mets in the 2010 Rule 5 draft. He reached the majors with the Mets in 2011 and has a 4.31 ERA in 85 career games, (67 with the Mets). He last pitched in the Majors in 2017 with Philadelphia, but had 35 saves and a 3.04 ERA for the Phillies in Triple-A last season.
The Yankees drafted Betances in the eighth round in 2006 and gave him $1 million to sign, rather than take a potential baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt.
With all that pitching talent, Youth Service must have done some damage, Zitter was asked. In reply, he offers a self-deprecating quip: "The coach must've been horrible. We didn't make a World Series."
Still, that team has quite a legacy now, only in a different borough, with Betances and Ottavino as members of the same relief corps in the same city in which they grew up.
"Same summer program in the same city? It's got to be close to a first," Zitter says. "To see them in New York with the Yankees now, there's something special."