© Peter Wallace, Register Citizen Staff, 05/12/2003
"Now pitching…for Little Rock …Sc-o-o-o-o-ott Arigoni!"
When 44-year-old Scott Arigoni, Oliver Wolcott Tech Class of ’77, takes the mound Thursday evening at Fuessenich Park for the start of another Tri-State baseball season (Torrington Rebels vs. Waterbury, 7 p.m.), echoes of long-ago minor league announcers may or may not rattle around in the back of his head. Fuessenich Park may or may not have an announcer on duty Thursday evening.
But college players from school early, or those still to come as the summer wears on, are almost certain to wonder about those days…especially when the 6-foot-6, 245-pound left-hander mows them down again with a fastball that still tops out in the high ’80s, a change-up that gets nastier with the wisdom of 35 years of baseball experience and a slurve ("I never could master a real curve," he grins).
Worse luck for them, Arigoni is playing without pain in his ankle for the first time in 24 years, following re-constructive surgery ( UConn Medical Center ‘s "Doctor Arinow is phenomenal") on an ankle he severely injured in the early part of his second season with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1979. A few of the Tri-State players he now faces, and several more on this summer’s Twisters, might have more than passing interest in Arigoni’s memories of those minor league days when even a broken fibula, dislocated ankle and surgery complete with pins and screws didn’t keep a man whose fastball topped out at 95 mph hour from chasing The Dream…and almost– no, in his version, actually living it out.
At Wolcott Tech, three inches shorter and a thinnish 180 pounds, he was good enough as a sophomore to join the mighty P-38s of 1975, winner of the American Legion State Championship and populated by 12 members of a Torrington High School team (including Don Murelli, who went on to a minor league career, with the Orioles) that also won a high school State Championship that year. By Arigoni’s senior year at Wolcott Tech, scouts from the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals were paying attention. Still, they wanted him to prove himself against tougher competition than Wolcott Tech’s old Northwest Conference, so Arigoni went off to Cape Cod Community College ( West Barnstable, Mass. ) with the intention of playing a summer in the Cape Cod League.
Instead, he went to the then-equivalent Atlantic Coast League. In three starts for the Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) Generals, Arigoni had three wins before the three-day 1978 major league baseball draft in June. "I was certainly pitching well," he recalls, "but, if you’re not a phenom.. didn’t know what was going to happen. You were hoping.. But, sitting at home near the phone, the last day of the draft arrived without a call. "I got to the end of the day, and mild depression set in, so I went out with a couple of friends," he says. "We were driving on Winsted Road, and my father (Frank, a life-long Cardinals fan) went out and found me." Arigoni was selected in the 33rd round — "maybe the Cardinal’s last pick, I don’t know. All I knew was I was putting on a Cardinals uniform." The dream? Every time the Cardinals played at Shea Stadium when Arigoni was a kid, Frank Arigoni got tickets so he and Scott could go see the likes of Joe Torre, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. Now Cardinals scout Roland Johnson was calling back to say he’d be over with a contract.
Within a week, Arigoni took his first plane ride, to Johnston City, Tennessee in the Appalachian Rookie League. "Trying to impress everybody", he overthrew and had a sore elbow two weeks after he got there. It limited him to three or four games in the team’s 70-game schedule. "I thought my career was over," he says of the pressure side of "the most fun five-and-a-half years of my life". It wasn’t, management assured Arigoni. They saw his potential. They’d see him in spring training. Sure enough, Arigoni went to Class A Gastonia, North Carolina (South Atlantic League) the following year, 1979, where, with the rampant exception of his freak ankle accident, he had "a decent year". That ended in July, when his scheduled start was rained out and Arigoni went out to run instead. Stepping off a curb the wrong way, his season ended and he re-habbed all winter. "I probably rushed it; I was worried about not getting the job the next year," he said. "I wanted to get out and run and keep myself in shape." Short-term, it worked. Back in Gastonia, Arigoni made the league All-Star team, along with Ryne Sandberg, Don Mattingly and Brett Butler. He went to the Winter Instructional League, where they wrote him up as "the next Steve Carlton; at this stage, he’s better."
That got him to the high-A Florida State League in 1981 and AA Little Rock (Texas League) in ’82, where just as many people jumped to the majors as they did from AAA. "Everything you hear about the minor leagues is true," Arigoni grins now, recalling 12-hour bus rides ("some were air conditioned; some had windows") to places like El Paso, Tulsa , Shreveport (where half the stadium was condemned). "I made more money in five months in the off season than the seven in baseball." And, though Arigoni was not among them, "if you were a lady’s man, they were there in droves". Also, by then, the ankle was getting progressively worse, deteriorating. Arigoni walked with a noticable limp. After three or four bad starts, he moved from starter to short relief and ended the season in limbo. "I wasn’t thinking about quitting, but I wasn’t where I was." Just before Christmas, his release from the Cardinals came in the mail.
"I’m a baseball person, that’s for sure," Arigoni says now. "I haven’t missed a season in 35 years (including nine innings at the end of last summer, following April’s surgery)." A piece of unwanted Christmas mail from the Cardinals, 21 years ago, wasn’t going to end it either. In the summer of ’82, Arigoni got in his two starts a week with the Hartford Twilight League and Waterbury Twi-Met League. Then Torrington native Dan Lovallo, a baseball enthusiast and radio personality, arranged a try-out with the Braves’ AAA team, the Tidewater Tide, when they were playing in Pawtucket. It poured and thundered all day. They invited him back the next day. "They were impressed, but had no spot on their roster. I was heartbroken. Just give me one start in AAA. If it doesn’t work out, you can tear up my contract," Arigoni flashes back. But, no..I didn’t get my second chance." Doesn’t matter. When you watch Scott Arigoni Thursday night, or any time this summer, with Tri-State or the state-wide Over-40 League, you’ll see a man with nothing whatsoever left to prove — other than the ability to compete with kids half his age, in Tri-State. "To write in your yearbook that you want to play pro ball and actually have it come true — to get to live that out," is just fine with Arigoni. The majors that he seemed headed for? "I gave 110 percent; it just wasn’t meant to be." And why continue to play in pain on an ankle that was slowly crumbling before last year’s surgery left him pain-free? "Because I love to; not being able to play professionally, I played in about every league in the state, getting at least one start a week."
Thursday night at Fuessenich, the love gets turned back into heat. Scott Arigoni is still pitching.