Phil Cuzzi’s hard work and perseverance landed him the ultimate assignment for a Major League Baseball umpire. Cuzzi, a Belleville, NJ native, will be behind home plate for Game #1 of the 2017 World Series, starting on Oct. 24.
Those who know Phil well, will say it’s not a surprise that he’ll be on the big stage, quite possibly at Dodger Stadium, assuming L.A. wins its NLCS series with Chicago, and behind the plate for the start of baseball’s biggest game.
While Cuzzi has attained a level of success in his profession, he’s never left his Essex County roots. He still lives locally, gives back to his community regularly, and has never forgotten his friends.
Phil Cuzzi selected for the 2017 World Series
When Cuzzi got the call from Joe Torre last week that he was chosen to umpire in the World Series, Cuzzi, a man of deep faith, shared the moment with his family, beginning with his wife, Gilda, sister, Patricia, in-laws Domenica, Antoinette and John, along with their spouses.
And then, as Cuzzi said to me when he had a chance to catch his breath, he had to send a group text to ‘The Fightin’ 73’s, consisting of his friends, from Belleville High’s Class of 1973, to let them know of his wonderful accomplishment.
Many of those friends gathered at LaSicilia, a wonderful restaurant in Belleville on Oct. 18, to congratulate their pal. And they did it in the only way they knew. By raising a glass, telling some stories, and wishing a favorite son the best in yet another adventure.
Rich Giordano, a close friend of Phil’s, and a member of the Fightin’ 73’s, commented on Cuzzi’s World Series assignment last weekend.
“The true meaning of the ‘Fightin’ 73’s is that a guy named Phil Cuzzi never gave up, and always fought his way back, and up,” said Giordano. “Great things happen to good people.”
Cuzzi earns 10th post-season assignment
When Cuzzi read those words, his emotions rose.
“That jerk,” said Cuzzi, jokingly of Giordano. “He made me cry with that one.”
The reaction from friends on social media was overwhelming for Cuzzi’s success. Everything from ‘Phil’s a great guy’, to the usual congratulations and memories of growing up with a man who has really never changed, were the common theme.
Phil Cuzzi is a man of his word. He’s done so much for ALS research, in a very personal, yet, well-documented way. His love for dear friend, Robert Luongo, one of the Fightin’ 73’s, who died in 2004 from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, led to the formation of a fundraising dinner in 2005, which will celebrate its 14th renewal this coming winter.
Read more about Phil’s commitment to his friend, Robert, by clicking on this link.
While the Robert Luongo Fund Dinner is spectacular, Cuzzi also speaks to local groups about baseball and life, and tries to make himself available for his community, as much as possible.
Cuzzi’s determination to succeed in an occupation which doesn’t allow for a lot of success, speaks of his fortitude, as well as his family’s support and encouragement.
I’ve had the chance to travel with Phil to 17 cities since 2000 to watch him umpire. There’s been some great times in places like Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Houston, Chicago and Kansas City. I’ve met some really good guys who Phil has worked with, including the great Tim McClelland (“That’s enough, Ralph”), Jerry Crawford, Bruce Froemming, Ed Rapuano, Jerry Meals, Greg Bonin, Terry Craft, Brian O’Nora and Joe Brinkman.
Here’s an article I wrote on McClelland, on the 30th anniversary of the epic ‘Pine Tar Game. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/30-years-later-tim-mcclelland-recalls-vividly-the-legend-of-the-pine-tar-game/
And now, Phil will be saying ‘Play Ball’, for Game #1 of the 2017 World Series.
All the best, Phil.