Staten Island, New York- LJ Mazzilli had been there before.
But this time, he was aware something more was brewing. The Mets were closing in, and the history was rich. But he still didn't know for sure. All he knew, was this was it. Where would his professional baseball career begin?
The Mets made their selection, taking Mazzilli as the 116th pick overall, in the 4th round of the June Major League Baseball Draft.
The experience of the MLB Draft has gotten much bigger, with more attention paid due to social media and the MLB Network. But it is still a private, singular experience for any player. And it is nerve-racking.
"It was more anxiety, than excitement," said Mazzilli, before taking the field for the first time Monday with the Brooklyn Cyclones, in Staten Island Yankees home opener. "Last year, I went through it all. I knew what to expect. I just wanted it to be over this year and get it going."
Mazzilli joins the short-season New York Penn League, where many just-drafted college players go to begin their pro-careers. It gives them a chance to experience a larger amount of work, in a small amount of time, to test the waters, and get acclimated to the temperature.
In his debut, the second baseman went 2-4, displaying some of the skills that he'd become known for at the University of Connecticut with the Huskies, and in the Cape Cod Baseball League, with the Bourne Braves. Originally drafted by the Twins in 2012, he oppted not to sign, returning for his senior year at UConn. He helped guide the team to the NCAA Regionals, hitting a team best .354 with sixteen doubles, 51 RBI, scored 50 runs and stole 29 bases in 33 attempts.
"It was an unbelievable way to end a four-year career at my school. Going out on top with the Big East title as a senior, then going to the regionals, we made a run at the end. Our season wasn't what we wanted it to be in the middle of it. We were trying to figure out who we were. And at the end we started coming together and clicked. We found out we could be a good team, if we stuck together."
There was a sense that things were possible, but that there had to be more accountability, more belief in their ability to succeed. Mazzilli didn't mind stepping up, both verbally and on the field. Belief wasn't enough to get them somewhere, but it helped.
"I tried to take that leadership role in getting everyone to be kind of unselfish. Doing things for us, rather than me. And towards the end, actions spoke louder than words. I was trying to back up what I preached. I think at the end what clicked, was playing one through nine, and trusting the guy behind you or in front of you. Trying to pass it on that whether it be in the lineup, or on the field, you make a good play, it's contagious. And confidence is contagious. And then you keep everybody up. That's the most dangerous team."
Despite losing 3-1 to Virginia Tech in an elimination game, that belief and drive took over, and the overall experience was meaningful.
"[Coach Jim Penders] was awesome to play for. And there was a point at the end, players, coaches, all of us were thinking the same thing, 'Why not us?' I'm never going to forget that Huskies team and what we accomplished."
Mazzilli went straight from that into the frenzy of the draft, but the frenzy got bigger when the Mets were the taker. His father, Lee Mazzilli, had played for the Mets. No, that's not enough of an explanation. His father Lee Mazzilli was part of the 1986 World Series winning Mes team, a team that went down in history as much for their personalities and controversies, as for being the guys that beat the Red Sox in mythical proportions.
The younger Mazzilli understood the magnitude of the Mets drafting him, but there was more to it than that.
"I'm so happy the Mets picked me. I just feel so grateful and...what's the word? Appreciative. Because they wanted to make sure I could handle playing for them, after my dad played for them in the past. They looked into that more, and that made me feel they cared about me as a person and they want me to be successful."
Perhaps being the son of a former major leaguer, he had no illusions about the reality of baseball. Teams can pick you, and you can get lost over time. He was aware of how important the team's level of commitment was.
"The biggest thing was wanting to go to a team that wanted me, and was trying to push for me. Teams will pick any guy and pay him, you know? That's how it works, it's a business. I was just hoping for something different. I wanted a team that was excited to have me, and would give me opportunities to fail, and go somewhere where a team wants to work with me, work on my defense, let me get better, and help me get better."
Switching gears from college ball to the pros is taking a minute. He's already getting a lesson in how to utilize his energy properly.
"I'm go, go, go right now," he said, then laughed. "So I have to ease into it professionally. I'm so used to college. You can pitch and choose your reps. So I'm getting used to toning it down a little bit," he said.
Rich Donnelly returned for 2013 to manage the Cyclones, and has his own history with the senior Mazzilli, having been a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates when he played for them. Donnelly has already given the younger Mazzilli a few lessons, with a touch of humor.
"He's helping me with the signs and basic stuff. As far as preparation, I think that's my job to get adjusted to. Rich coached my dad and I know he's got an eye out for me. He's been helping me out at second base. He's slowing me down. The other day, at the end of practice, I'm still standing there waiting for him to say something. And he said, 'What do you want? And he said, 'This ain't high school, get outta here.' And, he patted me on the back and laughed. I liked that."
His father's shadow is not a burden for his son. He embraces the history, and hasn't seemed to burn out on the extra attention paid to him. Even if you don't ask him about his dad, what he learned from him is very present. Case in point, when asked about debuting in the lineup in the two-hole, and if where he hits matters, he answered quickly.
"My dad always told me, if you're in the lineup it's better than being on the bench. If you're in there, you have a chance to do something whether you're batting first or ninth."
The confidence and humility that Mazzilli displays translates as a perfect mix in an athlete. It's that balance some struggle to find. Not for him. When asked what he wants to improve, he didn't hesitate.
"My all-around game. No one's perfect. I think I want to focus a little more than most things on my double-play footwork at second base. And then, everything else. It's different in pro-ball. You gotta get outta there quickly. In college, they can't slide into you. Now, it's a whole different ballgame."
As for the leadership role that he grew to be comfortable with in those last weeks playing with the Huskies, led by team Captain Billy Ferriter, it's his humility that leads him.
"I think that'll come in time. I'm just going to be myself and work hard and be positive, and if that leadership comes by my actions, great. But I'm not going to try to be that. I'll go about my business and be a good teammate."
The Cyclones open their season at home Tuesday night, at 7 PM, against the Staten Island Yankees.