Vito Friscia of Italy rounds the bases during the European Baseball Championship quarterfinal game between Croatia and Italy on September 16, 2021 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – It’s not a long trip from Valley Stream on Long Island to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, only about 115 miles.
Vito Friscia, a rising prospect in the Phillies organization, has gotten progressively closer to the City of Brotherly Love, though baseball has brought the rangy catcher along the scenic route. He played for Team Italy in the 2021 European Championship and the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Friscia was taken 17 picks from the end of the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft, a 40th round pick of the Phillies and the 1,200th player selected overall.
He played college baseball at Hofstra University on Long Island and a summer season with Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League before signing with the Phils, and since, has made minor league stops with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, Jersey Shore BlueClaws, Reading Fightin’ Phils, and Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound catcher ranked fourth in Hofstra history games played (195), ninth in hits (206), fifth in home runs (25), 10th in RBI (109), and 11th in runs scored (121) when he graduated, and has since put up solid numbers at each of his minor league stops. In 83 games last year at Double-A Reading, he slashed .245/.374/.415 with 10 homers and 39 RBI.
It’s been a meteoric four-year rise for a guy selected so near the bottom of the draft.
“I was a late rounder,” Friscia said on a chilly Friday night at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania., the home of the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. “But that didn’t really matter. I just really wanted the opportunity. And every day I show up at the field, I just try to give everything I’ve got and play the best I can. I don’t really try to worry about where I’m going or where I’m gonna start out. I just kind of try to win every day as best I can.”
Win every day – not a bad thought to have when trying to climb the minor league ladder. Of course, Friscia couldn’t do much of anything in 2020, when minor league baseball was shut down due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Friscia’s World Baseball Classic teammate Vinnie Pasquantino, who made his own meteoric rise from obscurity to the Kansas City Royals, worked as a cook at a burger joint during 2020. For Friscia, 2020 was more of a throwback to his childhood.
“I bought a tee and a Hit-Away, and I just kind of went in my backyard, and I would just swing off the tee,” Friscia said. “I know it was cold at times, but I put on a sweatshirt and just tried to stay ready, because we didn’t know if we were going to come back or whatever.”
They didn’t that season. But when he needed someone to throw with in that backyard in Valley Stream, he had a familiar partner.
“I got my dad out of the house and just played catch with him like we were 8 years old again,” Friscia said. Asked if his father, Vito Friscia Sr., a retired New York Police Department homicide detective, loved the opportunity to throw with his son again, the younger Friscia smiled and said, “He did, but I don’t think his shoulder did!”
The next year, Friscia spent most of the season at Jersey Shore before heading to Turin, Italy for the European Championship, where Mike Piazza was his manager.
He’d see Piazza again at this year’s World Baseball Classic. Friscia joined the team for pool play in Taichung City, Taiwan, which saw the Azzurri win a five-way tiebreaker to advance to a quarterfinal against Japan at the Tokyo Dome.
Being around Piazza, a Hall of Famer and one of the best catchers in history, gave Friscia a chance to look at how Italy’s manager approached the everyday grind that is baseball.
“The way he views the game is really cool, just simplifying it, picking up on little things that are gonna help us be the separators in the game, trying to play the game within the game, and just seeing how calm he is during while the game’s going on,” Friscia said were among the things he took away from his time with Piazza. “When he talks about certain things and he picks up on things, I was able to pick his brain so I can look for things over here when I’m playing, things that he would look for when he played, I want to use over here for myself and my own game.”
He may soon have the opportunity to test the game at the highest level. Over the offseason, the Italian-American Baseball Foundation honored Friscia as the second recipient of the IABF’s Future Star Award at the foundation’s annual gala.
“It’s a cool award to get, especially since the only other person to get it was Anthony Volpe, who’s in the big leagues now,” Friscia said.
As a non-roster invitee to the Phillies major league camp, Friscia got into five spring training games with the big club and got a look at what it takes to be a major leaguer on a daily basis.
“I got to work next to J.T. Realmuto a lot, and just seeing the way he goes about his work and how he prepares,” Friscia said of his time in Phillies camp. “And I think that was my biggest takeaway, just understanding how these big leaguers prepare themselves and get themselves ready for the season.”
Piazza has liked what he’s seen from Friscia, even though he didn’t see any action during the World Baseball Classic.
“He’s got big-time power, he’s got a really nice swing, he’s got a good eye at the plate. He can get behind the plate, he’s not the most you know the quickest guy in the outfield, but he’s flexible,” Piazza told World Baseball Network. “If you need to put him in a place, he’s not going to kill you. He’s not going to be the most fleet of foot guy, but he works hard. But his biggest asset is hitting. I think ultimately, he’s going to do a lot.”
Regardless of where Friscia goes from Lehigh Valley, he’ll approach the game and the process with aplomb.
“If they send me to Reading or if I go to the big leagues, you know, the process is the same – just try to get better every single day and progress as a player,” Friscia said. He’s currently with the Iron Pigs on the development list, which makes him ineligible to play in games but allows him to remain with the team and keep working out, practicing and working on his game.
“The organization, they kind of said the same sorts of things – just keep progressing, just keep doing your thing. They said they like me a lot and, you know, don’t really change a lot, just keep working every day and keep that same mentality.”
It’s only a short 70 mile trip from Coca-Cola Park in Allentown to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, a little more than half the distance from Friscia’s childhood home in Valley Stream. After thousands of miles, he’s almost there.