The Undersized Shortstop
Lou Picconi took the field at shortstop for Chaminade High School in 2002 equipped with his new nickname, “L-Pic.” Inspired by the construction of Alex Rodriguez’s nickname (A-Rod), Picconi tried to emulate the Texas Rangers slugger. Both played shortstop and possessed the rare combination of speed and power.
From a young age, the College Point, Queens, native wanted nothing more than to play wiffle ball in the driveway or field a golf ball off a brick wall to improve his hand-eye coordination.
Upon moving to Merrick at age eight, Picconi, now 23, played for local travel teams. Though this seems routine for a player of his caliber, there’s a major difference: He was two years younger than the kids he played against.
Despite not being the biggest, strongest or fastest player, Picconi quickly established a reputation through his leadership qualities. As a shortstop, he was the captain on the field.
“I wasn’t the prototypical body at shortstop, but I made all the plays,” says Picconi. Coming in at five-feet eight-inches, 140-pounds, Picconi fell way short of the typical shortstop’s physique—roughly six-feet, 180-pounds—but that hardly mattered. “I started realizing that it’s my field. If the ball’s hit my way, I’m taking it.”
Picconi’s confidence brought him to Chaminade. Head coach Mike Pienkos said that Lou had the best hands of any shortstop he’d coached in his 33-year career.
“We’ve had some great shortstops, but Louie can play with any one of them,” says Pienkos. “He had that understanding of the game that you don’t teach people.”
While Picconi was blessed with talent, it was his work ethic coupled with his tools that made him a better player. After the final out of each game, Picconi would remain at the field until dark, working on his defense.
“My dad would hit me four or five buckets of ground balls after every single baseball game I played,” says Picconi.
In high school, he was recruited to play for the Long Island Titans, a high-profile summer team that produces some of the Island’s most talented players. With one of his best friends—Prokopowicz—playing third base, Picconi was part of arguably the best left side of an infield ever assembled on Long Island.
Wherever he played, Picconi emerged as a leader, not only on the field but in the dugout or the gym as well. As a result, professional scouts and college coaches noticed his talent, despite his small frame.
Penn State Head Coach Robbie Wine saw Picconi play in a tournament at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank in the summer of 2005. Wine, who had just taken over the Division I program, was looking for scrappy players who weren’t afraid to get dirty.
“He [Picconi] was just a quarterback on the field,” says Wine. “He had some of the baseball instinct we were looking for.”
Picconi signed with Penn State, but he received a reality check when he arrived at a campus with 40,000 students. While he was revered throughout high school as a great ballplayer, this title disappeared in college.
“Every single player was the best player on their high school team,” says Picconi. “The best thing that I could have done was keep my mouth shut and work, and that’s what I did.”
Though still not the biggest, strongest or fastest player, Picconi earned the respect of his teammates with his all-out hustle. He was the only freshman to see significant playing time and eventually became a team captain his senior year.
But upon graduation, Picconi was not selected in the MLB Draft. Less than seven percent of all Major League ballplayers since the league’s inception were five-feet, eight-inches tall or under. Sadly, Picconi just didn’t fit the mold.
Despite not being selected in the draft, Picconi still wanted to pursue a career in baseball. After graduation, he gave lessons six nights a week at Performance Factory in Farmingdale, while keeping himself in playing shape, just in case he received any calls. Sure enough, Picconi did.
The Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies all expressed minor interest in him during the free-agent signing period, but several independent league teams had Picconi heavily on their radar. He kept in contact with their scouts throughout the rest of 2010 and was on the verge of signing a contract earlier this summer. But he also received a job offer as a sales manager for Scotts Miracle Grow—coincidentally the grass provider of Major League Baseball. Picconi struggled with the decision whether to continue his baseball career or start his life as a working professional.
“I was so on the fence,” says Picconi. “I needed something from up above to tell me what to do.”
The baseball gods must have heard his pleas, however perversely. Picconi was giving a lesson to a young slugger when tragedy struck. He was standing behind a screen, but the kid hit the ball back at him so hard that he couldn’t react in time. The ball shattered his thumb, and thus went his dreams of playing professional baseball.
Ironically, the day before the accident, Picconi’s parents spoke about how he’d never broken a bone in his body and never missed one game in his career due to injury.
“The game can turn its back on you at any point,” says Picconi. “The backup plan is key to anything in life, not just baseball.”
He took the sales job with Scotts, implementing the lessons he learned in baseball. The will to win was drilled into him on the diamond and is also applicable in his work.
“Not many people know the feeling of working with a team for one common goal,” says Picconi. “Working together and having another person’s back is the same thing as being on a baseball team.”
Despite the injury, not fitting the mold was what ultimately cost Picconi a shot at playing at a higher level.
“God made you what you are, you can’t change that,” said Shortt. “The little guy has to prove he can, and the big guy has to prove he can’t. It’s just what we see.”