Cooperstown and All-Star Emotions Connect to Childhood Love
It’s not often J.J. Picollo feels like a kid. But it’s happened twice in two weeks: First at the All-Star Game last week in Kansas City and then Tuesday, while visiting the Hall of Fame with his family.
“Being in a place like this brings you back,” said the Royals 41-year-old assistant general manager. “The All-Star Game was unbelievable. I’d never been before and to have my family and go as a fan – to see our stadium, it was tremendous.”
As the man who oversees scouting and player development, Picollo is constantly going to games, watching players and traveling the country, trying to help build the Royals into a contender. During his four years in Kansas City, he’s helped build the team labeled as Baseball America’s No. 1 Farm System – a hefty title bestowed on the organization in 2011.
Prior to Kansas City, Picollo spent time in the Braves organization and coaching in the college ranks.
The All-Star Game may have been a first last week, and the Hall of Fame, while not a first, seemed like it. Picollo played for the 1994 Oneonta Yankees and played amateur ball at Little Falls, N.Y. (just 30 miles up the road from Cooperstown) in 1991. Between those two summers, Picollo had been to the Hall of Fame more than a half dozen times. But with some reverence in his voice, acknowledged “A lot has changed.”
In Cooperstown this week with his father, mother, wife and three children, Picollo is living the whirlwind life of a baseball exec. He arrived in Cooperstown Monday for his son Michael’s baseball tournament, following a trip to Oklahoma over the weekend, where his other son Ryan won a tournament. Meanwhile, his wife Nicole and daughter Lauren bounce from game to game, big league to Little League.
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, Picollo’s love for the game extends back as far as he can remember. His father played as an amateur and with the All-Star Game fresh in his memory, he fondly remembers seeing the different uniforms during pregame introductions and vividly remembers Dave Parker’s legendary laser-like throw in the 1978 game.
“You always dream and want to be one of the guys on out there on the foul line,” he said.
“From the time I was a little boy, (baseball is) the only thing I had a passion to do. For me it was baseball all the time. I went to bed every night listening to Harry Kalas on the radio. Now our kids grow up and it’s so much different with ESPN and the internet.”
He’d only get to see a few Phillies games a week and then maybe a few more after his parents got cable. Now his kids can watch every Royals game this season.
“Seeing them compete and their emotion reminds you of your youth and what got you to love the game,” he said.
Since he began playing college ball, Picollo can only really recount three places he felt not like a player, a coach or an executive, but like a fan.
“Being in a place like this, the All-Star Game and seeing (Cal) Ripken set and break the record as a fan in the stands – we forget that that’s why we got into this, so its good to be reminded,” Picollo said. “I felt like a little kid again.”
Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum