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Paul Risso finally got his shot

Paul Risso finally got his shot

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Paul Risso, a right-handed pitcher out of the College of San Mateo, with the 113th overall pick in the sixth round of the 1973 Major League Baseball Draft.

Unfortunately, a career-ending shoulder injury in Risso’s final college game ended his big league dreams. Or so he thought.

Now 60, Risso is trying to make a comeback, and in May, the civil engineer and father of five took his low-80s fastball and tried out for the St. Paul Saints, an independent league team in Minnesota.

Risso didn’t make the team, but he did make an impression on Saints pitching coach Kerry Ligtenberg, a former Major League reliever who appeared in 386 games over eight seasons with the Braves, Orioles, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks.

“I think he could get hitters out in this league,” Ligtenberg told the Today Show. “I don’t know if he could do it consistently, but it’s impressive. You know, I’m only 42, and I don’t think I could do what he’s doing.”

Risso’s pursuit of a comeback began when he turned 50. After discovering that his lingering shoulder pain had subsided, Risso, the son of a former minor league pitcher, began throwing again.

He played for seven years in a men’s league near his New Mexico home, and has now tried out for three independent league teams, including two others in Texas. It was a dream, Risso says, that encouraged him to make another attempt at a comeback.

“I had this dream that I was throwing in a bullpen,” Risso told the Today Show. “My dad’s always there with his arms crossed, and he looks at me and says, ‘Wow, it looks like you got something left.’”

It’s not the first time the Saints have given a chance to a player past his prime. In 2008, the Saints used 53-year-old knuckleballer Jon Secrist in a game. It also signed Minnie Minoso in 1993 and again in 2003 and gave him at-bats as a DH to record him playing professionally in seven different decades. Earlier this season, the Saints played an exhibition game with no umpires.

The team is partly owned by Mike Veeck, the son of Bill Veeck, the innovative former owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. It was the elder Veeck who originally brought Minoso back for eight at-bats — and one hit! — as a 50-year-old in 1976, and two at-bats in 1980, to extend Minoso’s streak to four and five decades, respectively.

Bill Veeck was also the mastermind behind 3-foot, 7-inch Eddie Gaedel’s pinch-hit at-bat in 1951, as well as the poorly-conceived Disco Demolition Night in 1979.

Risso, however, doesn’t look at his pursuit of a comeback as another Veeck gimmick.

“I really wanted to go pro … for me and for my dad,” Risso told the Today Show. “I’ll play until they gotta take me out of there completely. You know, as long as I can, I’ll be playing baseball.”