Baseball: Former Wauconda stars Mascheri and Malisheski reach lofty goals by helping each other
Even at age 30 and no longer an MLB prospect, Rich Mascheri knows he has ample velocity on his fastball and energy to leave a lasting mark as a professional baseball player.
It could happen for the crafty lefty as a member of Team Italy in the 2021 World Baseball Classic.
"That would be a dream come true for me," said Mascheri, a 2007 graduate of Wauconda and former New York Yankees minor leaguer. "That would be like making the big leagues for me."
At 22, nearly four years after being selected in the 38th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kevin Malisheski, another Wauconda graduate (Class of 2016), is confident his best days as a pitcher are still ahead. Mascheri is confident of that, too.
"He worked his butt off this year, and it's finally showing," Mascheri said. "He texted me a few weeks ago that he was up to 97 (mph). Which is, by far, the hardest that's he's thrown. The kid's a monster. He's on his way up. He's just learning and coming into his own. The sky's the limit for him. I think he's going to do big things. I think he's got a real shot, and he's just a great person off the field too."
Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down baseball, former WHS Bulldogs Mascheri and Malisheski were helping each other reach their baseball goals. Now, they're back home in Wauconda and picking up where they left off.
"Kevin asked me (last fall), 'What are you doing this off-season?' Let's get together,' " Mascheri said. "We worked really hard all off-season, doing velocity stuff. He helped me with some of the velocity camps I had, and I helped him with some workouts. It's been awesome. It's nice to have a throwing partner again and (laughing) someone who can catch our fastballs."
Malisheski was at the Dodgers' Spring Training complex in Glendale, Ariz. this month when the major league team told its player to go home, after MLB announced it was suspending the start of the season.
"There were a couple (of players) that wanted to stay. I wanted to stay," said Malisheski, a 6-foot-3 right-hander. "But they told us. 'Look, unless you're in a really bad area -- we got a couple of people from New York and the New Jersey area -- [go home]."
When news broke this week that this summer's Olympics were being postponed, the news was especially tough for Mascheri, who had been contacted by Team Italy three years ago, when the last World Baseball Classic took place. Mascheri had been working since that time on getting his dual citizenship. Last month, he got approved, making him eligible to play in the Olympics and WBC.
Because Mascheri's great grandfather was born in Italy and was not naturalized as a U.S. citizen, Mascheri is eligible to represent Team Italy.
Mascheri has meet Team Italy manger Mike Piazza and assumes, if Italy qualified for Tokyo, he would have been on the Olympic team.
Mascheri has pitched the last two summers for the independent Chicago Dogs.
"That's been an absolute blessing too, just to be able to play so close to home, and it's such a good organization," Mascheri said. "Shawn (Hunter), the owner, every time the season comes around he treats me like family, makes sure my family's taken care of at the ballpark. And Butch (Hobson, former major leaguer) is the best manager I've had."
Mascheri can't think of a better way to finish up his baseball career than by pitching for Team Italy.
"I never thought I'd play this long," Mascheri said. "It's been a blessing. I've always said I'm going to play as long as there's something worth playing for. Obviously I'm probably too old to live out the big-league dream, but I'm definitely not too old to do this thing for Team Italy."
Pitching in the big leagues is still a realistic goal for Malisheski, who is ready to take the next step in his development. He made it to High-A last summer but finished back in Low-A in Midland, Mich.
"In all honesty, it was, by far, my best off-season," Malisheski said. "It was my first time really working with Richie and playing catch with him, and we just got after it starting in October. Coming into camp, I felt really strong and things were going really well, so [the shutdown] was an unfortunate thing to happen."
No longer a teenager, Malisheski weighs nearly 225 pounds, a far cry from the 185 when he graduated high school. He's throwing every day and even played catch with his girlfriend's dad this week.
"It's different, for sure, like an anxious feeling," Malisheski said of the downtime. "A lot of my college buddies are home too, but the smart thing to do is stay home."
And wait to get clearance to play ball again.