May 7, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
In our latest installment of “Touching Base,” we chat up Xavier’s two-way threat Vinny Nittoli. He tells us the reason for his return to dominance on the mound this season (he goes into this weekend with a 5-2 record and a 1.62 ERA), the reason why the former All-State quarterback and linebacker chose baseball over football, why you may not want to stand too close to him if he is on a hot streak and why May 30 could turn out of be a big day for his baseball dreams.
BIGEAST.com: You’re having a solid season with the bat but an even better season on the mound. Which do you enjoy more, hitting or pitching?
NITTOLI: “To be honest I like them both the same. I just love the game of baseball. Being able to be part of both sides of the game is an awesome thing. I have my day when I pitch and that’s all I focus on and then there’s days I’m hitting and playing the outfield and that’s all I focus on. So I just love them both the exact same, just depends on which day I’m doing which one.”
BIGEAST.com: Last year you struggled on the mound a little and were pulled from the rotation but you had an extraordinary season with the bat when you led the team in doubles, home runs and RBI. Can trying to excel at both hitting and pitching be too much and wear a player down?
NITTOLI: “That’s definitely possible. The difference last year was I was more of a thrower trying to throw as hard as I could instead of being a pitcher and doing both at the same time kind of caught up with me in the beginning. So I had to go back to the fundamentals and really just kind of learn how to pitch again. I talked to (pitching) coach (Nick) Otte. I owe him everything for my success. He really just taught me to go back to the basics and just pitch.”
Is that the reason for your dramatic turnaround this season?
NITTOLI: “I owe a lot to coach Otte and my catcher Dan Rizzie. He’s been calling unbelievable games and my defense behind me, I have no doubt they are going to make the play behind me every time the ball is in play.”
BIGEAST.com: Is there any significance to you wearing the No. 15?
NITTOLI: “My favorite pitcher in Major League Baseball is (San Francisco Giants starter) Tim Hudson and he wears the No. 15. There’s a little correlation there but nothing too special.”
BIGEAST.com: I see during your days at Pine Richland High School back home in Gibsonia, Pa. you were Pitcher of the Year but you also made All-State in football as a quarterback and linebacker. Did you have any offers to play football on the college level and why did you choose baseball?
NITTOLI: “I had a couple of offers from some MAC (Mid-America Conference) schools but in my first game my senior year I ended up breaking my leg and I just basically focused on baseball after that because I didn’t know how I was going to be able to respond coming back from a broken leg. But Xavier ended up giving me a good offer and I took it because of the academics and the coaching staff was just unbelievable supporting me through that injury.”
BIGEAST.com: What if you had not broken your leg? Was baseball still ahead of football in your mind or could it have gone either way?
NITTOLI: “It really could have gone either way. I really do love football as much as I love baseball. In football I was doing both, too. I was playing quarterback and linebacker while in baseball I was playing the outfield and pitching so my love for both games is about equal. So I would have been happy going either way to be honest.”
BIGEAST.com: What were you playing when you broke your leg, quarterback or linebacker?
NITTOLI: “I was playing linebacker and making a tackle but my foot got caught under a pile and it just wasn’t a good situation.”
BIGEAST.com: I see you’re an “entrepreneurial studies” major at Xavier. What exactly does that mean?
NITTOLI: “Yeah, and since I’ve been here for five years I’ve added management to that, too. Entrepreneurial studies is basically starting your own business. So after Xavier I might look to start my own business if I can and if not I’ll look to go into some kind of management role.”
BIGEAST.com: Do you have any ideas of what kind of business you’d like to open? NITTOLI: “I have a lot of different ideas. I haven’t really focused in on one because I’ve been pretty focused on baseball this year. But after this year I’m going to try and start something with one of my roommates, (senior pitcher) Markus Kuykendoll. But we’ll see about that when the time comes.”
BIGEAST.com: So you’re not going to divulge any of your company secrets here now?
NITTOLI: (laughs) “Yeah, not right now.”
BIGEAST.com: Unfortunately last weekend was as tough one for the Musketeers, losing a three-game series to St. John’s, including a pair of one-run losses. Can Xavier pick itself up off the mat and do some damage at Seton Hall this weekend and still make a run at the regular season title?
NITTOLI: “Yeah definitely. I mean the leadership we have on this team is awesome. We came up short last weekend but the leadership we have, I have no doubt that we’re going to come back strong against Seton Hall, which is an unbelievable team. If you look at their stats they’ve been near the top in hitting in the country and their pitching with Josh Prevost has unbelievable stats, too. It’s going to be a battle but I think our leadership is going to be able to carry us through this weekend. I’m looking forward to it. We’ve never played Seton Hall before so it’s going to be a fun series.”
BIGEAST.com: Tell me something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know about Vinny Nittoli.
NITTOLI: “I’m a big-time fisherman. Any chance I get to go out and fish I take it. And baseball-wise, I’m pretty superstitious. If I do something and have a good game, whatever I did that day before the game, I basically repeat it for the next game.”
BIGEAST.com: So you wear the same smelly shirt, things like that?
NITTOLI: “Everything like that, even down to wearing the same pair of socks.”
BIGEAST.com: So where to right-handers with tiny ERAs go fishing in the Greater Cincinnati area?
NITTOLI: “I like to go down to the Ohio River and fish there and one of my teammates, Eric Stiene, has a private pond so I like to get up there as much as I can.”
BIGEAST.com: The draft is just about a month away. What do you hear about yourself through the baseball grapevine?
NITTOLI: “A little bit recently. I got an email from the (Cincinnati) Reds and I’m going to go to their pre-draft workout on May 30 so I’m pretty excited about that.”
BIGEAST.com: Xavier hasn’t locked up one of the four BIG EAST Tournament spots yet, but how much would it mean to come to Brooklyn and play in the tournament in your first and last season in the conference?
NITTOLI: “Yeah that’s our number one goal, to make the BIG EAST Tournament, especially with this being my last year. I really want to win it and it would just be a good thing for Xavier, to be able to compete in the BIG EAST and hopefully locking up that first BIG EAST title would be pretty awesome for us.”