Arizona native Pagnozzi eyes roster spot with D-backs

Arizona native Pagnozzi eyes roster spot with D-backs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As a freshman at Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., in 1998, Matt Pagnozzi watched his uncle, Tom, play for the Cardinals against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. He stretched with the Cardinals and shagged fly balls before the game, which came in the heat of the home run race between the Cards' Mark McGwire and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa.

"I also did the bat boy thing," Pagnozzi said. "With all the attention that was around that, that was pretty awesome."

Now, after 11 years of bouncing between the Minors and Majors with four organizations, the catcher finds himself with a chance to return to Chase Field in a D-backs uniform.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "I've driven by this place so many times and been to Chase Field as a fan, so to be on the other side of it and being a part of it is exciting."

Tom, who was born in Tucson, played his entire 11-year career with the Cardinals in the late 1980s and '90s. He won three Gold Gloves and took Matt along for the ride.

Matt traveled to San Diego to watch Tom play in the 1992 All-Star Game. In 6th grade, he took a trip to St. Louis, where Tom threw him batting practice at the old Busch Stadium.

"As a kid, you see your uncle on TV," Pagnozzi said. "You see him play in Major League stadiums, and that's your goal. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to do that."

Like his uncle, Matt went to Central Arizona College, where one of his fondest memories was watching the D-backs win the 2001 World Series in his dorm room. Not soon after, he was selected in the eighth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals, exactly 20 years after Tom was picked in the same round by the same team.

"It was surreal. It was kind of funny," Matt said. "To do it with the team you grew up watching and that your uncle played for. It's extra special."

He also has a history with D-backs brass. Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Dave McKay were all on the coaching staff in St. Louis when he came up with the Cardinals in 2009.

In spite of a life in baseball, Pagnozzi still has trouble believing he's in the Majors today.

"All the sudden, you're out there catching and you have to pinch yourself," he said. "This is happening, this isn't a dream."

Pagnozzi is hoping his dream continues in 2015 by landing a D-backs roster spot. He's one of three catchers who could see time this season along with Oscar Hernandez and Tuffy Gosewisch. While he hasn't seen playing time this spring because of a strained oblique, he's hoping his veteran presence is irreplaceable.

"Being in my 12th Spring Training and knowing the young guys, I'm just helping bringing them along," Pagnozzi said. "Just helping those guys who have never been to the big leagues to slow it down and just relax."

Nick Krueger is a junior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.