Angelo Cazzarro and the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket RBI had their backs up against the wall more than once in pool play of the the Junior RBI World Series this week. The club dropped its first two matchups, 10-2 and 10-6, respectively, before entering one of the tensest contests of the tournament at Oak Grove Park in Grapevine, Texas.
Like many of his peers, the 15-year-old Cazzarro is no stranger to adversity. A first-year player for Pawtucket RBI, a league that serves more than 400 kids in a working-class part of a city whose population numbers just over 70,000, he earned a spot as the leadoff hitter and starting second baseman. In his third game of this summer's RBI World Series, the left-handed-hitter for the Rhode Island club drew a two-out walk in the fifth inning and came around to score the go-ahead run against Chicago White Sox RBI. After Chicago rallied back in the top of the seventh, Cazzarro, who represented the tying run, was stranded just 60 feet from home plate.
"That game gave us a lot of confidence," Luke McLaughlin, the director of sports, fitness and recreation at Pautucket RBI, said of the 4-3 finish. "This game showed we can play with anyone."
Despite the drama, no on-field moment compared to the tension the high schooler experienced during this year's opening ceremonies, when Sharon Robinson read his winning entry in the Breaking Barriers Essay Contest to all of the RBI World Series participants.
"It was nerve-wracking," Cazzarro says. "Hearing her read it almost brought me to tears. But it was my life, and I had to deal with it.
"I talked about how I was raised by a single mom. My dad wasn't around. He was doing drugs, stealing and bad things. I talked about how I could capitalize on his bad decisions and turn around and make better decisions than him.
"That was probably the best essay I've ever written. I really put my heart into it."
For his achievement, Cazzarro is the proud owner of a new laptop computer. And since Pawtucket RBI is in the process of expanding their league into the Senior Division, he can continue to channel those efforts into honing his game for at least the next three years.
"Angelo is one of those special kids that doesn't come around too often," said McLaughlin. "For a kid that came from a difficult situation, he makes the best of it every day. He gives his all on the field."
Allison Duffy is associate editor for Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.