Via Mike Ashmore -
The actual distance from where Yankee Stadium once stood to TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater is a mere 50 miles. But, in baseball terms, the big leagues probably couldn’t feel much further away than they do for Ron Villone.
Home, however? It’s never been closer.
The 41-year-old Englewood-born Major League veteran lefty reliever signed with the Somerset Patriots on July 29, his first foray into independent ball after spending the first 18 years of his career in affiliated ball, including 15 seasons in the big leagues with 12 different teams.
But for someone with the impressive track record Villone has — he’s pitched in 717 big league ballgames — the Patriots provided him with an opportunity that a Major League club never could: To pitch in his home state.
“I’d never played pro ball in New Jersey, which is kind of nice. I’d heard of Somerset before, but I didn’t do any real deep research,” Villone said.
“Something inside of me told me that I wanted to still play, and I know that maybe the time is coming where I won’t play anymore. I really didn’t think I was going to play anymore, but I did keep myself in throwing shape and things just worked out here. I’m really glad they did.”
The closest Villone had come to pitching in New Jersey came in 2006, when he was dealt to the New York Yankees from the Florida Marlins. He grew up a Yankees fan — both of his parents were born in the Bronx — and has fond memories of watching his now-manager, Sparky Lyle, as a kid.
“Every day, I had to pinch myself a little bit when I walked into Yankee Stadium,” Villone recalls.
“But as soon as I got in, it was time to go to work. I didn’t have too much time to really slack off or not prepare. But that was a dream come true and I was very fortunate and very lucky to be able to play there. I cherished every moment of it and gave them all that I had.”
But, in between leaving the Yankees and signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008, Villone was named in the infamous Mitchell Report, which has forever linked him to steroids. Villone was asked if he felt that being named in the report and essentially having his name dragged through the mud ultimately led to his current indy ball fate.
“I don’t think so. Things always are portrayed in the media sometimes differently than really what happens,’ said Villone, who rarely speaks on the record about the situation.
“You put yourself in positions, whether it’s good or bad, and those things are going to happen. I know who I am, what I represent and the kind of person I am. I think that takes me further than any kind of mud that I’ve been dragged through. I think my performance is more important, because that’s what people want to see.
“People have ideas about your age and your ability, and I’m guessing that’s obvious with my case this year. But I don’t doubt myself, and I know what I’m capable of doing and what I’ve done in the past, and I don’t think that’s going to hinder me or has hindered me in getting a job or moving on to find another job in the future.”
Did you know that Villone was a 1st round draft pick, 14th overall, back in 1992? Dude has made about $12 million in his big league career. He’s 41 and has not pitched in the majors since 2009. But, he’s still trying. Talk about “For Love Of The Game,” huh?