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Finding a way to stay in the game01/30/2009 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
One of the downsides to being a professional baseball player is that, in the scheme of things, it's a short-lived occupation.
When the time comes to finally hang up the cleats, after two seasons or 20, those who have dedicated their entire lives to the game must come up with a new way to collect a steady paycheck. There's certainly no blueprint for how to carve out one's post-playing career, which makes sense considering the wildly varying personalities that comprise a professional baseball team.
Of course, one of the most popular options is to stay in the game as a coach. But even if one is fortunate enough to snag such a job, it means succumbing again to the homesickness and instability of the professional baseball life.
There is another, far less common way to remain in the world of baseball once one's playing days are done, and that is to transition to a Minor League front office. This is the career path chosen by former pitcher Brady Raggio, a corporate sponsorship account executive with the fledgling Reno Aces.
From Shaking Off Signs to Selling Them
As playing careers go, Raggio enjoyed a very successful one. Characterizing himself as a "sinker-slider pitcher" with good control and an aggressive approach, the right-hander played for five organizations over 13 seasons. All told, he suited up for 16 teams, had a three-year detour in Japan and two stints in independent leagues. The obvious highlight of his baseball odyssey was the time Raggio spent in the Major Leagues, appearing with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1997-98 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003.
"I got to play with guys like Dennis Eckersley and Mark McGwire and faced Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson," he said. "And I'll always remember my first big league start in 1997 when I beat the Marlins. Later that year, I pitched in Wrigley Field on my birthday; Harry Caray was still there, singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'
"And some of the Minor League games I played in were amazing. I remember being in a Double-A All-Star Game with Vlad Guerrero and Todd Helton. I try not to dwell on it too much, but it was an unbelievable ride and I got to be around some unbelievable players."
Raggio's "unbelievable ride" came to an end in 2005.
"I never had gotten hurt and never missed a start, so it wasn't my arm," he said. "I was throwing as hard at the end of my career as I was at the beginning. It was more a matter of my son and daughter getting older. And I had pitched in Double-A that season because the Phillies (organization) didn't have any room in Triple-A, so I was starting to see the writing on the wall."
So Raggio returned to the Reno area, where he and his wife had decided to settle down. He spent some time in the oil business and also worked for his father-in-law, but a more intriguing employment opportunity eventually presented itself in the form of the Aces.
The Triple-A affiliate of the Diamondbacks, the Aces are preparing for their inaugural season. As luck would have it, Raggio had pitched for the franchise in its previous incarnation as the Tucson Sidewinders and was friendly with general manager Rick Parr.
"I gave Rick a call and told him I'm living here now. I just wanted to explore the opportunities that were out there," Raggio said. "I was able to get a job selling corporate sponsorships, so now I'm out there, meeting potential sponsors and selling signage."
This, obviously, is a far cry from making a living on the pitcher's mound. But Raggio has noticed some key similarities.
"When all is said and done, working in the front office still gives me the chance to be part of a team," he said. "Everyone is working toward a common goal and we have that deadline of April 17, when two teams are going to show up to play at our stadium."
And if Raggio's background as a player works in his favor, so be it.
"A lot of the people I meet with are huge sports fans, so first they'll want to talk about that as opposed to signage or promotions. So we'll talk baseball for a little while and then get into the business side of things," he explained. "It's important that people understand what we're doing, that they know that the players coming here will be some of the best in the world. Reno hosted [Class] A ball in the early '80s and also had an independent league team, but what the fans are about to see here on a daily basis is going to surpass all of that."
Finally, while it might not be part of his official job description, Raggio hopes to serve as a buffer between the players and the front office -- two groups that traditionally don't have much in common.
"We have a first-class facility here," he said. "But there are still a lot of small things that we can do for the players, things that often get overlooked, like having a doctor or a dentist ready or if a player has a kid we need to make sure we can recommend a good pediatrician."
All told, Raggio is thrilled to again have the chance to work toward Opening Day, albeit in a different capacity.
"The stadium is going up now and you can really feel the buzz around town," he said. "This is a really exciting time to be here."
Seeing What Sticks
Raggio's career transition is certainly rare, but it's not unheard of. One veteran of both worlds is Joe Ausanio, who is in his 11th season in the Hudson Valley Renegades front office after spending 10 as a player. Like Raggio, Ausanio also made it to the Majors, appearing in 41 games with the Yankees over the 1994 and '95 seasons. His last season was 1997, when he appeared in three games with Triple-A Colorado Springs.
"After I retired, I was contacted by a local TV station to do Renegades games as a color commentator," said Ausanio, a Hudson Valley native. "I did about a dozen games and I really liked the way the team operated. So one day, I gave them a call. ... I was looking to get back into baseball on the front office side. I wanted to learn that aspect because I already knew the playing side. They didn't have anything at the time, but one day they gave me a call and asked if I knew anything about food. I didn't but said I was willing to learn."
The Renegades hired Ausanio in 1999 as director of food services. He also serves as director of sales for the short-season club.
"Having played for the Yankees, that's a nice perk to have," Ausanio said. "Not a day goes by where people don't ask me what it was like to play with guys like Don Mattingly or Derek Jeter. It just goes with the territory. But, really, it was a blur. Sometimes I think to myself, 'Did that really happen?'"
Although the Renegades are located in relatively close proximity to the Bronx Bombers, the front office cultures couldn't be any more different.
"We're all kind of our own bosses here in that we can throw our ideas against the wall and see what sticks," Ausanio said. "It's fun because even if you fail you can still get the team some good publicity."
An example of that "anything goes" philosophy was Ausanio's "Chili Davis Wrap", which was served last season at Hudson Valley's Dutchess Stadium. This culinary concoction is filled with cheese, fries and chili and priced at $6.67 in honor of its namesake's lifetime average against Ausanio.
"I was hoping he'd stop by the ballpark and try one," said Ausanio, who surrendered two mammoth home runs to Davis during his brief Major League career. "He at least owes me that much."
Something Old, Something New ...
As much as Raggio and Ausiano enjoy the front office life, both confessed it's very difficult to leave the playing field behind.
"I think if you talk to any ex-player, he'll still want to be out there playing and he'll still think he can do it," said Raggio. "I'm 36 years old, so there is still a lot of future ahead of me. Maybe something will come down the pike some day, an opportunity to get back into organized ball. You never know what might present itself."
Ausanio, who also coaches softball at Marist College, expressed similar sentiments.
"The older I get, the more I think about getting on the field," he said. "Whether it's coaching or scouting, I think my calling is to rely on my life experience and use it to help kids."
Still, at the end of the day, living a different version of the baseball life is better than leaving it behind entirely.
"Things worked out well. My family and I are part of the community here and we want to stay part of the community," Raggio said. "There's no manual out there that explains what to do when you're done playing. I'm glad that I have something new to sink my teeth into."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.