PHILADELPHIA — Chris Mazza was sitting in his upstate New York apartment Tuesday night, watching on TV as the Mets lost to the Phllies, when his phone lit up with the call of a lifetime.
It was Tony DeFrancesco, manager for Triple-A Syracuse, with instructions for Mazza. He was to call another team staffer, who was going to arrange for a morning plane ticket to Philly, and head back to the ballpark to grab his gear, then get ready for his flight Wednesday morning.
Mazza, 29 and eight years into his professional baseball career, was headed to the major leagues for the first time.
“I was trying to hold back tears as I tried to listen to instructions about what I got to do,” said Mazza, a righthanded pitcher who joined the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. “Then after that, just called my dad and let it out a little bit. A lot of emotion.
“Something you dream of as a little kid. To finally get here, it’s an overwhelming excitement. I’m trying to take it one minute at a time.”
Mazza had been a starter in the upper minors, posting a 3.59 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 12 starts with Syracuse and Double-A Binghamton, so he’ll be able to go several innings out of the Mets' bullpen if needed. The Mets picked him to replace Walker Lockett, optioned back to Syracuse, as they carry an extra reliever for at least a couple of days until Noah Syndergaard’s expected return Sunday. Ryan O’Rourke was designated for assignment to make room for Mazza on the 40-man roster.
However long Mazza stays, his presence in The Show is a testament to his perseverance.
Mazza was a 27th-round pick by the Twins in 2011. He stuck with them through 2015, then joined the Marlins, who released him in May 2018. Then came stints in a couple of independent leagues, then a contract with the Mariners, who lost him to the Mets in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft.
“You have to love the game to do that until you're 29 to eventually realize your dream,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “So he's going to be a guy that's going to bring some want to this role.
“The reports have been outstanding. Throwing the ball over the plate with really good stuff. Fastball 95-96 [mph]. Some plus off-speed pitches. It might be a case where a guy finally found himself. … We're hoping to find lightning in a bottle.”
Mazza made some changes at the behest of Mets coaches during spring training. His slider, they told him, was his best swing-and-miss pitch, so he should throw it more. That struck him, because he never regained a good feel for it since 2014 wrist surgery, but sure, he could do that. He estimated he has thrown it about once every four pitches in the minors this season.
He also changes place on the rubber batter by batter, on the third-base side against righthanded hitters and first-base side against lefthanded hitters. That helps him take better advantage of his pitches’ movement, he said.
Whatever works, right? For Mazza, a minor-league odyssey that lasted the better part of a decade taught him to be open to these sorts of changes.
Mazza admits to wondering if a call like the one he got Tuesday from DeFrancesco would ever come. But not once, he said, did he want to quit.
“I got the whole rest of my life to get a real job,” Mazza said. “Play a game as long as you can.”
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