Living the Dream: Pitcher Paul Risso looks to make minor leagues at age 60
Paul Risso would be a fit guy at any age.
Walking into his office at the New Mexico Water Service Company in Rio Communities, the first things you notice are the barbells on the floor, the unplugged arm wrestling machine at one end of the office and the framed San Francisco Giants poster on the wall behind him.
Other than that, you’d never guess that Paul Risso was once a major league prospect. Or that he is trying to become a minor league prospect at age 60 — 30 years after a shoulder injury first ended his hopes of making a major league roster.
Risso’s quest, which began five years ago, has led him from small towns such as Alpine, Texas, all the way to St. Paul, Minn., where Risso recently went through a pair of tryouts with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association.
It all began with a dream. Literally.
About a decade ago, Risso says he had a dream in which he was pitching with his father watching, as his dad had done when he was younger.
“So I’m throwing in his bullpen again, and he was like this,” Risso says, crossing his arms. “And I’m throwing OK. And he says ‘Looks like you’ve got a little bit left.’”
Risso dismissed it as nothing but reverie.
Then the dream returned a few years later. The second time, he did something. Grabbing a glove and a rubber practice baseball, he went to a nearby park and began throwing on a handball court.
After a few months, he decided to give throwing an actual baseball a try, announcing to his wife and two teenage sons on Father’s Day 2006 that he intended to try out for an Albuquerque-area amateur, 25 years-and-up, baseball league..
“I said ‘I have to try it,’” Risso says, leaning forward in his desk chair. “I told them about the dreams and I said ‘I just have to do it.’”
• • •
The story of Paul Risso starts in 1973. Risso was a sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates — a right-hander finishing up his time at San Mateo (Calif.) College.
Risso, the son of a former New York Giants prospect Albert Risso, had grown up around baseball.
His connection to the pastime came from his father, who continued to coach after his injured his own arm while pitching in Class C ball for the Giants in 1949.
He remembers seeing Giants players playing winter ball around the Bay Area where he and his teammates sometimes wore old Giants uniforms from greats like Juan Marichal and Willie Mays.
But in ’73, as a 20-year-old major league right-handed prospect, Risso injured his shoulder while throwing in a college game. There were no MRI machines at the time. Risso now says he suspected he’d torn his rotator cuff. Lacking in medical science at the time, doctors simply told him his arm was dead and Pittsburgh did not sign him.
For 30 years, Risso simply lived with the pain and did not throw. He became a civil engineer, got married, and he and his wife Aileen raised five sons.
Then his father’s words echoed from the ether of his dreams.
“Looks like you’ve got a little bit left.”
• • •
With his shoulder no longer giving him pain, Paul Risso flourished throwing for teams in the Albuquerque Men’s Senior Baseball League. After some time, he upped the ante.
He tried out for and made the roster for Texarkana of the now-defunct Continental League. But the contract he signed was never activated.
Risso next tried out for the Big Bend Cowboys in Alpine, Texas, of the Continental League. Again he impressed and left with a promise that he could be brought in for a few games Then the league folded.
“I just haven’t timed it right,” he says with a chuckle.
Risso continued to attend tryouts for teams in the American West and Pecos League before checking on tryouts with the Saints scheduled for May of this year.
Calling to check on an age limit for tryouts, he says he surprised the director of media relations there, Sean Aaronson.
‘He asks ‘Well, are you out of high school’ and I kind of laughed,” Risso recalls. “Finally he says ‘So how old are you? And I said ’60.’”
Risso said he then heard something unusual — a media relations man stuttering.
“He says ‘Did you say 6-0?!,’” chuckles Risso. “So then he contacted the newspaper.”
Aaronson called the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which did a story on Risso’s tryout for the Saints. That story prompted NBC’s Today Show to call Risso.
Producers came to his Rio Communities home to interview him and his family before following him back to Minnesota for a second tryout.
Risso still has not heard back from the St. Paul baseball team, but he hoped the segments on the Today Show will help him “get a second look” from a team.
“Certainly in a realistic world, it can’t hurt me getting a shot somewhere,” he says of the as-yet-un-aired segment “I know the limitations for a guy like me. But hey, maybe a team gets in a spot and they bring me in for a game or two.”
• • •
Risso, who says he’s still a “work in progress” having added a curve ball, a change-up and a two-finger slider to his pitching repertoire, says being able to workout with his teams in the AMSBL helped him tremendously and says he’s very thankful for his time with his teammates in the Albuquerque league.
“If not for them, I wouldn’t have this chance,” he says, looking off out of his office window. “Where else could I go?
“They’re a bunch of great guys. I learned a lot playing in that league. I owe them a lot,” he says.
Looking to his future, Risso says short terms call-ups are probably what he’s likely to get. But he says he’s open to pitching for a full season.
“I’ve got lots of time off saved up from work,” he jokes.
He also knows his appeal is mostly as a promotional opportunity for teams. Not that he minds.
“I see the public relations aspect, but from my point of view, regardless, if I get a shot, my goal is going to be to perform well and maybe get some other shots.
“If someone offers a contract to me, I’m on it,” Risso says without hesitation. “Any opportunity I get, I’ll be there.”