L.J. Mazzilli spent many days as a youngster in the same room as his favorite player, Alfonso Soriano and his No. 1 team, the New York Yankees. Today, the kid who described himself as "the clubhouse rugrat" while hanging around the Yankees, is in college carving out his own niche as a ballplayer.
If the last name sounds familiar to you, you're right, as L.J. is the son of former Major League player, coach and manager Lee Mazzilli. A Greenwich resident, L.J., 20, is the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter for the University of Connecticut baseball team.
Ranked 23rd in the country, the Huskies are riding a nation-best 12-game winning streak and sport an overall record of 29-12-1. Their 13-2 mark has them atop the Big East, two games ahead of Pittsburgh. And, yes, Mazzilli's performance at the plate and in the field is helping spark the rolling Huskies.
The 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore is batting .333 through 41 games with a home run, 21 RBI, 17 doubles, 28 runs scored and eight stolen bases.
"Everyone is moving in the same direction, all of our hitters are locked in right now, which is great to watch," Mazzilli said. "One-to-nine, everyone is on a roll, as far as hitting and seeing the ball well. That's why we're winning."
A right-handed hitter, Mazzilli currently ranks third on the Huskies in hits (56), second in total bases (84), and is tied for second in doubles. Mazzilli displayed his prowess as a leadoff hitter Tuesday against Bryant University, going 4 for 6 with two doubles, three RBI and two runs scored in UConn's 11-6 win.
"I'm a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter, who just tries to hit the ball hard wherever it is pitched," Mazzilli said. "That's my approach every at-bat. When I'm going well, I'm hitting line drives."
Mazzilli started the season batting fifth as the Huskies' designated hitter. But UConn coach Jim Penders made the wise decision of moving Mazzilli up to the leadoff spot.
"When he started taking off in the leadoff spot the rest of our lineup followed suit," said Penders, who guided the Huskies to a 48-16 finish and a berth in the Big East Tournament finals last spring. "We moved him up in the order about five weeks ago, and since then he is hitting about .600 leading off games and innings. He can be a gap-to-gap hitter, a pull hitter -- it's tough to get him out. L.J. is a special hitter. He has one of the best swings out of all the players I have coached."
Mazzilli, who graduated from IMG Academy in 2009 after attending Greenwich High School and Iona Prep, posted a freshman season at UConn to be proud of. The 2010 season saw him hit .312 in 26 games with three homers, 18 RBI, nine doubles and 15 runs scored, while mostly playing the outfield and serving as a designated hitter.
"I went through an adjustment period all last year," said Mazzilli, who was the state's No. 1-ranked baseball prospect out of high school in 2009. "I had arm problems, but didn't know what it was. I had some ups and downs, but I ended last season pretty well."
After undergoing surgery on his right elbow this past September, Mazzilli spent time in the DH role before winning the spot at second base this spring.
"He has done a very good job at second base," Penders said. "We didn't see him a lot in the infield last year because he had an elbow problem. I think he can play all three infield positions, but I think he's best suited for second base. He's also a heck of an outfielder."
Penders sees a future professional ballplayer in Mazzilli, who played for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod Baseball League last year -- the top college summer league in the country.
"He can play professional baseball, there is no question about it," Penders said. "He has the pedigree, but he is carving out his own niche as a person."
Mazzilli knew as a young kid what sport he was going to focus his attention on.
"I have always wanted to play baseball and do what my dad does," said Mazzilli, whose older sisters Jenna and Lacey also attend UConn. "My father has taught me everything about the game. He is a great role model and is my hero."
Lee Mazzilli, who was on the Mets' 1986 World Series championship team and spent 14 years playing for the Mets, Yankees, Pirates, Rangers and Blue Jays, is a frequent spectator at UConn games.
"Ever since I have been serious about playing baseball my dad tries to make it to all the games," L.J. said. "He gives me pregame talks and advice. It's always nice seeing him there."
The elder Mazzilli was on Joe Torre's coaching staff when his son was in grammar school and L.J. relished visiting the Yankees' clubhouse.
"I was a big Alfonso Soriano fan, so it was awesome seeing all of my favorite players," Mazzilli said. "I was like the little clubhouse rug rat. I was too cute to get mad at."
Enjoying his role with the Huskies, Mazzilli believes the team can continue its successful run.
"Even when we are down four or five runs we feel like we can still come from behind to win," Mazzilli said. "I like the direction this team is heading and we are all looking forward to playing in the Big East Tournament. We're playing with a lot of confidence, but we're not looking past anyone. Our game Friday against Rutgers is the only thing we're focused on."