Centralia Native Bob Coluccio Reflects on Major League Career

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As a member of the Seattle Pilots’ only draft class, Bob Coluccio has quite the story to tell.

    The Centralia High School product was picked in the 17th round of the 1969 MLB Draft and four years later he would be playing in the big leagues.

    "I played well in spring training that season (1973) and I was literally the 25th man on the roster," Coluccio said.

    That would begin a five-year major league career for the Italian-American. Nicknamed "The Macaroni Pony" by famed Brewers broadcaster Bob Ueker, Coluccio played the game with no reservations.

    "It was kind of a time period that was in the 'tweener stage," Coluccio said. "The game was quite a bit better than in the 1950s-60s. It was about the game, not the economics. Pitch count? You just bucked up and went after it. It was all about performance."

    The Centralia native said he started playing organized ball when he was 5 years old in a Pee Wee League.

    Coluccio showed that he had a passion for the game that, years later, would allow him to advance to the professional ranks.

    "I loved it," he said. "It's all I wanted to do. It would be raining and I'd take a rubber ball and throw it against a wall for hours."

    At that time, however, Major League Baseball on the West Coast was still a relatively new concept.

    "The closest major league team was San Francisco," Coluccio said. "There were no aspirations to go any further after high school."

    The American League, though, awarded an expansion team to Seattle in 1968 and Coluccio said scouts scoured the local area for top talent. They found two Lewis County players worthy to get a phone call on draft day. Coluccio and fellow Centralia player John Conzatti were offered $500-a-month contracts as 17-year-olds.

    "I think what they saw from me was just a desire to do well," Coluccio said. "With baseball, I lived it, slept it, it's all I could think of. My father owned Civic Sand & Gravel. At that time it was either run a paving machine or play baseball. When you're 17, you don't think about that decision too much. You're playing professional baseball."

    Over the phone, Coluccio was told to show up to the airport the following Tuesday and he'd be shipped off to Billings, Mont., to play rookie ball in the Pioneer League.

    On the first day, Coluccio recalled, the Pilots' No. 1 draft pick Gorman Thomas showed up to the ballpark in shiny new black Camero, with a matching black eye.

    "He had gotten in a bar fight the night before," Coluccio said. “It was the first time we met and since then we've become good friends. That was a fun time. We'd have to go out and pick up rocks in the field because Billings didn't have a grounds crew."

    Coluccio made a swift ascension through the minors. In his third year of pro ball, he moved to AAA. After taking a break to get married in 1971, his contract was optioned to Philadelphia and he got the chance to play with future Phillies greats Mike Schmidt and Bob Boone. In 1972, he was invited back by the then-Brewers and had a monster year for Evansville in AAA.

    Coluccio hit .300 with nine home runs, 58 RBIs, 19 doubles and seven triples. His team won the American Association title and the Centralian was invited to spring training the following year. With starting outfielder Davey May injured, he was able to showcase his talents to the Brewers.

    He made a major league roster in 1973. Coluccio said that opening day in Milwaukee had 17 inches of snow. The team couldn't sell the first 20 rows because that's where they piled up the white stuff.

    "But it was opening day and every seat without snow was sold," Coluccio said. "I never went to a major league game before I played in one."

    After his friend Thomas slumped, Coluccio was called into the starting lineup. He said he still remembers seeing his name on the card.

    "I went 2 for 4 that day and had two stolen bases," he said.

    He finished the season with 21 doubles, eight triples, 15 home runs, 58 RBIs and a .224 batting average. Coluccio ended up playing two seasons with the Brewers and many Milwaukee fans gravitated towards their young outfielder.

    "It's a great town, they had a large italian population and they embraced me," Coluccio said. "They would sell the most beer out of any stadium with the least amount of violence. The fans in right field would bring me jugs of wine."

    Coluccio's devil-may-care style of play helped him to a 5-year career in the majors. He played for the White Sox and Cardinals before finally hanging up the cleats. Coluccio said he wished he could have hit better in the majors, but there were still plenty of memories. He hit a grand slam against Texas in 1973. He got to play with Hank Aaron after he had broke Babe Ruth's home run record. He hit an inside-the-park home run in Yankee Stadium, and was robbed of a double by Boston’s Green Monster.

    The greatest aspect of his game was his defense. While he played in the era before instant replay, Coluccio said that he was valued on the club because of his fielding and it made up for the batting average. While he played in an era before sabremetrics, Coluccio’s “wins above replacement player” statistic for his career was 3.3, a mark with which any good player would be happy.

    "I got knocked out going for fly balls, but I caught them," he said. "I'd go into seats, dugouts and walls. There weren't too many people to play the outfield like I did. During batting practice I'd play like I was in a game. It made me confident that any ball hit that I could touch was one I could catch."

    At age 28, Coluccio returned home to care for his father, who had been diagnosed with cancer. He said he still felt he could play, but after his father passed away, he had to manage his family's assets in town. His rights were traded to the Mets in 1979 but Coluccio never got back to the show.

    "The Mets were rebuilding and within a year they were in the World Series," he said. "Once you make the majors you want to play in the World Series. That would be one of my regrets, not playing in a series, but I got a chance to spend time with my family and you can't replace that."

    In the 1980s, Coluccio moved to Newport Beach, Calif., and is now a real estate agent. He still owns and manages a trailer park in Centralia and gets back for a few days every year.

    Not too many people, if any, can say they had an experience like Coluccio’s. It may have been in an era before million-dollar paychecks, but the Centralia product got to do what he wanted to do most and play professionally the game he loved.

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