Older, wiser, better: Fresno Grizzlies slugger Mark Minicozzi finds groove at age 31

The Fresno BeeJune 1, 2014 

Fresno Grizzlies designated hitter Mark Minicozzi gets an infield hit against Sacramento in their game at Chukchansi Park Saturday, May 31, 2014.

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At 31 years old, Mark Minicozzi is stronger and playing better than he ever has before — and he knows it.

Originally drafted in the 17th round by San Francisco in 2005, back and elbow injuries cut the third baseman's career far short of where he imagined it would go.

But Minicozzi never gave up after being released, playing independent ball before he was literally "picked out of the stands" in 2012 by former managers at a Giants' Double-A game near his home in Pennsylvania.

After the game, Minicozzi approached his old manager Dave Machemer and told him he was still playing. That turned into an impromptu tryout the next day that ultimately landed him playing for Richmond through the end of last season.

Fast forward to spring training this year and Minicozzi was on the San Francisco Giants' squad in Arizona.

"Spring training was surreal," he said. "To get to hit with Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, guys like that was awesome and almost like a dream come true. I was on the same field with guys like Albert Pujols. Two years ago I was watching TV, watching these guys play and I couldn't get a job."

But the journey hit a roadblock in April when the Grizzlies' third baseman suffered a separated shoulder in the opening series at Las Vegas.

Minicozzi sat out four weeks before beginning his rehab assignment with Class A San Jose, where he hit .393 in 28 at bats.

He returned to the Grizzlies on May 24, three weeks ahead of his original rehab schedule.

In 12 games, Minicozzi has molded into one of the Grizzlies' best hitters, with a team-best .413 batting average in 46 at-bats. He now is hitting in the No. 3 spot and has five doubles and two home runs.

In the Grizzlies' 10-9 win Sunday, Minicozzi hit a one-run double in the sixth inning to bring the Grizzlies to within one run of what once was a 9-3 Sacramento lead.

"Over time, even the years I was out of the game, I still got a lot of at-bats, and learned myself better," he said. "At this point in my career I know myself, I know my strengths. I know what I can do well and I utilize everything I can out of my swing.

"Knowing yourself is a huge part of this game. I know what I can do well and I trust it. For me there is no timetable. I'm happy to play everyday.

"The opportunity to play in the big leagues is knocking at your door. I'm an injury or trade away, you never know. I just go out everyday and play hard and hopefully bright things happen."

For manager Bob Mariano, he knows Minicozzi's future is bright, wherever it may lead.

Mariano compared his stock to ex-Grizzlies John Bowker or Charlie Culberson, who were shipped out at the trade deadline in 2010 and 2012 for Javy Lopez and Marco Scutaro, respectively. Both years the big-league Giants won the World Series.

"We're here for players to further their careers. (Minicozzi) is a good example. Just by his work ethic. He perseveres. And as long as he keeps swinging the bat, there might be people interested," Mariano said. "Obviously we want (him) to play for the Giants, but there's 29 other clubs playing too. It's a win-win situation."

For Minicozzi, he will just keep playing the game he loves.

"Until they rip that jersey off of me and throw a coach's jersey on me, I'm going to be playing," he said.

"Until they rip that jersey off of me and throw a coach's jersey on me, I'm going to be playing." — Mark Minicozzi, Grizzlies slugger who is excelling at age 31 after an up-and-down career

The reporter can be reached at amoreno@fresnobee.com, (559) 441-6401 or @anhelllll on Twitter.

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