Bisons slugger Valentino Pascucci's favorite baseball movie growing up was "The Natural," the story of an aging ballplayer who, with a magical bat, leads a ragtag team to victory.
"I used to come home from school and say, 'Dad, are we going to watch "The Natural" today?' I think I watched "The Natural" 250 times when I was a kid," Pascucci said.
Pascucci, who, with 230 as of Friday, has the second most home runs in the minor leagues among active players, was surprised to learn the Bisons' former ballpark, War Memorial Stadium, served as the backdrop for the movie and Roy Hobbs' home runs.
He has something else in common with Robert Redford's character: At age 32, and some seven years since he last played in the major leagues, time is not on his side.
Pascucci, whose laid-back demeanor belies his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame, is leading the Buffalo Bisons in home runs and runs batted in this year, placing him among the league leaders. But once again, he has had to watch and wonder as younger prospects get the call to the majors while he's passed by.
"There have been a couple nights when I go home and say, 'I don't know what else I gotta do.' I just want another shot again. That's all I'm really looking for is getting another shot in the big leagues, and proving I can still do it," Pascucci said.
"If someone gave me a shot and said, 'Here's 100 at bats in the big leagues, let's see what you can do,' I think I would be successful. I guess that's everybody's dream."
Rick Lancellotti can relate. He hit 276 minor league home runs in a career that spanned 15 leagues and seven countries, but like Pascucci, had only two homers in the majors.
"I feel his pain. When you hit [that many] home runs, the number's nice, but it also means you've been there a long time. It's such a grind, and he's getting to that age where he knows the door's starting to close," said Lancellotti, who retired in 1992 and operates a baseball school in Depew.
"If he's like me, the two [home runs] he hit in the big leagues probably hold more value to him than all of the ones he hit in the minors."
> Multiple sports
Pascucci was born into a middle-class family in Bellflower, Calif., best known as the hometown of "Bellflower Bomber" Jerry Quarry, a heavyweight contender who twice lost to Muhammad Ali.
Boxing was one of the few sports Pascucci didn't try growing up. As a senior at Richard Gahr High School, he had scholarship offers for baseball, basketball and water polo, plus letters of interest for football from Division II schools.
He was not only good with the bat, but also on the mound: The hard-throwing Pascucci won 15 games and lost only three as a senior, leading some colleges to scout him as a pitcher.
Pascucci was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round of the 1996 Major League Baseball draft but decided to attend the University of Oklahoma, where he pitched and played third base and right field. In his sophomore year, his mid-90s fastballs as a relief pitcher delivered 64 strikeouts in 58 innings.
Pascucci was drafted by the Montreal Expos as a position player in the 15th round in 1999, the 450th player overall. This time, with his parents' approval, the 20-year-old embarked on his professional baseball career. He ripped 26 doubles in just 259 at bats to go with a glossy .351 batting average for the Vermont Expos of the New York-Penn League, the minor league known to Western New Yorkers for housing the Batavia Mud Dogs and Jamestown Jammers.
Pascucci reached Triple A, the highest level of minor league play, in 2003. The next year, the Montreal Expos came calling.
"We were in Edmonton getting ready to go to Fresno, where my family was going to see me play," Pascucci said. "The manager called me in and said, 'You better tell them to start heading south, because you're going to meet the big-league team in San Diego.' "
The date was April 26, 2004. Pascucci, 25, was starting in right field.
For Pascucci, it was in many ways the culmination of a dream.
"I remember a fifth-grade teacher who would say, 'What do you want to be when you grow up,' and I would say, 'I want to be a baseball player.' She would say, 'OK, what else do you want to do?,' over and over. It was always a goal of mine to kind of beat the percentages and actually make it."
"I never really played in a stadium that big, and it was a packed house that night," Pascucci recalled.
He walked against Jake Peavy, a 15-game winner that year, on four pitches in his first at bat.
Two days later, in Dodgers Stadium, Pascucci got his first hit, a single to left.
He was in the majors barely a month before being sent back to Edmonton, returning the last month of the season when major league rosters expand to 40 players.
> First home run
Batting in the top of the first inning in the second game of a Sept. 15 doubleheader at the Florida Marlins ballpark, Pascucci deposited a 3-1 fastball from Nate Bump over the scoreboard, landing in the second to last row.
"When I hit it, I knew it was gone," Pascucci said.
His second homer came two weeks later against the Mets in Shea Stadium, against former Yankee Al Leiter. This one bounced off the back row of the bleachers.
Those colossal clouts are, to date, Pascucci's only major league home runs.
Pascucci played in the Expos' final game and nearly had the franchise's last hit with an eighth-inning double.
The Expos became the Washington Nationals when the season ended and released Pascucci on Dec. 10. His line score: 32 games, 62 at bats, .177 batting average, two home runs and six runs batted in. He struck out 22 times.
After a stint in Japan, Pascucci went to spring training with the Chicago Cubs in 2007 but was released despite hitting six home runs and knocking in almost 20 runs.
It was his lowest point.
"They said there were too many 40-man roster guys that needed to play at Triple A," he said.
Pascucci was signed two days later and had his best minor league season, belting a then-team record and minor league high 34 home runs, knocking in 98 and scoring 93 with the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Marlins' Triple A affiliate.
He added a home run in the Triple A All-Star Game held that year in Albuquerque, for which he was named Pacific Coast League Star of the Game.
"I had a big year that year, but the scouting director said they needed someone else to get experience at first," Pascucci said.
In 2008, it was on to the Phillies' Lehigh IronPigs. But after Pascucci started slowly, and the team lost 28 of its first 31 games, he was released again.
He bounced around some more before catching on with the Bisons in 2010, where he distinguished himself by hitting 17 home runs in 190 at bats in a part-time role.
This year, Pascucci has made his mark as the Bisons main home run threat and in mid-July was named International League Batter of the Week.
"He's exciting to watch. Every time he comes up to the plate, there's a good chance he's going to hit one over the net," said teammate Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
> Family man
Pascucci met his wife, Kate, playing in Harrisburg, Pa., 10 years ago. Their home is near Philadelphia, and they have two daughters, Giovanna, 4, and Sophia, 2.
Pascucci, who lives in a downtown loft during the season, earns $12,000 a month for each of the five months the Bisons play. Preparing for life beyond his playing days, he co-owns a surveillance camera and alarm company, has become a private energy broker and is taking online courses at Walden University in pursuit of a degree in business administration.
But baseball comes first.
Bisons hitting coach Mike Easler said Pascucci just needs a break.
"He's one of the best guys I've ever worked with, meaning his preparation, knowing where he's at in his career, what he can do on the field."
Fans like to drag out Pascucci's nickname, "S-c-o-o-o-o-c-h," as he approaches home plate at Coca-Cola Field. He appreciates the reception, but after playing for 11 minor league teams, it's a sound he hopes to hear at the major league level.
"There have been times in the last couple years when I thought [the Mets] could use some right-handed power off the bench, and it's one of the reasons I signed to come back here this year," Pascucci said. "Hopefully they notice [how I'm doing] and give me a shot."
However, a veteran baseball scout, who asked not to be named, said the book on Pascucci is not favorable.
"He's a liability at first base, his range is short, his arm is a little below average, he doesn't run well. I don't know where else you could play him other than as a DH in the American League," the scout said.
He also said the deck was stacked against Pascucci when it comes to playing for the Mets.
"The Mets are not going to bring him up -- they have [other players] ahead of him."
But, the scout said, Pascucci remains a dangerous hitter.
"I think he has an awful lot of power. He can hit the ball out of any ballpark in the country, no doubt about that."