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Racket sports: Joe Vizzi making his mark on the tennis court

The foot speed and hand-eye coordination that made Joe Vizzi an accomplished baseball player has translated well to the tennis court.

Vizzi took up tennis at age 56. He recently turned 60 and remains among the fastest in a large group of tennis players at the Village Glen in the 20-70 age range.

Jim Remington is in charge of the group. He said, “Joe Vizzi is like a jack rabbit on the tennis court. His foot speed is remarkable for a 20-yea- old, let alone a 60-year-old."

Vizzi exhibited skills playing as a 7-year-old in the Tonawanda Little League that most players his age could never approach. He played until he was 14 and made the Tonawanda all-star team as a shortstop a few times.

“Even at that early age I loved the competition and being part of a team," Vizzi said.

He also played football in the Pop Warner League but in high school Vizzi strictly concentrated on baseball. He played second base and his agility helped him make outs on many at bats that looked like sure hits. He made the all-Niagara Frontier League second team at second base.

AT UB, Vizzi starred as an outfielder and leadoff hitter for two years.On a road trip to Florida UB played against the top-ranked University of Miami and Vizzi homered in his first at-bat. For his entire career at UB he batted over .350.

After graduation, he had tryouts with major league teams Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

“Even though I didn’t make the final cuts ... mentally and physically I had tried my best," Vizzi said. "I still felt a great feeling of accomplishment trying out for major league teams."

He went on to play Muny baseball for the Buffalo Voyageurs, one of the best municipal baseball teams ever produced in WNY and win of 10 titles in 20 years. In 1979, the team won the National Amateur Baseball Federation Championship. Four other times they lost in the nationals. The team included  former collegiate and professional players like Joe Hesketh who pitched for the Boston Red Sox, Kevin Lester, Duke Maguire, and Rick Olivieri.

When Vizzi was 56, he and his younger brother Tony (also an excellent athlete) went on a golf trip to Florida to visit their uncle Tony Ruggierio. While the brothers were there they saw a seniors tennis tournament being played nearby. Virtually all of the players were ranked.

“My brother and I were watching the matches and we were in awe at the high level these senior players were playing at," Vizzi said. "I said to my brother 'Why aren’t we playing tennis? It definitely looks like something we’d like to do.'”

When they got back to Buffalo they started participating in tennis clinics at the Village Glen. Their prowess increased at such a fast rate that they started playing on some 7.0 USTA teams.

“It is great having a brother like Tony who is interested in the same things that I am," Vizzi said. "You never have to worry about finding a partner to play tennis with.”

Vizzi plays tennis at least five times a week and does a great amount of stretching, power walking and newer types of exercises.

The first summer the Vizzis started playing tennis they were asked by Jim Remington, the promoter of group tennis at the Village Glen, if they wanted to play in one of his groups. The brothers were thrilled.

“In the beginning we had to eat humble pie," Vizzi said. Some of the teams were just too good. However, as we got better we started holding our own with many of the doubles teams.”

Joe has a message for players who are getting a little older and might be looking for another sport that they would enjoy and get a great workout with.

“If you are a good athlete who has good eye-and-hand coordination, you would greatly enjoy playing tennis. Take your talent that you had in other sports and transfer it to tennis. You will be presently surprised at how much you will enjoy the game. it would also be wise to take some tennis lessons.”

Vizzi is the National Sales Manager for Safetec of America.

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