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Gateway grad Rossi back on track with work and baseball

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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Matt Rossi slides back into first base on a pick-off attempt during a recent Greater Pittsburgh Federation League game.

Matt Rossi was all set for a baseball season out west in New Mexico.

He signed up for an opportunity with the Taos Blizzard of the independent Pecos League. It is a league similar to the Frontier League that the Washington Wild Things call home.

The Gateway High School and Clarion University graduate and baseball standout hoped to test his fortunes in the league under the guidance of Taos manager Matt Leahy, who Rossi played for in a New York State collegiate league.

Rossi, who signed with Taos on April 1, made his way to New Mexico in early May to begin what he thought was going to be a fun summer of baseball as he extended play in the game he loves.

However, things took a tough turn, and he was released on May 11, only four days before the start of the season.

“My dad and I drove out on a Saturday, and I started up with spring training-type activities on Monday,” Rossi said.

“When I got there, there were about 20 players there. By the end of the week, there were more than 50 players there for a 25-man roster. (Coach Leahy) told me that is what a lot of teams are doing, but he wasn't going to do that. He said he was only going to bring in between 30 to 35, so he didn't have to send a ton of kids home.”

Rossi said that while he was confident he would be able to make the team, he still knew he had to work hard to make his way on the roster.

“I knew it wasn't a sure thing, and I would have to play my way on the team, but I was confident in my abilities,” he said.

“Once Thursday and Friday rolled around, there were about 20 infielders for four positions. A lot of those guys were former low A or Class A (minor league) guys, and I knew I had to play great just because of the talent level that was there.”

Rossi said he was disappointed when he was informed of his release.

“Obviously, I wish I could've stayed out there longer than eight days, but if I didn't go out and give it a shot, I would've regretted it. I did go, and I am glad I went and saw all of that competition.”

Rossi said that Leahy kind of made it sound like if he signed when he did, he would be on the roster.

“This is his first professional team as a manager,” Rossi said.

“He played minor league baseball, but he was still trying to get a feel for how he was going to run his team. He kept finding players that he thought would be good for his team, and he brought all of them in. I played for him before, and I know he's a good guy. He just got caught up in wanting to build the best team, and he brought too many players down.”

As for the Taos squad, the Blizzard was 21-25 as of Saturday's action, 11 games back of first place in its division.

With the opportunity with Taos behind him, Rossi returned home and looked to get back to the non-baseball workforce.

He returned to a job as a teacher at Outside In, a private 55-student boys school in Bolivar, Pa. He lives at the facility for a full seven days and then is off for a full seven days.

“When I left (for New Mexico), they told me when I come home or at the end of the summer in August I should give them a call, and they would do what they can to get me back in,” Rossi said.

“I got home and made the call. I reapplied and then started working there seven days after I got home. That worked out for the best.”

Rossi is back working, but he hasn't hung up the glove, bat and helmet this summer.

When he can, Rossi plays for South Hills in the Greater Pittsburgh Federation League.

The team debuted in the league in 2012, and it finished fourth and made the playoffs. It was eliminated in the semifinals.

Through 14 games in 2013, South Hills was 7-6-1 and in fourth place. It is hoping for another playoff appearance.

St. John's-Lefty's is the top team in the league and has won the league title seven years in a row.

“My college roommate (South Fayette grad Kenny Morgan) runs the team,” Rossi said. “I played in the league last summer, and I called him to see if he had room for a first baseman. It's kind of tough playing with my work schedule, but I've been able to get to at least half of the games this summer. It's fun, and I am glad to still be able to play baseball.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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