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Serra grad Litzinger turns to pitching to keep dream alive

| Monday, Feb. 6, 2012

For most, pitching in high school or college — preferably both — would seem to be a logical prelude to pitching for a professional baseball team.
Not for Serra Catholic and Pitt graduate Matt Litzinger.

Despite not throwing a serious pitch until after his 22nd birthday, Litzinger signed last month to play professional baseball overseas, continuing to chase his dream with the Ronchi dei Legionari New Black Panthers of Italy's Serie A League.

"If I have one or two good years over there, I could be looking at a bigger contract that makes this my career," Litzinger said. "It's also a good opportunity to travel the world and take everything in."

Litzinger hit .500 and drove in 32 runs as a senior at Serra Catholic in 2005, enough to, at the time, become the first Serra baseball player to earn a Division I baseball scholarship in more than a decade.

After three years as a role player at Pitt, Litzinger started 37 of 42 games and hit .293 as a senior, with three home runs, 14 RBI and 10 stolen bases — numbers that didn't exactly have pro scouts knocking down his door.

But during a tryout the following summer called the Indy Pro Showcase in Detroit, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder decided on a whim to try pitching instead, sick of going unnoticed as an outfielder.

"I was never that good of a hitter," Litzinger admitted. "I always made sure that I did everything to put myself in the best position, but in terms of hitting, I never really was the best at it.

"I did have a solid arm and a decent amount of athleticism, so I figured I would take my best tools and work with them."

It turned out to be a wise decision, as Litzinger's first tryout as a pitcher netted him a spot in the Georgia-based Peach State League.

Though the appointment didn't pay anything, it set off Litzinger's journey as a right-handed starter, a long, strange trip that has wound through the Golden League, Frontier League and, most recently, the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Pheasants of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

"His will to succeed has always been second to none," said Litzinger's high school coach, Brian Dzurenda. "This is a kid who would say, ‘Hey coach, can I take the batting tee home with me?' Or, ‘Could you throw me 50 extra pitches?'

"He has always outworked the competition."

Litzinger is currently training with two former college teammates, Ben Copeland and Jim Negrych — farmhands for the Indians and Marlins, respectively — five days a week at Pitt's Cost Center for what Litzinger calls "mandatory workouts."

He also gives five or six lessons every week and paints houses with a friend to makes ends meet. It's a tough lifestyle but one that Litzinger refuses to give up, intent on making this baseball thing work.

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