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KANSAS CITY -- When Anthony Veneziano walked into the Royals’ big league clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, emotions were high for his first big league callup. It was a moment the club’s No. 16 prospect has been waiting for his whole life, but especially since the Royals drafted the lefty pitcher in the 10th round of the 2019 Draft out of Coastal Carolina.
But Tuesday also marked the nine-year anniversary of his father’s death.
“Somebody’s watching over him, for sure,” Leslie Veneziano, Anthony’s mom, said.
“It’s crazy,” Anthony added. “I can’t really even explain it.”
At Warren Hills (N.J.) High School, Veneziano played basketball and baseball and had a future in both. Everyone around him pushed basketball because of his 6-foot-5 frame. But he and his dad, Anthony Veneziano II, both had dreams of a baseball career.
“He’s one of the few people who believed I could keep playing baseball,” Veneziano said. “We watched every Yankees game, so many highlights of players I should emulate. Following Andy Pettitte, guys like that. He wanted me to meet any local baseball player, whether it was a Minor League guy or a Major League guy, just pick their brain. He wanted this for me so bad.”
Veneziano II died suddenly on Sept. 19, 2014, when his son was 17 years old and a junior in high school. It was right around the time when Veneziano III started receiving recruiting calls for college baseball. Suddenly, his dad wasn’t there for coaching visits or tours. He persisted, with help from his mom, because he knew it was what his dad would want.
“Baseball was their thing,” Leslie said. “Always outside throwing the ball, talking ball. We loved watching him play basketball, too, but you could tell baseball was always their dream together. … I didn’t know anything about baseball. But I’ve learned a lot and learned to love it. He used to get mad at me, but now I’m pretty good with the lingo and the terms. He was very patient with me in the beginning.”
Veneziano committed to Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C., over 600 miles from home. The first year away hit him harder than he thought it would, and he struggled on the field and off it in his first two years.
With the help of the coaching staff there, including head coach Gary Gilmore, and conversations with his mom, Veneziano figured it out in time to get drafted by the Royals.
After a breakout year in 2021 with High-A Quad Cities, Veneziano struggled in Double-A last season. He had a 5.72 ERA across 26 games (25 starts). He dropped off prospect lists; his stock decreased.
“We’ve had many heart-to-heart conversations about how things weren’t going the way he thought it would go,” Leslie said. “I’ve always told him, ‘What happens will happen. You’ll always be successful because you’re a great kid.’ But baseball was his dream, and I just kept encouraging him to keep at it and work hard. Be himself. And the way he’s powered through has made me so proud.”
Veneziano bounced back this year with a 3.55 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He was a lock to be added to the 40-man roster because of his Rule 5 eligibility this offseason, and when the Royals placed Brady Singer and Brad Keller on the injured list with less than two weeks left in the season, they brought up Veneziano and Jonathan Bowlan to get their feet wet ahead of 2024.
Veneziano’s head was spinning Tuesday when he got to Kauffman Stadium after a hectic day of travel. All he wanted to do was go play catch and get back to normal.
Because when he’s on a baseball field, that’s when he feels his dad the most.
“This was our dream,” Veneziano said. “Ever since I was a little kid, it was always to be in the big leagues one day. We always talked about it. I was overwhelmed with every emotion [Tuesday]. He would be so excited. When I step on the mound, it’s going to be, ‘Game on,’ and he knows that. I know he’s still with me.”
Whenever Veneziano’s debut comes, he knows his dad will still be with him. ‘AV’ and No. 32 -- his dad’s former softball number -- is written in Sharpie on the inside of Veneziano’s cap, alongside No. 7, which honors a high school friend, Evan Murray, who died during Veneziano’s senior year.
When he takes the mound, just like he’s done throughout his career, Veneziano will draw a lightning bolt -- the Warren Hills Blue Streaks logo -- to honor his community back home in New Jersey.
“My home is my heart,” Veneziano said. “All the people that helped me get through that time stayed with me all the way up until today.”
When Bowlan makes his Major League debut, he will be the ninth player from the Royals’ 2018 Draft to make their Major League debut. The righty was Kansas City’s second-round pick out of Memphis that year. Who was the first player from that class to debut?
A) Kris Bubic
B) Kyle Isbel
C) Daniel Lynch IV
D) Brady Singer
The Royals completed a sweep for the third time this year with their 6-2 win over the Guardians on Wednesday -- their first sweep of Cleveland in four years. Kansas City is 10-8 this month, matching May for their highest win total of any month this season.
“I’ve been impressed with these guys and the way they’ve approached it,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “By no means is anyone in there satisfied with what the total body of work is, but you can only play the games that are scheduled that day, right? If you’re going to play, you’ve got to try to win. That goes for Day 1 or Day 162. It’s nice for them to get some reward at the end of what’s been a long year.”
“It’s a different sound off his bat. He’s been great to work with in the cage, great to work with on the field. More than anything, it’s him understanding his own swing a little differently now. … I think he’s been given a different view of how he’s being pitched and how he needs to attack certain pitchers. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit for making some adjustments in a short amount of time with what he was doing prior.” -- hitting coach Alec Zumwalt’s impression of Nelson Velázquez since being acquired on July 31, a stretch in which he has 12 homers in 33 games.
Singer, the Royals’ first pick of the ‘18 Draft at No. 18 overall, made his debut on July 25, 2020, and just five days later, Bubic followed.
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