Love of game, family fuels Seratelli's quest

Love of game, family fuels Seratelli's quest

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Sixty seconds into the video, the music grows louder and photographs start popping onto the screen: images of Russell Seratelli reclining in a lawn chair, in overalls, in a baseball uniform, lounging outside again. Two, three, four at a time, the pictures burst into the frame: Russell Seratelli playing with his infant children, then shadowboxing, then grilling outside his house. Still the music plays. Back in a baseball uniform. Now it's a suit, his daughter in a party dress. Kissing, hugging, laughing, loving.

Suddenly, it is obvious what Anthony Seratelli meant in the early seconds of that homemade tribute, when he called his father "the greatest man that ever lived." Anthony's voice strains a bit talking about it even now, at age 31. In the bustle of the Mets' Spring Training clubhouse, where Seratelli is fighting to realize a dream nearly a decade in the making, his eyes moisten. The film does it to all of them.

"Even if you don't know my dad," sister Danyel says, "doesn't that video make you feel like you know him?"

*****

Russell and Danyel Seratelli were traveling southbound on the Garden State Parkway on Feb. 28, 2011, their daily route home from the printing company that Russell's father founded. Suddenly, a tire popped off a vehicle in the northbound lane, flew over the median and crashed through the Seratellis' windshield. Hundreds of times, Danyel has replayed that moment in her head.

"They wouldn't tell me he was dead on the scene," she said. "But I knew."

In those chaotic split seconds, Anthony believes, his father may have somehow maneuvered the car so Danyel could escape harm. She has no idea how the two of them finally rolled to a stop, only that she walked away without a single scratch.

Her first call was to Anthony, of course -- always tight, the relationship between brother and sister only deepened after the accident. After some time passed, Anthony wrote Danyel a letter saying that if not for her strength, he would not have recovered.

Without her strength, and without baseball.

Back then a prospect only in the loosest definition of the word, Seratelli was clawing his way through Royals' camp as a 26-year-old infielder unaware of life above A-ball. Management told him to head home for a while, to cope, to take all the time he needed. But back in New Jersey, Danyel and the family insisted he reverse course, lest he lose two things he loved in a matter of days.

"Baseball was my escape," Seratelli recalls. "It was the only time I didn't have to think about him. Being at home, sitting by myself, he was on my mind. But out on the field, I was in another world. It was just something to help me get through it.

"I dedicate the rest of my career to him. Everything I do, I do it for all my family. But I do it for him, mostly. I hope he's watching from somewhere."

*****

If the vowel at the end of his name did not give it away, Seratelli was born into a traditional Italian-American family. For years he lived downstairs from his great-grandparents. Sundays meant big pasta dinners and card games around the table; Anthony taught his family convoluted versions of spades and rummy lifted from Minor League clubhouses across the country.

Russell and his first wife separated young, and Anthony's mother moved to California, with everyone staying on good terms, but the divorce actually solidified his family life. Even after Russell remarried and brought another son into the family, he, Anthony and Danyel maintained an uncommonly close bond.

Seratelli talks about a fun-loving father who, in his words, would have encouraged him to skip rocks for a living if that's what he wanted. He laughs when he recalls Russell printing a three-and-a-half-foot cutout of himself and propping it up in a closet, hoping it might spook someone. (Such are the perks of working at a family-owned printing company, as the past three generations of Seratellis have done.)

Seratelli inherited his love of baseball from Russell, who, along with his brother, formed a family double-play combo at John F. Kennedy Memorial High in Iselin, N.J. Because he was cut from his high school's freshman team, and because his father did not know much of baseball beyond that world, Anthony never attended showcases or college workouts -- the types of things that get a player recruited. Instead he walked on at Seton Hall, where he started all four years but twice went undrafted.

Unwilling to let the dream die, Seratelli hooked on after college with an independent league team, using his outgoing nature to his advantage. He grew friendly with the club's owner, who set up private workouts in front of White Sox and Padres scouts in Arizona. Hoping to shed the jitters in advance, Seratelli flew to Phoenix early and attended an open tryout for the Royals, who -- after trimming a field of nearly 100 down to 10, then two, then just one -- offered him a Minor League deal. Immediately, he canceled his other workouts and signed.

That's where his professional story begins.

*****

Where it ends remains to be seen, though the Mets -- the same team that gave 30-year-old Scott Rice his first big league shot last season -- have added some clarity to the picture. After seven years in the Royals organization without a callup or a pink slip, Seratelli became a Minor League free agent last November. Almost instantly, his phone buzzed with offers from a dozen or so teams, all with invitations to big league camp.

The Mets stuck out, and not just because of the hometown connection. Of all the teams to court him, Seratelli said, the Mets were the only one advertising a clear path to the big leagues -- in their case, the backup infielder's job that belonged to Justin Turner last season. After Seratelli became a free agent, manager Terry Collins and Paul DePodesta, vice president of player development, each personally reached out to him.

"He told me he's done everything but pitched," Collins said. "He can play any position, he can switch-hit, he can run. That's nice to have a guy like that on the bench."

In a new organization for the first time in seven years, Seratelli admits that he's "kind of learning everything on the fly." But a hot start helps -- with starting shortstop Ruben Tejada injured, Seratelli singled home two runs on Wednesday afternoon against the Nationals. Friends help, too, and he tends to make them quickly.

In Kansas City, Seratelli bonded with teammates over the videos he taught himself to edit on his computer. He has made dozens of them over the past few years, ranking from seconds-long magic tricks to a 10-minute short film. His tribute video on the one-year anniversary of Russell's death was an extension of that, though most of his works are lighthearted, even zany. In one he attempts to sit in a chair but falls through the fabric. In another, Royals teammate Everett Teaford rubs together his bare hands, sparking the fire needed for a flaming archery stunt.

"We'd be bored in the clubhouse, and someone would say, 'Telli, let's go make a video,'" said Will Smith, who was traded to the Brewers this offseason. "We were his guinea pigs, and when they turned out to be funny, we kind of kept rolling with it and rolling with it. That's definitely going to be his life after baseball."

The hobby was a gift from Russell, who initially intrigued his son by digitizing the family's photo albums and turning them into gifts. Seratelli tried his hand at it for Danyel's college graduation, editing dancing family members into a Soulja Boy music video. When he presented the video to Danyel, she began crying and laughing, and he was hooked.

"It was just the coolest thing when you see something you created and a reaction like that," he said. "It drew me in, and I just kept doing it. I love doing it. I'd rather watch your face when you're watching the film, because I want to see how you react."

Seratelli hopes to make a career out of his video talents someday, though he is not sure what form that may take. Seven years with the Royals organization earned him contacts at FOX Sports and MLB Productions. A year or two in New York could prove even more fruitful.

*****

For now the videos are just a hobby, but on another level they are distractions in a life defined by opportunity and loss. Seratelli received the news of his Mets contract from a hospital in New Jersey. Leaving his grandmother's room to take a congratulatory call from Collins, he returned to deliver the jubilant message to his family. They could hardly believe their good fortune: their son, their grandson, their brother, their nephew, returning home to play baseball in New York.

Minutes later a doctor returned with his grandmother's biopsy results: Stage IV breast cancer.

Gail Seratelli died on Jan. 3, almost three years to the day after her son Russell passed away. Anthony was devastated, but baseball once again called, this time in the form of his best opportunity yet.

It is one he chooses to share. Later this month, Seratelli's grandfather -- now alone for the first time in decades -- will fly to Florida to stay with Anthony in his Port St. Lucie apartment. It's a throwback to the days when the elder Seratelli traveled all over the Northeast in pursuit of his grandson's high school and college games, rarely missing an inning.

That's what family is like for this bunch. Between visits from his grandfather, sister and other relatives, Seratelli does not expect to spend a single day of March alone. And if he makes the club, Citi Field will play host to his personal cheering section.

A few loved ones will be missing, because that is the way of things. But the images do not fade. The music still plays. There's Russell in a tuxedo on his wedding day. Older now, hair gone, strumming his guitar. Relaxing, swimming, posing with Anthony and the rest of his family. Two, three, four at a time, the images burst forth again.

And then the music ends, the photographs vanish, and the video fades to white.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.