Lombardozzi selected as AFL's Stenson winner
Nationals prospect rewarded for unselfishness, work, leadership
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Steve Lombardozzi spent parts of six seasons in the big leagues, from 1985-1990. A smallish middle infielder who largely played second base, Lombardozzi wasn't one who wowed with natural skills or put up gaudy numbers. But ask any former teammate or big leaguer about him, and they'd all say he was the type you'd want on your team -- the kind of player who played the game the right way.
Fast-forward about 20 years, and it's time for Lombardozzi, the next generation. When it comes to the second Steve Lombardozzi, it's clear that the old "like father, like son" adage is extremely fitting. It's likely the reason why he was chosen as the Arizona Fall League's 2010 Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award winner.
"I think my family, growing up, influenced me," said Lombardozzi, a middle-infield prospect in the Nationals system. "My dad taught me how to go about my business and how to play the game right.
"My parents, they're the same kind of people. My dad has been a great influence on me. Also, our organization is great in the way they are about playing [in the system]."
Lombardozzi, whose Scottsdale Scorpions were playing in the championship game on Saturday, was one of six nominees for the Stenson Award. The other finalists were Zack Cox (Cardinals), Surprise Rafters; Koby Clemens (Astros), Peoria Javelinas; Kris Negron (Reds), Peoria Saguaros; Ryan Flaherty (Cubs), Mesa Solar Sox; and Cory Harrilchak (Braves), Phoenix Desert Dogs.
Created in 2004 in memory of the late Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect, who was killed during the 2003 Arizona Fall League season, the award has been given annually since '04 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. The six were chosen for those qualities -- the ones Stenson brought to the ballpark every day -- rather than their statistics or on-field performances. They are all, without exception, the types who have a hard-nosed attitude, players who do their jobs without complaint, who play the game the way it was meant to be played.
"It's quite an honor to be recognized," Lombardozzi said. "I try to go about my business in the right way. It meant a lot to be recognized for it, just to be nominated even. It's something really special."
Scottsdale manager Randy Knorr knew all about Lombardozzi coming in to the Fall League. Knorr skippered the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals' Double-A affiliate where Lombardozzi played 27 games to end the regular season. A 19th-round pick out of St. Petersburg Junior College in 2008, Lombardozzi has moved slowly, but steadily up the Nationals' chain. Knorr couldn't wait for his Scorpions staff to see what his infielder brought to the table.
"He never stops working," Knorr said. "I know he was tired, and he still went after it. I told the coaching staff, 'Wait until you see Steve play.' ... I didn't tell them why. Two days later, they said, 'This guy is pretty special.'
"It's the way he goes about it, his work ethic. He grinds everything out, he has great at-bats. He plays hard, he takes the next bag. He's a smart ballplayer."
It's not like Lombardozzi is all hard work and no production, either. In his two stops in 2010, he hit .294 with a .371 on-base percentage and 24 steals. That came a year after hitting .296 with a .375 OBP in his first full season. This fall, he's maintained the same pace, with a .293 average and .385 OBP in 21 games. Getting to Double-A and then playing here, Lombardozzi is on the cusp of knocking on the door and having all that hard work pay off.
"He's talented, but he doesn't have great, great talent," Knorr said. "But he plays the game well, he does everyhing perfectly. I think he recognizes that for him to play in the big leagues, he can't get away with a lot of stuff that other guys can. He's found a way to do it and he'll be in the big leagues."
It's the kind of story Knorr hopes is spread to help restore some of the qualities he feels have been absent from the game in recent years. When people see Lombardozzi's name attached to the Stenson Award, Knorr is hoping to sends a strong message to other young players.
"It's special and hopefully it lets a lot of other guys know that's the way you play the game," Knorr said. "It's something we try to produce in our organization. Hopefully, other guys see it. I'd like the game to get back to the way it used to be, when you run the ball out all the time and you take the next bag. It's just a better, cleaner game when you do it that way."