Pietro Sollecito’s love for baseball began as a youngster, first as a toddler growing up in Hoboken and later as a Little Leaguer and high school player living in Weehawken.
“My upbringing is in baseball,” Sollecito says. “I grew up playing in Weehawken Stadium.”
Sollecito went on to pitch at St. Peter’s Prep, playing for the Marauders’ South Hudson championship squad in 1988, the first Marauder squad to win a county title in 30 years.
“I played for Joe Urbanovich,” Sollecito said of the Hudson County Sports Hall of Famer. “I also played for Mr. Ed Ford. I have a lot of people to thank for my early days in baseball.”
After graduating from Prep, Sollecito went on to play at Fordham University, but only for a brief stint.
Sollecito got a job working in Manhattan for Citibank, then later Merrill Lynch.
It was around that point that Sollecito’s life takes a drastic turn east, like across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Merrill Lynch sent me to work in London,” Sollecito said. “I thought it was only going to be for a short while.”
Sollecito remained 16 years in Europe, with stops in Germany, but mostly in London. While there, he met his Polish wife Maria. They had two sons, Matteo and Alex. (Sollecito has an older daughter, Natalia from a previous relationship).
As Matteo grew older, he told his father of one wish.
“He wanted to learn how to play baseball,” Sollecito said of his elder son. “So we had to find a baseball club in London.”
There was a baseball organization in London, called the London Mets that had 30 or so people playing baseball.
“They pulled me in and I ended up playing and coaching with them,” Sollecito said.
Ironically, while playing with the London Mets, Sollecito met Erick Henson, who was also from Weehawken and played Little League baseball in Weehawken.
“We started to grow the London Mets organization,” Sollecito said. “We went from 30 people to more than 700 kids and had our own chartered Little League program.”
As it turned out, the national baseball program of Great Britain was looking for experienced coaches.
“They’re always looking for talent,” Sollecito said. “So I got involved with the national academy.”
The organization, GB Baseball, as in Great Britain Baseball, is a subsidiary of the British Baseball Federation.
“There really are a lot more opportunities for kids to play baseball in Great Britain,” Sollecito said. “I was a pitching coach for one of the academies. At that same time, my boys got involved.”
But as the boys continued their love of baseball, Sollecito decided in September of 2015 that the best thing would be to move back to the United States.
So Sollecito brought his wife (a registered nurse) and the two sons back to Hudson County, settling in downtown Jersey City, where the Sollecito family always owned property.
“I was running my own business, a funding company, so it really didn’t matter where I was,” Sollecito said. “Maria could find work as a nurse. It just seemed like the right thing to come back.”
Plus, Matteo was a blossoming baseball star, so Pietro enrolled his son at his alma mater, where Matteo is now a prospective pitcher.
“He’s 6-foot-2 at 15 years old and throws the ball a ton,” Sollecito said of his son, a sophomore at Prep.
Last year, it was determined that Brooklyn’s MCU Park, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ Class A franchise in the NY-Penn League, would be the site for the regional qualifier for the World Baseball Classic. And Great Britain was one of the teams participating in the qualifier, along with Brazil, Israel and Pakistan.
GB Baseball, knowing that it would need some operational assistance in organizing the team in Brooklyn, called upon their former pitching coach to be the operations manager for the GB Baseball team participating in the World Baseball Classic.
“It made sense since I was here,” Sollecito said. “I found out that a lot of Brits immigrated here and that there was a lot of British talent in the United States. One of the main aims of the World Baseball Classic was to get the word out that baseball is being played in Great Britain.”
One of the coaches on the team was former Mets catcher Mike Nickeas. Another coach is future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, the former San Diego Padres closer.
And as part of the WBC in Brooklyn, an All-Star team representing GB baseball was assembled with the help of Mike Eusebio of the Hudson Baseball Center in Union City. Eusebio is the former Hoboken High star who played professionally in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
The local all-stars included Aram Assadourium of Hoboken, Eli Conlin of Hoboken, Jeffery Pena of Union City, A.J. Perranod of Hudson Catholic, Briants Rodriguez of Lincoln, Lenny Roman of Hoboken, Jerry Veloz of Marist, Marcus Wilson of Hudson Catholic as well as Matteo Sollecito and Marcus Eusebio, Mike’s nephew.
That group played in an exhibition game prior to the WBC qualifiers last week.
In the WBC, GB Baseball advanced to the title game, where they were defeated by Israel, a team that featured former Mets Ike Davis and Josh Satin, former St. Louis Cardinals’ All-Star Jason Marquis and former Oakland A’s All-Star Craig Breslow.
“It was a beautiful experience,” Sollecito said. “Our team went out there and got after it. Being able to be involved with the GB Baseball program again was wonderful and to be able to do it right here was tremendous.”
So a local guy has bounced back and forth across the pond, but he’s back home again, raising his family here. But there’s a part of Pietro Sollecito that’s always going to be in Great Britain, involved in the sport that he loves.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com