View from Studio 3: Maz out to be new king of Queens
Sandy and Roberto Alomar did it. So did Mookie and Preston Wilson. And in the near future, Lee and L.J. Mazzilli could join them on the short list of fathers and sons to play for the New York Mets.
"Honestly, I might faint," said L.J. about the possibility of one day suiting up in Flushing, N.Y., where his father starred decades ago.
Lee's playing days ended the year before L.J. was born. Back in the 1970s, Lee was a matinee idol. His face was on billboards. Handsome and talented, he had a ceiling as high as the Empire State Building. Best of all, he was a local kid from Brooklyn.
"I can only imagine the type of stature he had in New York and what he went through," L.J., a second baseman, said of his father.
But L.J.'s imagination will have to suffice, because both father and son acknowledge that Lee's high-profile past is never a topic of conversation.
"He never talks about anything that he did in his career," said L.J. "He only talks about what I'm going to do in my career."
Lee wants his son to have his own identity, and so far, so good. L.J. is his own man, committed to the future yet aware of his father's past thanks to countless stories told by friends, family and media members.
Legions of fans who cheered for Lee have now taken a liking to L.J. After only one Minor League season, the 23-year-old already has a loyal following. In 2013, 40 years after drafting Lee in the first round, the Mets selected L.J. in the fourth, and he went straight from the University of Connecticut to Brooklyn to play for the Class A Cyclones.
In the shadows of his father's old neighborhood, L.J. quickly became a fan favorite. His hard work, on-field success and family name went a long way in a short time.
"I felt like a mini-star there in New York for a little bit," L.J. said. "I was appreciative of all the fans there and tried to interact as much as I could."
He also had to learn how to keep his head down and focus on the job at hand in order to improve his game and reach the next level. His hope is to start the 2014 season playing for the Mets' High Class A affiliate in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Although there's no denying that years of exposure to Major League clubhouses and the nuances of the game have helped L.J. evolve, it's his persistence and focus that have carried him to professional ball.
"Whatever he's accomplished, he's done on his own, because I wasn't around during his formative years," said Lee. "I was coaching, I was away. That's what's most impressive to me. His mom did a [great] job when I was away all the time."
Also impressive is L.J.'s work ethic. He doesn't know when to take his foot off the gas pedal. Instead of taking 25 swings in the batting cage, he'll take 200. So his batting practice sessions are long, but his swing is short and quick. He's a righty who uses the whole field, with the ability to drive the ball the opposite way -- a player, according to scouting reports, who needs to hit in order to have a shot at the big leagues.
Looking for a Major Leaguer to compare him with? So was I. But Lee, who managed and coached in the Majors, says that one of the hardest things to do in baseball is to project how good a player may be. I pressed him. The name he came up with? Michael Young.
"A professional player who always seemed to go the ballpark ready to play," said Lee, adding that as L.J. learns more about hitting, his power will improve. That, along with a cerebral approach, may allow him to make it on the big stage.
L.J.'s focus is so intense, he ushered in 2014 by hitting the delete button on his social media accounts. That's right. A 23-year-old professional athlete who has put the brakes on tweeting? Yup.
"I felt too attached to a technological device rather than real things in life," L.J. said. "I don't want to click on an app every 10 minutes. If I'm bored, I'd rather find something physical to do that will help me instead of wasting my time.
"I want to worry about myself and do everything I can personally to help chase my dream."
His own dream. One that could land him in Queens, where he would be inundated with even more stories of his father's famous past.
"I couldn't be more proud to be his son and more proud of what he's accomplished in his career and for his family," L.J. said. "The possibility of following in his footsteps would be amazing. It would be a dream come true."