Papale, Stassi meet with similar stories

April 25th, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- hasn't seen the movie "Invincible." But he has lived it.

Now, he'll be able to watch it, too.

Outside the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday, Vince Papale -- the subject of the movie, a former walk-on who made the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 -- handed Stassi a copy of the DVD.

"To Brock, you are invincible," was scrawled across the cover. On a picture inside the case, Papale wrote, "To Brock, we lived our dream."

After catching a glimpse of the teary-eyed interview Stassi gave in Spring Training after learning he'd made the Phillies, Papale knew he had to meet him.

Their respective paths to the highest level of professional sports were filled with uncertainty. Longshot doesn't quite do either story justice.

Stassi, now 27, was a 33rd-round Draft pick and an offseason substitute teacher. Papale, at 30 years old, was also a teacher before becoming the oldest rookie in NFL history.

It was not a given that Stassi would fulfill his dreams, although he never lost faith in himself.

His first season in the Minors was a struggle to say the least.

"Terrible," Stassi said of the year he hit .200 after beginning the season in extended spring training.

"It's a place you don't want to be when you're 22," he said.

Five years later, he reached the game's highest level, pinch-hitting on Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park and pulling down his helmet to block the third deck from view.

The grueling journey to playing professionally, regardless of how unlikely that outcome may be, forces athletes to find support systems.

Stassi leaned on his brother, Max, a Minor Leaguer in the Astros' system. Papale leaned on his high school football coach.

A picture hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, of Papale and a teammate laughing while walking off the field after a win.

"We call it the last laugh," Papale said of defying the odds. He was thrilled to be in the presence of another Philadelphia athlete who's walked in his shoes.

While Stassi's interview may not be destined for Cooperstown, his accomplishment speaks for itself.

"It's fun proving people wrong," he said.