Veneziano honors late father through baseball

September 21st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- When   walked into the Royals’ big league clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, emotions were high for his first big league callup. It was a moment the club’s No. 16 prospect has been waiting for his whole life, but especially since the Royals drafted the lefty pitcher in the 10th round of the 2019 Draft out of Coastal Carolina.

But Tuesday also marked the nine-year anniversary of his father’s death.

“Somebody’s watching over him, for sure,” Leslie Veneziano, Anthony’s mom, said.

“It’s crazy,” Anthony added. “I can’t really even explain it.”

At Warren Hills (N.J.) High School, Veneziano played basketball and baseball and had a future in both. Everyone around him pushed basketball because of his 6-foot-5 frame. But he and his dad, Anthony Veneziano II, both had dreams of a baseball career.

“He’s one of the few people who believed I could keep playing baseball,” Veneziano said. “We watched every Yankees game, so many highlights of players I should emulate. Following Andy Pettitte, guys like that. He wanted me to meet any local baseball player, whether it was a Minor League guy or a Major League guy, just pick their brain. He wanted this for me so bad.”

Veneziano II died suddenly on Sept. 19, 2014, when his son was 17 years old and a junior in high school. It was right around the time when Veneziano III started receiving recruiting calls for college baseball. Suddenly, his dad wasn’t there for coaching visits or tours. He persisted, with help from his mom, because he knew it was what his dad would want.

“Baseball was their thing,” Leslie said. “Always outside throwing the ball, talking ball. We loved watching him play basketball, too, but you could tell baseball was always their dream together. … I didn’t know anything about baseball. But I’ve learned a lot and learned to love it. He used to get mad at me, but now I’m pretty good with the lingo and the terms. He was very patient with me in the beginning.”

Veneziano committed to Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C., over 600 miles from home. The first year away hit him harder than he thought it would, and he struggled on the field and off it in his first two years.

With the help of the coaching staff there, including head coach Gary Gilmore, and conversations with his mom, Veneziano figured it out in time to get drafted by the Royals.

After a breakout year in 2021 with High-A Quad Cities, Veneziano struggled in Double-A last season. He had a 5.72 ERA across 26 games (25 starts). He dropped off prospect lists; his stock decreased.

“We’ve had many heart-to-heart conversations about how things weren’t going the way he thought it would go,” Leslie said. “I’ve always told him, ‘What happens will happen. You’ll always be successful because you’re a great kid.’ But baseball was his dream, and I just kept encouraging him to keep at it and work hard. Be himself. And the way he’s powered through has made me so proud.”

Veneziano bounced back this year with a 3.55 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He was a lock to be added to the 40-man roster because of his Rule 5 eligibility this offseason, and when the Royals placed Brady Singer and Brad Keller on the injured list with less than two weeks left in the season, they brought up Veneziano and Jonathan Bowlan to get their feet wet ahead of 2024.

Veneziano’s head was spinning Tuesday when he got to Kauffman Stadium after a hectic day of travel. All he wanted to do was go play catch and get back to normal.

Because when he’s on a baseball field, that’s when he feels his dad the most.

“This was our dream,” Veneziano said. “Ever since I was a little kid, it was always to be in the big leagues one day. We always talked about it. I was overwhelmed with every emotion [Tuesday]. He would be so excited. When I step on the mound, it’s going to be, ‘Game on,’ and he knows that. I know he’s still with me.”

Whenever Veneziano’s debut comes, he knows his dad will still be with him. ‘AV’ and No. 32 -- his dad’s former softball number -- is written in Sharpie on the inside of Veneziano’s cap, alongside No. 7, which honors a high school friend, Evan Murray, who died during Veneziano’s senior year.

When he takes the mound, just like he’s done throughout his career, Veneziano will draw a lightning bolt -- the Warren Hills Blue Streaks logo -- to honor his community back home in New Jersey.

“My home is my heart,” Veneziano said. “All the people that helped me get through that time stayed with me all the way up until today.”