Rico Petrocelli is as much a part of Boston baseball lore as the Green Monster and a bloody sock. Since his debut with the team in 1963, he has been a fixture as a player, coach, broadcaster, and ambassador. Baseball, however, is not Petrocelli’s only game. He is also an avid golfer.
“I got my first set of clubs when I signed with the Red Sox,” explains the 70-year-old Petrocelli, who hit 210 homers and knocked in nearly 800 runs in a 13-year big league career, all with Boston. “Our bat makers, Hillerich and Bradsby, gave us a deal. You could either get $200 cash or set of golf clubs. I chose the clubs.
Petrocelli, a Brooklyn native and president of the Petrocelli Marketing Group, played his first round of golf with his brothers. “I was absolutely awful,” says the man who caught the pennant winning pop up for the 1967 Red Sox. “I thought I would be a scratch golfer right away. That’s not that how it happens when you only play a couple of times a year.”
In 1969, Petrocelli hit a then-AL record 40 home runs as a shortstop, a mark that stood until 1998 when Alex Rodriguez hit 42. Later, Petrocelli would become a rock at third base for the Red Sox. As his playing career progressed, so did his golf game. He states, “I started to play more, especially about three or four years before I retired (in 1976).
“I began to play more charity tournaments and I really wanted to learn the fundamentals of the game, starting with the swing. I tried to do it on my own, reading magazines and watching videos, and I did get a little bit better. I was just never consistent.”
Consistency was never a problem for Petrocelli on the baseball field where he registered seasons of 29 and 28 home runs in 1970 and ’71 respectively. He is eighth all-time in games played for the Red Sox. Still, it was after he retired that golf took center stage. “I got really serious about the game and I worked on my swing. I wanted to get better, and I just loved being on the course.
“It’s really tough to move from a baseball swing to a golf swing. I was told to stay inside the ball. To me, that was like an inside-outside swing in baseball, trying to hit the ball to right field. I agree that if you play more, you will get better, but if you practice the wrong way. You’ll actually get worse.”
Charity tournaments are a big part of Petrocelli’s golf life, but the legendary Number 6 was not alone in the realm of Red Sox duffers. He relates, “Bob Montgomery was a great golfer, as was Mike Andrews, and Ken Harrelson. A lot of pitchers get better because they bring their clubs on the road and play only every fifth day.”
Among the Nashua, NH resident and Red Sox Hall of Famer’s favorite courses are The International, Worcester Country Club, Sky Meadow and Vesper. He has also played Sugarbush, Sugarloaf, Stowe and other northern New England course. TPC Norton and Sawgrass are other local favorites and his bucket list includes Pebble Beach and playing in Scotland and Ireland.
Playing in the 1967 and 1975 World Series was exciting, but Petrocelli recalls a similarly satisfying golf moment. “It was two years ago at Marlborough Country Club on the 161 yard, par 3 seventh hole. I got my first hole-in-one! The pin was a bit up front, and I did not see the ball go in. I saw it bounce. As we got closer, someone asked if I shot a Titleist. It was in the hole!”
Always a gritty athlete, Petrocelli says that his approach to golf is slightly less intense. “I really don’t want to play with guys who are too serious about the game or make big wagers. Harrelson used to talk about the mechanics of golf, about seeing the ball and hitting the ball. I really believe that the real work is done on the range.”
The game of golf has also taken on a higher meaning for Petrocelli, a devout Christian. He explains, “I learned about Links Players International from a friend. It’s a Christian ministry, where people come from all different churches and play golf. There were prayer groups all over the country, but none here in this area.
“We started one up about four years ago. We meet at a course, have lunch, do a short Bible study with some discussion, and then we go play golf. It’s non-denominational and everybody is welcome. Basically we use golf to promote our faith and lead to a stronger church life.”
Petrocelli, who authored the book “Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox” and writes a regular column for “Boston Baseball Magazine,” had his right hip replaced three years ago and will have his left hip replaced in October. Despite this, he hopes to continue to enjoy the game of golf. “I get out and play at least two times a week and go to the range a couple of times a week.
“I’ve always been a competitive person, but for me, the real thrill is trying to get the ball to the hole. It’s always been like coming up to bat with a man on base. Your approach is important. That’s what keeps me excited about playing.”
John Molori is the co-author of “The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players.” Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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