WASHINGTON - The nickname remains the same, but the location has certainly changed.
Bobby Picardo, a popular former Trenton Thunder employee known as 'Bobby Baseball', traded in his sales position at Arm & Hammer Park after the 2012 season for a return to college baseball, netting him an associate coaching position with his alma mater, the Catholic University Cardinals in Washington, for the past six seasons.
But he never expected that to lead him to the mound at Nationals Park, which is exactly where he was on Sunday, throwing to batters during the High School Home Run Derby and Futures Game batting practice session as a part of Major League Baseball's All-Star Week.
"It doesn't hit you until you go through the clubhouse doors," Picardo told The Trentonian on Sunday. "It's almost like that 'You're not in Kansas anymore' feeling. Being around minor league clubhouses, even back when I was in Trenton, or college clubhouses now, when you hit the doors, that's when it starts to sort of set in. Then you get to your locker and they've got gear in there for you, it's a surreal feeling and something you dream about as a kid.
"When someone tells you you're not going to be good enough to play at that level, this is the next best thing. I think I was maybe six years old, and I jokingly said to my dad that I wanted to be a third base coach, and it's just funny to now be that. Dreams do come true, but this has been a surreal experience. The Nationals have been amazing, and I'm very fortunate to have a relationship with them through my wife (Jennifer, also a former Thunder employee, who works in their front office as a staff accountant). Without her, none of this would be possible."
The invite came in the form of a phone call from Rob McDonald, the Nationals VP of clubhouse operations and team travel, and Picardo immediately accepted. The jitters of being on a big league mound were somewhat minimized by having previously been invited out by MLB with some of his graduated seniors and alums in June to test out Statcast, but didn't entirely go away.
"There's that moment where you turn around and see yourself on the big scoreboard, and it's like, 'Oh man, I'm out here,'" Picardo said. "There are those moments where you realize this is pretty cool and you've got to just breathe for a second."
Picardo joined the Thunder as an intern after graduating Catholic University in 2009, where helped the team to back-to-back Landmark Conference titles in his junior and senior seasons. He was eventually promoted to ticket sales manager in 2012, but his time away from the actual game itself started to wear on him, despite the efforts of those around him who quickly picked up on his unquestionable passion for baseball.
"In Trenton, I loved my time there," Picardo said. "Will Smith, CJ Johnson, Jason Schubert, Jeff Hurley, Ryan Crammer, Eric Lipsman, Matt Pentima, Patience Purdy, (Tom) "Tonto" (Kackley); these people put me in a position where I could be around baseball as much as I could with youth baseball, travel baseball, high-school baseball tournaments, tryouts. They knew I wanted to be as close to the game as possible.
"But the sales part of things just got to a point where I wasn't enjoying it anymore, and the minute I wasn't happy driving to the ballpark one morning was when I reached out to my head coach from college, Ross Natoli, and our-then athletic director Mike Allen about getting back into baseball through college athletics because I missed being between the white lines, I missed being in the dugout. But I wouldn't be where I am in my professional career without every lesson I learned there from how to fold a tarp to how to make a sales call. I know it sounds crazy to say it, but everything I did in Trenton prepared me for every day of my life."
Even, of course, portraying the "Bobby Baseball" character, which appeared in a series of YouTube videos produced by the Thunder during Picardo's tenure with the club and are often a conversation starter with people he meets to this day.
"I think anyone that knows me, the first thing they'll tell you is, 'God, he loves baseball,'" Picardo said. "The Bobby Baseball character was a product of Greg Lavin and I sitting around a green screen and wanting to spoof Jimmy Football, sell some tickets, have a good time doing it, be funny. It's rare that I don't meet someone and they haven't already been sent one of those YouTube videos; Jenny's whole family, a lot of opposing coaches have a blast with them. A lot of them save it for when I get to the field to try to get in my head a little bit."
On Sunday, however, as he was chatting with the likes of Peter Gammons and Dave Winfield after throwing BP to the game's future stars, the only thing that got into his head was a well-deserved sense of accomplishment for the hard work he's put in to get there.
"I definitely sat down and thought about that first trip to Thunder Road for my interview," Picardo said. "I thought about the All-Star Game in Trenton, my intern summer and what a cool experience that was. I've come a long way from throwing batting practice to season ticket holders at a picnic to throwing here today. I'll be honest, a lot of that comes from a passion for the game that'll never die, because it's the greatest game in the world. Strong faith, a supportive family and wife. Without them, I'm not doing this. I've had people help me along the way with tough love and great advice."
For more pictures of Bobby's experience, click here!
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