(Toronto Star photograph.)
Nicholas Joseph Rico
Born: August 20, 1928
Died: March 28, 2015 (Toronto)
Nick Rico was a star player on Toronto sandlots who spent five seasons in the low professional minor leagues from 1949 to 1953.
A pitcher who suffered from elbow pain, he also played second and third base, as well as the outfield.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound athlete was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies at age 19 in 1949. He was assigned to the Bradford (Pa.) Blue Wings, where he began the season playing third base. (One of his teammates was rookie pitcher Roy Face, who would go on to a 16-season major-league career.) Rico was released early in the season and wound up joining the Hamilton (Ont.) Cardinals. He also pitched for the Waterloo Tigers of the semiprofessional Inter-County League in Ontario.
The rest of his pro career was as ragged. Rico’s pitching suffered as he coped with an elbow injury, yet he found a spot on rosters as a utility infielder and outfielder who hit for average. Over four seasons, the well-travelled ball player wore the uniforms of the Bristol (Conn.) Owls, Gastonia (N.C.) Browns, Mooresville (N.C.) Moors, Lexington (N.C.) Indians, Lawton (Okla.) Reds, Magic Valley (Idaho) Cowboys and Ogden (Utah) Reds.
After returning to Toronto, he dominated industrial league play, hitting a home run of legendary distance at Christie Pits. He later became a noted baseball coach, best known for his Etobicoke Kingsway Lions Baseball Academy. He was a noted wizard with the fungo bat.
Rico coached several outstanding athletes in Toronto, including future minor leaguers such as Doug Beckett and a future Hockey Hall of Famer in Ken Dryden. One of his athletes, Bob Smyth, became a noted coach himself, associated with developing Joey Votto. Early in Votto’s career, Rico spotted a slight flaw in his swing while observing a batting-cage session. Votto altered his swing ever slightly and with that suddenly had greater power.
Rico was the son of a man who sold bananas door to door in Toronto. He worked in the family’s wholesale food business.