Detroit – His career stat line does not mirror Archibald “Moonlight” Graham from the “Field of Dreams,” (one game, zero at-bats), but it’s close. Once a highly regarded prospect with a seemingly bright future in the bigs, Nikco Riesgo recorded one hit in seven at-bats in his lone Major League stint with the Montreal Expos in 1991. That one hit might seem insignificant in the baseball history books, but to the now 46-year-old Riesgo, it represents the fuel and the passion behind his current endeavor as founder and president of the Major League Players Organization (MLPO).
Designed to help promising junior high and high school-aged players maximize their abilities and prepare for a playing career in professional baseball, MLPO (www.mlpo.org) offers an array of services – all implemented by Riesgo. He provides prospects with fitness and nutrition advice and hitting instruction along with serving as an advocate, developing and distributing videos of players and sending them to scouts as well as helping them get into showcase events attended pro scouts and college coaches.
“I had one Major League hit. There should have been many more because of my capabilities, but my playing career didn’t develop as expected,” Riesgo said. “That is what feeds my commitment and devotion to helping MLPO prospects achieve their Major League dream – not just reaching the majors, but having a long impactful MLB career.
“Ironically, I don’t think I would have the same passion if I had a long career myself,” he added. “I remember the excitement and the feeling of exhilaration when I collected that first Major League hit. I created MLPO to give kids with Major League potential the guidance to enhance their abilities and preparation to get there.”
Raised in Long Beach, Calif., Riesgo excelled in football and baseball. Charles Gwynn – who is the father of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and former Major Leaguer Chris Gwynn – was his Pop Warner youth football coach. It was the elder Gwynn who instilled a football discipline in Riesgo that he applied to baseball.
In high school, a scout from the Milwaukee Brewers (Bill Moffitt, who is the father of tennis great Billie Jean King and former Major League pitcher Randy Moffitt) told Riesgo he could reach the majors if he solely concentrated on baseball. Riesgo heeded the advice, and he was a 25th round pick of the Brewers out of high school in 1985.
The Brewers drafted him late because they knew that he would likely honor his commitment to San Diego State University, where he would follow in the footsteps of the Gwynn brothers. Riesgo, who earned a National Scholar Athlete Award with a 3.98 GPA, later emerged as one of the best hitters in the world before the 1988 draft, when he was selected in the eighth round by the San Diego Padres.
Riesgo was the advanced Single-A Florida State League MVP in 1990 when he was in the New York Mets organization, hitting .298 with 14 home runs, 94 RBI, 46 stolen bases and a .882 OPS. He bounced around to the Expos, Phillies, Royals and Brewers organizations. In 1995, he was part of the Boston Red Sox – during spring training as a replacement player. He documented the experience in “Strike Three! – A Player’s Journey through the Infamous Baseball Strike of 1994,” a book written with Russ Cohen. Riesgo’s playing career ended after 1995, which he spent in the independent Texas-Louisiana League after he was released by the Red Sox when the strike was settled. He entered the business world as a bookkeeper and financial strategist, but kept a presence in baseball by offering hitting instruction. The creation of MLPO followed.
“When you love the game and you retire as a player, it can be a difficult transition because in many cases you have spent your entire life with a glove and a bat,” Riesgo said. “I saw a need that existed to help young players who have professional baseball potential enhance their talents and take the necessary steps in the years leading up to their draft eligibility.
“When I first started MLPO, I solely worked with college-aged players, but I found that they were too far along in their career to make a significant difference,” Riesgo added. “So I shifted to primarily working with young players who are around 14 to 16, which provides ample time for me to implement fitness, nutrition and baseball training techniques as well as promote them to scouts and general managers, and get them into national showcases.”
MLPO’s most prominent success story is 15-year-old Mason Studstill, a freshman third baseman and closer at Rockledge High School in Florida. Already, the right-hander has been clocked at 87 on the mound and is blasting 450-foot bombs at the plate.
When Studstill signed up with MLPO, Riesgo implemented fitness and nutrition recommendations, provided Mason with a specialized batting machine designed to help improve bat speed as part of the package, and gives Studstill hitting instruction and analyzation. He also prepares videos of Studstill and sends them to scouts and directors of high school baseball showcase events. Studstill thrived as one of the youngest players at the Power Showcase, which featured the nation’s top high school players. Riesgo also helped Studstill get a spot at an event in Orlando, where college scouts from the University of South Carolina, Florida State University, the University of Florida and UCF offered him scholarships.
Riesgo is in the initial stages of launching MLPO showcase events, and he is increasing production of an automated hitting machine he helped designed. He is also working on introducing a device that helps players with stretching exercises.
One Major League hit – a line drive single up the middle off Frank Viola – has spurred an organization that Riesgo believes will develop a plethora of Major Leaguers in the future. Helping these young players eventually achieve their Major League dream is an extension of Riesgo’s big league ambitions. “I envisioned a long Major League career with lots of home runs and a few World Series rings, which is not unlike anyone who gets drafted and works his way up the minor leagues,” Riesgo said. “Though that didn’t happen for me, I’m focused on giving young players – who are willing to make the commitment – the guidance and helping hand to prepare for a successful Major League career.”