Award-winning writer Pitoniak never forgot Rome roots


BY JOHN THEALL, Rome Sentinel

He has seen Joe Carterís 1993 World Series game-winning walk-off home run to send the Philadelphia Phillies home reeling, watched the Buffalo Bills fall in four straight Super Bowls, talked with legendary boxer Muhammad Ali and even has seen the magnificent structures of the Great Wall of China.

To walk in Scott Pitoniakís shoes would be a real treat for any devoted sports fan. To do what he does for a living, now that would be special.

The Rome native has worked in the sports journalism medium since the time he graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University. Over his ever-growing illustrious career, he has covered the Buffalo Bills, five Olympic Games, eight Super Bowls, several major golf tournaments, the World Series, the NCAAs and has written numerous feature pieces on athletes. He has also authored 10 books.

His latest work, "Memories of Yankee Stadium," recently hit the book stores and is a compilation of his memories and those of several major leaguers about the historic ballpark in the Bronx.

"I feel very blessed with my career path that I have chosen," Pitoniak said. "Iíve been very fortunate with everything that I have done, and I have seen some really incredible things."

Being a huge sports fan himself, Pitoniak has given the sporting world a fresh perspective at connecting the higher-than-life athletes and the everyday normal individuals through his written words in his copious sports stories that bring out the human side of sports and the athletes that perform in those sports.

"We as journalists are writing about sports, but we are also writing about people and getting behind the scenes with athletes as human beings," he said.

"Talking about how gifted they are, but like normal people they have common interests with us, and I find that people just like reading about people," he said.

On Sunday, Pitoniak will be honored as one of six new inductees into the Rome Sports Hall of Fame. He will be recognized for a lifetime of excellence in sports along with fellow inductees Becky Muldoon-Herndon, Kermit Cadrette, Bruce Wightman, Jerry Corigliano and the late Joseph Trela.

Pitoniak, who now resides in Rochester, said he was thrilled when he first heard the news about being apart of this yearís class and said that it was a true honor to be recognized by a community that helped mold the person who he is today. "I always say that I left Rome, but Rome has never left me," he said. "Itís a very close-knit community, and I have additional sets of parents and friends there. I have nothing but fond memories from there, and the life lessons Iíve learned from the people there and it still stays with me to this day."

As a youngster growing up in Rome, Pitoniak recalled he shared the childhood dream of others his age, hoping to one day to take over in center field for Mickey Mantle. When he came to realize that would never happen, he decided it would be interesting to write about sports instead. Upon graduation from Syracuse, Pitoniak decided to work for several local daily papers, including the Little Falls Evening Times, the Daily Sentinel and the former Daily Press in Utica.

After working in the area for a short time, in 1985 he joined the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, where he spent the next 23 years covering sports. He started out covering the Buffalo Bills before being promoted to sports columnist.

During his time there, Pitoniak became one of the most respected sports writers in Rochester newspaper history as he received more than 100 national and regional journalism honors. He was inducted into the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications Hall of Fame in 2000.

Pitoniak explained why being a sports journalist came so easy for him. "You have to love telling stories," he said. "You have to have a curiosity about the world and work on telling a story and telling it well," he added.

A story that stuck out in his mind was a piece he wrote about former Buffalo Bill Robert Kalsu, the only pro football player killed in action in Vietnam.

"It was a very powerful story and it received a lot of feedback from that," said Pitoniak.

"I have also written personal columns about my momís death and thanking my dad for taking me to Yankee Stadium."

On top of everything that Pitoniak has accomplished in his life, he still finds time to become actively involved in local charities.

"That goes back to my parents, and it goes to Rome. I know that I would have never gotten here if it wasnít for the people that helped me along the way, and I think its imperative to help others out. None of the good things would have happened in my life without the help of others," he said.

"Itís been an incredible ride so far for me, and I would not change a thing that the path that Iíve chosen and followed," he added. "I love what Iíve done and Iíve been very blessed."

Fans can also keep in touch and read Pitoniakís stories online at: www.scottpitoniak.com.