The ‘Cat in Queens

David Cassilo

John Ricco came to Villanova knowing he liked sports, and shortly after he graduated in 1990, he found himself with a major opportunity to begin a career in what he loved. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance of an interview for an internship with the New York Yankees, and without his ties to Villanova, and specifically, its basketball team, his life might have turned out quite differently.

“On my interview, all the directors of media relations and public relations for the Yankees asked me about the Villanova basketball team,” Ricco says. “It was something I could talk about comfortably. At the end of it, he said, ‘You’re hired. You’ve got the internship.'”

Now the assistant general manager of the New York Mets, Ricco used that internship to catapult himself into the front office of a team in the largest market in the country. However, it wasn’t just a strong basketball team that helped him while on Lancaster Avenue.

Getting to Villanova was the easiest part for Ricco. He had family members who had attended, and as a result, he found himself at many Wildcat football games growing up.

Ricco, a New Jersey native, liked how close Villanova was to his house. He was already leaning toward becoming a Wildcat when he took his campus tour in 1985, but his experience that day may have been what sealed it for him.

“It was the morning after Villanova won the title, and the place was trashed,” Ricco says. “In the Quad, there were kegs everywhere and broken windows. I was walking through there and the tour guide was a little uncomfortable because of the parents. I looked at my father, and he was like, ‘What is this? What is this all about?'”

Although he may have caught the campus in its worst state, for an avid sports fan like himself, Ricco had found the right place.

Because, majoring in sports was not an option, Ricco chose to be a communication major with a business minor. He devoted the rest of his free time to following his passion in as many ways as possible.

Eventually, he found himself as the sports editor of both the yearbook and The Villanovan, the latter of which allowed him to follow the basketball team during the 1988 NCAA tournament.

Ricco’s extracurricular activities and classes gave him a wide range of knowledge and experience in a variety of fields.

“My thought has always been to learn as much as you can and develop a pretty good foundation, and when things open up you’ll have some experience that helps you get into one of those places,” Ricco says.

One of those places was with the New York Yankees, and that internship was the beginning of what has been a long and successful career in baseball.

After working with the Yankees, Ricco moved into the public relations department of the American League in 1992. A year later, he moved to baseball operations at the Major League offices until 1996. Ricco then shifted over to labor relations for seven years before being hired as the Mets assistant general manager in 2004.

“Half of the jobs I’ve had I had no idea existed, and there’s no way I would have known in college that they existed,” Ricco says.

As the Mets’ assistant general manager, Ricco has a long list of responsibilities. He deals primarily with players’ agents and contract negotiations, but he also oversees many of the team’s most important areas, such as the department’s budget and statistical analysis.

In having such a wide range of tasks, Ricco sees what he learned at Villanova helping him everyday.

“I have to do a lot of writing in terms of putting together contract language but also in writing memos,” Ricco says. “The ability to communicate is huge in any of these jobs where you are managing people. I had a number of writing courses that helped me. On the other side, my business minor helps as I oversee the budget.”

While what he learned from class plays a prominent role in doing his job, Villanova basketball still performs a necessary task as well.

“It’s my main diversion,” Ricco says. “I’m all baseball so much, but I love to keep track of Villanova basketball. Plus, everybody knows that I went there. Anything that comes up in the news, I get e-mails.”

While Villanova squared off against Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight this past March, Ricco found himself at a team dinner at Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya’s house with Manager Jerry Manuel, David Wright, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Caros Beltran and J.J. Putz. Baseball was the main agenda of the evening, but Ricco’s support of the Wildcats left him anxious.

“The whole meeting was leading up to our game, Ricco says. “I was looking at my watch and Wright said, ‘Get your mind off the game, we’re talking about the team.’ As soon as we end, I jump into the living room, and they are all over me. I sat next to Manuel and he’s like, ‘Your boys can play.'”

As one of the most important figures in the Mets’ front office, Ricco has taken the love of sports that he had when he first came to Villanova and made it his profession. A dream job for many, Ricco doesn’t take a second of his day for granted.

“From time to time, I sit back and say, ‘This is pretty cool.’ At the end of the day, I definitely feel fortunate.”