By Noah Perkins, Bulletin Staff
Phil Rizzuto interviews a basketball player during his days reporting for the Cambridge (Mass.) Chronicle.
Phil Rizzuto has an encyclopedic knowledge of Major League Baseball. Ask him about Kid Nichols, the 19th century Boston Beaneaters pitcher from the old National League, and he’ll rattle off his earned run average and career wins like it’s second nature.
“When you start watching sports as a kid, it’s a connection with your family,” Rizzuto said. “It’s exhilarating. It’s one of the few things that is more or less fair. There aren’t the same discriminations and biases that go into other things.”
His first window into professional sports came as a 5-year-old. Rizzuto remembers being captivated by news coverage of the well-publicized low-speed police chase involving former football star O.J. Simpson. In the 22 years since, sports fandom has become one of the central elements of Rizzuto’s identity.
“When I was in middle school, I would write articles about games just for myself,” Rizzuto said. “Sports have always been a big part of my life.”
As he got older, Rizzuto continued to write about sports, publishing his opinions for friends on social media as Facebook notes.
In September 2009, after dropping out of Suffolk University, Rizzuto, a lifelong resident of Cambridge, Mass., found a larger audience after offering his services to the Cambridge Chronicle. After submitting a sample of his work, Rizzuto became the sole provider of local high school sports coverage for the Chronicle.
“I wasn’t in school, I was looking for things to occupy my time, and I noticed there wasn’t really any local coverage for sports in the Chronicle, which I thought was kind of the point of having a local newspaper,” Rizzuto said. “I emailed the editor. He told me to go to a game and send in a writing sample. He liked it and said they’d pay me to do it, and if I wanted to keep doing it to let him know.”
For four years, Rizzuto contributed a weekly story to the Chronicle. His coverage encompassed athletics at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. His fondest memories are of the feature stories he wrote, in which more of an emotional connection was made.
“It was gratifying to see my name in print,” Rizzuto said. “I felt like someone who was making a positive impact on the community. To give kids pride in their accomplishments was certainly a good feeling. I got to meet a lot of student athletes, coaches and administrators. For someone from here who wants to stay here, it was useful making those connections.”
Rizzuto, while writing for the Chronicle, went back to school, umpired Little League baseball games, scooped ice cream at Lizzy’s Ice Cream in Cambridge and worked for an after-school program.
With too many commitments and a desire to pursue other things, he left the Chronicle in 2013.
In January, after nine years behind the counter, Rizzuto obtained an interim license to run Lizzy’s Ice Cream in Harvard Square as he waited for his purchase of the business to be finalized so he could officially become its owner.
Ironically, it was originally unrequited love that brought him to Lizzy’s in 2007.
“I was pursuing someone romantically,” Rizzuto said. “She worked there and I thought the best way to woo her was to stand next to her and scoop ice cream. That turned out to not be the case, but now I own a business, and … I’m not sure what she is doing with herself. As far as I know, it’s not owning a business.”
While scooping ice cream might not be as exciting as high school sports, it has provided Rizzuto with some memorable moments. Most notable for him was when he served ice cream at a charity function with Kevin Garnett, then a power forward with the Boston Celtics.
“I haven’t gotten very far, but I’ve done a lot in this town,” Rizzuto said.