Born: January 17, 1970
Ronald Thomas Villone Jr. was born January 17, 1970 in Englewood and grew up in nearby Bergenfield. A big, athletic kid, he excelled in football, baseball and basketball. At Bergenfield High, he was the star of the football team as a receiver and led the baseball team as a left-handed starter. His fastball hovered around 90 mph, and he had the beginnings of a change-up and curve.
Among the colleges watching Ron’s prep career was the University of Massachusetts. They offered him a scholarship—not for baseball, but for football. Ron took the deal, knowing he would be playing spring football instead of baseball as a freshman. He missed baseball again in his sophomore spring because of a broken foot. Meanwhile he was the starting tight end on the Minutemen football squad, earning all-conference honors as a sophomore in 1990.
Ron finally blossomed as a college pitcher in 1991, earning Left-handed Pitcher of the Year honors in the Atlantic 10. He racked up several double-digit strikeout games and at 6’3” 240 pounds, he was touted by some as a potential first-round pick. In 1992, he played for Team USA and also earned third-team All-America status. That spring, the Seattle Mariners took Ron with the 14th pick in the first round.
The Mariners converted Ron into a closer in the minor leagues. He got his first taste of major league action in 1995, pitching out of the bullpen. Seattle was still in the hunt in July, and looking to acquire a top-line starter. The San Diego Padres offered Andy Benes and Seattle packaged Ron and prospect Marc Newfield. In a late-August game a half-hour from his home, at Shea Stadium, Ron came into a 4–1 game with one out in the ninth and slammed the door on the Mets with two strikeouts for his first big-league save.
At the trade deadline in 1996, Ron found himself switching uniforms again. As a left-handed relief specialist, he would come to be viewed as a problem-solver for weak bullpens, or as a deal-sweetener for bigger trades. In this case, he was packaged with Newfield (again) and sent to the Brewers for Greg Vaughn. Over the next decade, Ron pitched for the Indians, Reds, Rockies, Astros, Pirates and Marlins. The Reds were the only team to use him as a starter.
In 2006, Ron hooked up with his other hometown team, the Yankees. He played two years for New York, one for the Cardinals, and one for the Nationals. He retired from baseball in 2010 at at age 40 after being cut by the Nats. In all, Ron had played for 11 different major league clubs—one short of the all-time record. In 2012, the Cubs hired Ron as a minor-league pitching instructor.