LAKELAND, Fla. — Joseph “Jiggs” Petrucci spends half the year living in Seneca Falls and the other half in this Florida city.
On Thursday, Petrucci will take a break from his wintertime activities in the Sunshine State to throw out the first pitch of a Major League Baseball spring training game between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers play their spring home games in Lakeland. According to John Cafaro, Petrucci’s cousin who lives in Seneca Falls and will be in attendance, the Detroit organization asks a war veteran to throw out the first pitch before every spring training home game.
Petrucci, 94, enlisted in the Army in June 1944 at the age of 18. He spent two weeks in basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., before moving to Fort McClellan, Ala., for 17 weeks of infantry training.
He was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division (Indian Head Division) and began serving on the Siegfried Line in Germany Dec. 14, 1944. Two days after that the Germans launched the greatest military offensive in their history, an effort that wound up remembered as the “Battle of the Bulge.”
“On Christmas Day, 1944, our regiment was going to get our first hot meal in two weeks,” Jiggs said many years ago. “As we lined up behind trees for protection from the German mortars, a bunch of German Luftwaffe planes strafed the regiment, killing many of our buddies and ruining the holiday.”
Later that winter, Petrucci spent time in a Paris hospital recovering from frozen feet.
Petrucci went on to work a long and distinguished career at Goulds Pumps. His time there, along with his many golfing-related accomplishments, made him one of the most recognizable faces in the Seneca County community.
He is a former Seneca Falls Country Club champion, and a multiple winner of the former Seneca Lake Country Club Golf-Bowl. Petrucci has recorded several holes-in-one in his career, including a pair of aces on SFCC’s par-4 opening hole.
Nowadays, he remains an active swimmer who takes to the water daily at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls or at his place in Lakeland.
“(Jiggs) is the most loyal, lovable, generous person you’d ever want to meet,” Cafaro said about his cousin, whom he gets to see plenty when Petrucci is back for the summer.
Tomorrow’s spring training game begins at 1:05 p.m. It is being broadcast on MLB Network.
Cafaro said he and other family and friends will be on hand to watch Jiggs’ ceremonial first pitch.