Andrew Battisti: “It was good to see the brand come back. It’s something that’s part of Rochester history. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Battisti)
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Unfortunately, Andrew Battisti won’t be able to introduce the inductees of the Rochester Lancers’ indoor soccer Wall of Fame this year.
Battisti, the Lancers’ team historian, has a pretty good excuse because he is one of 20 individuals who will be inducted on Friday, Jan. 31 at the Dome Arena. He has been the emcee of the previous induction ceremonies for the outdoor Lancers Wall of Fame.
“It’s been such an honor to do those at the Blue Cross Arena inducting players, coaches and personalities that I watched when I was growing up and people that I worked with, Alex Loj, Dick Howard, people that are synonymous with soccer,” Battisti said.
Battisti discovered the good news on New Year’s Eve after he and his wife Cindy returned home after watching the latest Star Wars movie via a message from team owner SoccerSam Fantauzzo.
“I was shocked. I didn’t even know they were doing an indoor Wall of Fame. And to be part of it, I’m humbled because what I do is for the love of the game. I have a background and the knowledge that fortunately stays in my brain,” he said with a laugh.
“I told my wife. She was stunned, too. Very honored to be named with so many people who have meant so much to the sport, to the Lancers, to Doug Miller, to Rocky [Perrotta PA announcer] to Ashley [Maria King, team president of operations], everybody.”
It was no mistake that Battisti the team historian. Heck, he should be the historian of Rochester soccer given that he has lived through every era of professional soccer in this city.
And before we forget, the original Lancers played some indoor soccer back in the day.
“Thank goodness for the internet, learning that the Lancers were the one of the first four teams of the version of indoor soccer that we see today in 1971,” Battisti said. “Then the fact they went all the way to the final of the NASL indoor season in ’76. They had the wide goals and they were only three feet tall. This franchise has so much history. When they say that this is the oldest soccer franchise in North America, they’re right, they really are.
“It goes back to ’67, the start of the team. There was a long hiatus there. People still remembered the Lancers. Rhino fans, many of them grew up as Lancer fans and were able to bring back the name, which came from Charlie Schiano, which was his college alma mater’s nickname, the University of Windsor.”
Battisti, who is a senior program manager for Dell, embraced the news when Fantauzzo decided to bring back the Lancers as an indoor team in 2011.
“It was good to see the brand come back,” he said. “It’s something that’s part of Rochester history. It’s the only major championship, other than the Royals in ’51 that the Rochester can say they had. There are other sports like lacrosse, box lacrosse and things like that. We were at the top level. We were playing the best teams in North America, with the biggest stars and they were coming right here to Rochester.”
Battisti, 58, grew up a fan of the original Lancers.
“In 1970, I went with my father to his Italian barber and he had his little black and white TV in the corner and the playoff game between the lancers and the Washington Darts was on the TV,” he said. “That was my first exposure to soccer.”
In elementary school, Battisti had a teacher from Italy who was “very much into soccer and we played some soccer.”
“I remember tried to head the ball and broke my nose,” he said. “I realize that maybe playing out in the field was not such a good idea so I ended up, whether it was in gym class or intramurals, I was always a goalkeeper, so I wouldn’t be heading the ball.”
Battisti and his father started attending games on a regular basis in 1973 as season-ticket holders. An interesting tidbit: Among the students of his graduating class at Cardinal Mooney High School was Karen Ercoli, the daughter of original Lancers owner Pat Dinolfo and future wife of Pat Ercoli, the one-time coach and general manager of the Rhinos and Lancers player, and former Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, the wife of Vincent Dinolfo, the son of Pat Dinolfo.
When he attended St. John Fisher College, Battisti was a correspondent for its radio station, WJFR at Rochester Flash (American Soccer League) games before taking on the role as statistician when it competed in the United Soccer League (no relation to the current USL) in 1984.
He watched the Rochester Rhinos games and the U.S. women’s national team play at Frontier Field before the former moved into a stadium it could call its own, working for the club during its 2015 USL championship season. He also watched the Western New York Flash, which captured the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League crown.
And of course, he attends Lancers games — indoor and outdoor, men and women — on a regular basis.
That has given Battisti a unique perspective of Rochester soccer. He is co-host, along with former Lancers trainer Joe Sirianni, of Soccer is a Kick in the Grass, the longest running soccer radio show in the United States, on Monday nights. He also has hosted Kick This, which is usually hosted by Fantauzzo.
Battisti doesn’t just specialize in soccer. He also has broadcasted many college basketball games, including Roberts Wesleyan College, St. John Fisher College, University of Rochester and RIT. He also has done play-by-play for the Rochester RazorSharks and the old Zeniths. He also did RIT soccer for a year.
His most favorite moment of the modern Lancers? That was when Rochester defeated the host Syracuse Silver Knights in the Eastern Division semifinals in extratime as Yaikel Perez headed a clearance by the goalkeeper into the net for the winning.
His second favorite moment? When the Lancers stunned the Chicago Mustangs in the playoffs in the Windy City to boost the club into the 2019 MASL2 Final Four.
“That was a team we had a lot of trouble with and the guys really put forth a really super human effort to win there,” Battisti said. “I wasn’t there personally. I watched it [streaming]. Going to the playoffs in that first year back in MASL 2 was a big deal.”
When the Lancers return to the great outdoors with the National Premier Soccer League and United Women’s Soccer seasons, Battisti is looking forward getting in front of the microphone again and usher in a few more inductees into the outdoor Wall of Fame.
“The committee that we have does a wonderful job with that,” he said. “Looking forward to the 2020 outdoor — I guess we’ll call it the classic Lancers Wall of Fame. We’ll have to come up with some name for it — the outdoor Lancers Wall of Fame. It’s an honor and privilege to be part of that to be able to induct the people and pull it all together.”
Tickets for the Jan. 31 game at the Dome Arena in Henrietta, N.Y. can be purchased at RLancers.com or at the Dome box office on game day. The Lancers will host the St. Louis Ambush on Saturday, Feb. 1. Both contests kick off at 7 p.m.