By Jake Donovan
Years before he decided to make boxing his everything, South Philadelphia’s Sonny Conto had visions of one day pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The rising heavyweight prospect gets to merge those two worlds, even if only for a night.
Conto will serve as the guest of honor for the Phillies’ 12th annual Italian-American Heritage Celebration game night, as the local favorite will throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of Tuesday’s game versus the National League-leading Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizen Bank Park in South Philly.
“It means the world to me,” Conto (3-0, 3KOs) told BoxingScene.com of the honor. “I didn’t get to play pro baseball but I’m stepping on a major league mound to throw the first pitch in South Philly. It’s a dream come true!”
The charismatic 23-year old was literally raised on the sport, as father and head trainer Frank Conto had his son hitting a heavy bag since the age of two.
Still, his early athletic talents had him steered towards the diamond rather than the ring. Conto served as a standout pitcher during high school and through his years at Rowan College, whom reached the 2015 Junior College World Series. A car accident later that summer literally changed his life, deciding to move on from baseball to boxing, where he became a two-time Golden Gloves champion before turning pro earlier this year.
The occasion took place barely a mile from his front door, scoring a 1st round knockout on a record-breaking “Philly Special” themed event at 2300 Arena in South Philly, promoted by Michelle Rosado’s Raging Babe Events.
“We're thrilled that Sonny will have this opportunity - something that he's dreamed about since he was a kid,” stated Rosado, a proud Philly native who remains an integral part of Conto’s development through her role with legendary local outfit Peltz Boxing. “He was born and raised in South Philly...for those of us who grew up in Philly, the team was a huge part of our childhood and beloved throughout the city.
“Some of my fondest memories as a kid were going the Phillies games. This will be a memory to last a lifetime for all of us, but especially Sonny. Everyone in the stadium will have the opportunity to see the first Italian heavyweight champ from Philadelphia.”
Of course, Conto has a long way to go before living out that dream but is certainly off to a brilliant start. His three pro bouts to date have lasted less than nine total minutes of ring time. He garnered considerable attention in his most recent appearance, a 2nd round knockout of Daniel Infante in supporting action to the Las Vegas debut of unbeaten Tyson Fury this past June.
“I feel like everything is happening attention wise really quick but it’s a good thing when the attention is on me,” notes Conto, who says it not to brag but to point out his penchant for thriving under pressure. “I feel as I perform better, so I’m not stranger to being the center of attention.
“But I’m very blessed and humble about it.”
Conto’s pre-game honor comes four weeks before his next ring appearance, fighting August 10 on the undercard of a Carl Frampton-headlined ESPN+ show at Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia.
MORE ON ITALIAN HERITAGE CELEBRATION NIGHT
The Phillies began its Italian Heritage Celebration tradition in 2008, when Conto was just 12 years old. They boast a 7-4 record overall on a night celebrating the community’s rich Italian history. Interestingly, they lost the first two games in 2008 and 2009—but advanced to the World Series in both years, winning it all in 2008.
Full event details are as follows, per the Phillies’ public relations office:
The first 1,000 fans to purchase tickets through this promotion will receive a coupon for a limited-edition Phillies Italian Heritage Celebration Scarf!
Opera Philadelphia will be performing the National Anthem
The Vivaci Dancers will be performing pregame at the Left Field Gate and on-field during the 5th inning.
Roaming the concourse throughout pregame and appearing on the dugout with the Phanatic in the 7th inning will be a Roman Centurion.
To help honor the Italian community, the event features a $2 discount off tickets in locations regularly priced $47 and under. To order tickets (subject to availability), click on the "Buy Now" button below and enter the password: ITALY
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox