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Zillo touched by pilot's family



Published: Thu, November 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



NEW YORK -- Jason Zillo, the New York Yankees' assistant director of media relations for the past four years, says he's not sure what he wants to do with his life if he ever leaves the roller-coaster thrill ride he's on.

But helping others is a priority.

Judging from some of his experiences since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the 1991 Ursuline High graduate is well on his way to a rewarding career.

About a week after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by airplane crashes, the Youngstown native received a letter from 10-year-old Brielle Saracini of Yardley, Pa., a huge fan of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Brielle, like so many others who lost relatives in the attack, was hoping for something, maybe an autographed picture, that might cheer her up. Her father, Captain Victor Saracini, was a pilot on United Flight 173, the jet that crashed into WTC Tower Two.

Wanted to help: A firsthand witness to how the attacks had devastated his adopted city (Zillo had to walk about 100 blocks that day from his Yankee Stadium office to his East Side Manhattan apartment when public transportation was shut down), the Yankees executive immediately wanted to help.

The experience has affected his life.

"I am so fortunate to have this job because it has afforded me the luxury to do things [for others]," said Zillo, who joined the Yankees on a full-time basis about two years after he graduated from Ohio University with a communications degree.

Sought advice: First, Zillo sought advice from a grief counselor on what would be the best thing to do for the Saracini family.

Then he put the Yankee PR machinery to work, well aware while time spent meeting superstar athletes can't offset the loss of a father, it might bring a little cheer into young lives hit hard by tragedy.

After contacting Brielle's mother, Ellen, Zillo arranged for Jeter to telephone Brielle to invite her, her mother and her 13-year-old sister, Kirsten, to attend the next night's game at Yankee Stadium.

Brielle admitted that when she sent the letter, "I didn't think I'd hear from him.

"We started screaming really loud," recalled Kirsten when her sister told her who was on the phone.

To the Bronx: As soon as school was over on that late September day, the Saracinis' left their home in the Philadelphia suburbs and zipped up the New Jersey Turnpike to the Bronx.

Zillo greeted the Saracini family in the parking lot, then escorted them onto the field for batting practice.

The girls were introduced to Jeter -- by far the most popular of the Yankees -- and then the rest of his teammates as they took in batting practice.

"I couldn't talk," said Brielle, wearing a Yankees cap and a Jeter replica uniform while watching the World Series from a Yankee Stadium loge. "In the video, I'm like [mouth wide-open]."

"We were pretty star-struck," Kirsten said with a chuckle.

Brielle said she thought that Jeter "might come up for like two minutes and say 'Hi.' But we stayed on the field for everything."

The Yankees invited the girls back to New York for World Series Game 5. They didn't know about that trip until they arrived home from school that afternoon.

Internships: Zillo's public relations career began with internships with the NBA's Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons that led to an internship offer with the Yankees.

A witness to David Wells' perfect game and three World Championship teams, Zillo ranks Tino Martinez's two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth homer that tied Game 4 of the World Series as his best highlight.

"I thought I was witnessing the end of a dynasty," Zillo said.

But as memorable as the Martinez hit was, it doesn't compare to the lift Zillo said he received meeting the Saracinis.

XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.




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