CHANDLER, Ariz. — Jason Conti figures he's in a very select group.
“Chefs with a World Series ring and a college degree,” Conti said. “I'd start a Facebook group for us, but I think I'd be the only one.”
Conti, 44, still has the dry wit and humor that made him popular with his baseball teammates at Seneca Valley High School, where he graduated in 1993, as well as those who played with him at the University of Pittsburgh and then in the major leagues for five seasons.
These days, Conti works as a chef in a restaurant near the home he and his wife, Cari, bought in 2000.
“I never felt like I needed a big house to show how important I was,” Conti said. “Life is good and we're happy. We're living like normal people.”
As a senior at Seneca Valley, Conti put himself on the radar of baseball and college scouts by batting .477 with two home runs, 20 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
He was drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres, but opted to go to Pitt, where he shined for three seasons for the Panthers.
“I was a 160-pound freshman,” Conti said. “I never expected to be a professional baseball player.”
But the Cranberry Township native was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 32nd round in 1996.
Conti's march to a major league roster was a steady one.
He made a meteoric rise through the Diamondbacks' system, earning the organization's minor league player of the year and getting his first call to the majors with Arizona in 2000.
During his rookie year he made a splash by throwing out Atlanta's Brian Jordan at third base from right field on consecutive nights.
He repeated the feat two years later as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays by nabbing Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas at the plate in back-to-back games.
“A lot of people don't remember that I did that again,” Conti said. “The only reason anyone cared the first time was because I did it at the same base to the same player in back-to-back games. When I did it in Tampa, I don't think anyone cared.”
Conti spent parts of five seasons in the majors with four clubs.
His best year came in 2002 with the Devil Rays when he played in 78 games, batting .257 with three homers, 21 RBI and 15 doubles in 222 at-bats.
He eventually lost his starting job that season to rookie Carl Crawford.
“That was probably a good decision, playing Carl over me,” Conti quipped.
After the 2002 season he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Javier Valentin and was released after the season.
He hooked on with the Texas Rangers in 2004.
In 2006 he signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then was sent to the New York Yankees as a player to be named later. The Yankees released him in June and he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals — the club he grew up rooting for — but was released by St. Louis just two months later.
In 2007, he played professionally in Italy before calling it a career.
Conti remembers his first major league at-bat, a pinch-hit single to right-center against Houston in June 29, 2000.
He remembers his second hit, a liner up the middle against Cincinnati.
One game leaps to his mind more than most.
It was his best game as a pro in 2003 with Milwaukee and it happened to come in St. Louis.
Conti went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer and five RBI, including the game-winning hit in a 7-6 win that all but knocked the Cardinals out of contention in the NL Central.
“I just remember standing at second and thinking, 'I just got five RBI in a game and I can't believe it,'” Conti said. “I called my dad after the game and said, 'How'd you like that?' He was a diehard Cardinals fan and he said, 'That was great.'”
Conti tried to stay in baseball after his playing days were over, but found that difficult.
He finished up his communications degree at Arizona State University, in 2010, but his love of cooking made him seek out a job as a chef.
“I thought about going to culinary school, but I wanted to get my college degree,” Conti said.