“Don’t Just Live in Your Community; Be Part of It.” How Chris R. Vaccaro ’11 Incorporates Public Policy Into His Passions

Since getting his master’s degree in public policy, Chris R. Vaccaro, MA ’11, has incorporated his passions — civil engagement, journalism, baseball and Italian American heritage — into everything he does. And he attributes many of his professional successes to the skills he developed at Stony Brook University. Whether it’s been analyzing budgets at The Topps Company and Altice USA, getting involved in his local community and school district, teaching at Hofstra University, running the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame or founding the Italian American Heritage Society of Long Island, Vaccaro believes Stony Brook prepared him to make a difference as a leader, organizer and community advocate.

Vaccaro (center) with 40 Under Forty honorees in 2014. (Photo by Jason Gardner)
Vaccaro (center) with 40 Under Forty honorees in 2014. (Photo by Jason Gardner)

A Stony Brook University 40 Under Forty honoree, Vaccaro was the director and executive producer of “Mission Classic,” a documentary that follows the Italian National Baseball Team’s journey to the 2023 World Baseball Classic. The alumnus traveled to Italy with the Italian American Baseball Foundation to interview players and film their practices ahead of the World Baseball Classic. The film premiered at the 40th annual Milano Federation of International Cinema Television Sportifs Fest in Italy, and the three-part series is now available on YouTube.

Vaccaro, a journalism professor and the director of graduate journalism at Hofstra University, has won multiple Emmy and Murrow awards for his oversight of digital and broadcast projects when he was digital vice president of News 12 Networks. He was also selected as a Fulbright specialist by the U.S. Department of State.

Stony Brook’s Center for Italian Studies recently hosted Vaccaro on campus. He is partnering with the center on his new venture, the Italian American Heritage Society of Long Island.

What is the Italian American Baseball Foundation, and how are you involved?

Vaccaro with Ryan Micheli, a catcher for Stony Brook University baseball, at the IABF's scholarship dinner.
Vaccaro with Ryan Micheli, a catcher for Stony Brook University baseball, at the IABF’s scholarship dinner.

The Italian American Baseball Foundation (IABF) is the American arm of Italian baseball. We hope to shine a light on Italian American baseball players, coaches, front-office executives and others involved in the game, while helping grow the game in Italy. We stand on the shoulders of legends like Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza. We also track minor and major league prospects who are Italian in heritage, and we are committed to growing baseball in Italy. We run clinics in Italy and offer scholarships to Italians who want to play collegiate baseball or softball in the United States. In fact, Ryan Micheli, a catcher for Stony Brook University baseball, was an IABF scholarship recipient last year.

My combined passion for baseball and pride as an Italian American led to my involvement in the IABF. While I was editor-in-chief at Topps, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame caught my attention, and I ended up making commemorative baseball cards for the organization. I was introduced to IABF’s founder and president, Joe Quagliano, and I joined their board, helping with everything from event management to operations, web development and social media.

Vaccaro filming parts of Mission Classic with Mike Piazza.
Vaccaro filming parts of Mission Classic with Mike Piazza.

What was the process like to put together the documentary?

In November 2022, we traveled to Italy as part of the Mission Classic — a historic baseball trip through Rome, Tuscany, Parma and Modena — with Team Italy, Mike Piazza and about 20 major league players and coaches. We filmed the entire trip for the multipart series, and I also went to team practices and a send-off dinner in Arizona. The videographer then traveled with the team for the rest of their journey to the World Baseball Classic in Asia. It was one of the most historic runs in the game’s history, especially from the Italian perspective. From being on a field in Tuscany with Mike Piazza to scripting and editing the film, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

How did the Italian American Heritage Society of Long Island come to be?

I always think about what comes next for my kids, society and our community and how to incorporate my heritage. How can I be the best leader in the Italian American community? How do we connect the millions of Italian Americans on Long Island? There are smaller organizations, like local chapters of the Knights of Columbus or Sons of Italy, but the Italian American Heritage Society of Long Island was founded to create a centralized point that will delve deeply into our past while speaking to the future. I believe it’s important to remember our history and the generations before us. The organization’s primary goals are advocacy and education, including teaching younger generations about Italian culture. This organization will help prevent us from losing sight of who we were and who we are today.

Vaccaro with Center for Italian Studies interim director Andrea Fedi, PhD.
Vaccaro with Center for Italian Studies interim director Andrea Fedi, PhD.

How do you see the Center for Italian Studies’ role in the Society?

We share many of the same goals, which are to keep in touch with our heritage, and in their case, they are an educational institution that underscores our mission in a very real and serious way. The Center is a valuable resource for the community, and I imagine us working together on special programs, workshops or events to bring people together and honor our heritage. As an alumnus, seeing what they’ve built over the last 20 years means a lot.

Vaccaro honoring Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito with an IABF jersey.
Vaccaro honoring Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito with an IABF jersey.

What was your experience like at Stony Brook?

I decided to get my master’s degree while working as a reporter for AOL’s Patch.com. I wanted to pursue a discipline that would help my storytelling. Since I had been reporting on local governments and schools, I felt the public policy program would be a great way to learn about the inner workings of municipalities, governments and educational institutions. The program at Stony Brook was exceptional and made me appreciate government and politics more than ever. I studied under Lee Koppelman, the executive director of Stony Brook’s Center for Regional Policy Studies and the head of the Long Island Regional Planning Board. He was my adviser and one of my most influential professors. I felt like I was living history every time I met with him, as he was one of the most influential people in Long Island planning history.

How did Stony Brook play a role in fostering your civic engagement?

I’m not just somebody who sits back. I need to participate. I recognize that civic engagement affects both public policy and my own life. I always say, ‘Don’t just live in your community; be part of it.’ As a leader and organizer, I know I can make a difference and have an impact on the public, especially in the areas that matter most to me — community, education, heritage and so on. Whether it’s knowing how to connect with people through the IABF, negotiating a budget in a corporate setting or building the Heritage Society, it’s all a direct result of what I learned through Professor Koppelman and my master’s program at Stony Brook.

From left to right: IABF co-founders Carmine Gangone and Joe Quagliano, Terry Francona, Vaccaro and John Franco
From left to right: IABF co-founders Carmine Gangone and Joe Quagliano, Terry Francona, Vaccaro and John Franco

What’s next for you?

I want to continue growing the Italian American Baseball Foundation and the visibility on Italian baseball in America while supporting the game’s growth in Italy. This includes hosting more Italian heritage games nationwide, developing our scholarship fund for the next generation of college baseball and softball players, remaining connected to Major League Baseball and supporting Italian American ballplayers and coaches.

I also want to continue envisioning what the Italian American Heritage Society of Long Island will look like. Since we’re just starting, we have a lot of work ahead. But I hope it is around for generations to come. And then, personally, I’m going through the process of getting my Italian citizenship. That will mean a lot to me and my family, and be another notch on my belt for my devotion to Italian culture.

Being a Fulbright specialist allows me to combine my passion for teaching and international relations. I hope to teach media and journalism to students worldwide — giving me yet another opportunity to embrace other cultures and heritages.

-Christine McGrath

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