One of his coaches calls him “a throwback.” Another says, “his energy is contagious.”
Most people who meet Greg Bozzo walk away impressed. And that’s before he straps on the gear and takes his spot behind the plate, where surely he is most comfortable of all.
Bozzo is truly a baseball junky and, more importantly, a player who thrives in a learning environment.
“Greg is old school,” says his Diamond Jacks Super 17U coach Kevin Cust. “He’s a throwback. You feel like you are talking to the finished product. He’s very polished. He looks you in the eye and shakes your hand, which is rare these days.”
Bozzo spent his 2019 baseball season behind the plate for both his high school team, Ridge, and the Diamond Jacks Super 17U. Both teams had strong pitching staffs and, not surprisingly, reached high levels of success while guided ably by their catcher, Bozzo. Ridge reached both the Somerset County Tournament and NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 finals and finished with an impressive 18-10 record last spring.
The Super 17U team was even more dominant on the summer travel circuit as Bozzo and his teammates unleashed some heavy artillery at the plate while shutting down opposing offenses.
“This past summer was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Bozzo. “We were just a together team. Before you knew it, we were 9-0 and rolled from there. We really bonded with each other and coach Cust.”
The 5-11, 192-pound Bozzo seemed to be operating in a comfort zone the past calendar year while still working diligently to improve his skills behind the plate and contribute reliably at the plate. That comfort surely derived from his decision in November of 2018 to commit to LaSalle University.
“The fall of junior year is a big one for D-1 commits,” said Bozzo. “I definitely was trying to get myself a spot in a program. I didn’t want to have that decision lingering into the next summer.” But, first, Bozzo had to ride the rollercoaster the recruitment process can be.
He was playing for the Diamond Jacks Super 16U team under coach Steve DiTrolio in the summer of 2018 and things looked bright early. “I got a lot of interest at the beginning and in the middle of that summer,” said Bozzo. “But I didn’t play so well at the end and some of (the interest) went away. It was more about the bat.”
Not all of the interest went away, though. As August turned to September, Bozzo received a text to his cell phone from LaSalle assistant Andrew Amaro. “I was at my cousin’s wedding and getting in the car about midnight. I remember the time. It was 12:08. It said, ‘Hi, this is coach Amaro from LaSalle. We would like to get you in on a visit.”
Bozzo visited LaSalle’s campus in Philadelphia in September, getting a feel for the school, its coaches and the facilities. “I had a second visit in October and that’s when they offered me.” Bozzo liked what he saw, heard and felt in his heart and committed in November.
“I realized I really like city schools,” said Bozzo. “LaSalle has a nice park and shopping area in the center of campus. I just knew this was what I was looking for.”
Bozzo’s development as a Diamond Jack is an interesting one and should serve as an example that it matters very little where you start out in a program.
“I did a catching camp at Diamond Nation when I was 12,” he said. “I remember I had a new glove and coach (Travis) Anderson fell in love with it. I worked in the camp and ended up taking lessons with him. Eventually coach Anderson said I should try out for the 12U team.”
Bozzo would play on the Diamond Jacks Gold 12U and 13U teams before moving up to the Super 14U squad, which, coincidentally, was coached by Anderson, himself a former professional catcher. “Coach Travis always believed in me,” said Bozzo. “He brought me to Diamond Nation. He gave me a chance.”
It can also be said that Bozzo’s calm and mature approach enabled him to take advantage of those chances.
“I never thought about moving up (to the Super teams),” Bozzo said. “It was where I was. My parents did a great job letting me have fun and enjoy the game. That was huge for me. They did everything they could to just let me play. They never got caught up in the politics.”
Bozzo hit home runs in his first two at bats in his first game on the Diamond Jacks Gold 12U team. He was quickly showing off his comfort level on a baseball diamond.
Breakout High School Season
Ridge entered the 2019 baseball season as a bit of an underdog in the powerful Skyland Conference, however with Bozzo helping to steer the two-headed monster on the mound of Cooper Bobowicz and Jack Love, teams in Somerset, Warren and Hunterdon Counties quickly learned the Red Devils were a handful.
Ridge would square off with heated league rival Bridgewater-Raritan in the sectional semifinals at Diamond Nation. The Red Devils exploded for six runs in the third inning and the rally was capped by Bozzo’s grand slam. Ridge would go on to win 11-1 and advance to the sectional final. Its season ended there in a 4-2 loss to Westfield.
“That season was so special,” said Bozzo. “We didn’t expect anything big but we played our hardest to beat you and we beat a lot of good teams. Cooper and Jack were so huge for us.” Love in fact, hit a solo home run in the sectional semifinal prior to Bozzo’s heroics. “Jack was the guy who turned the tide for us in that game.”
Ridge coach Tom Blackwell certainly has registered his belief in Bozzo.
“In my 20 years of coaching at the high school level,” said Blackwell. “I have come across some special young men who left their mark on our program and went on to do great things in life. None, and I honestly mean none, have made more of an impact on the Ridge baseball program than Greg Bozzo.”
Bozzo’s innate ability to lead is noticed by his opponents as well.
“Coaches from opposing teams would often say to me, ‘I love your catcher,’” says Cust. “Greg takes charge, moves guys around in the field and knows when to go out and talk to a pitcher. It’s great to have a kid like that on your team. He makes everyone better.”
Bozzo insists it took just a few minutes for him to go from baseball player to baseball catcher.
“My 9U travel coach, Mark Taylor, just yelled out one day, ‘Who wants to put the gear on?’ I raised my hand and fell in love with the position right away. It never occurred to me it was a position that was uncomfortable. I love to be in the moment, every moment. The only way to do that is to be a catcher or a pitcher. I remember coach Travis saying to me, ‘Catching is a tough position. Buck up. It’s not a position for everyone.”
It’s clearly the position for Bozzo.
NOTES: LaSalle plays in the Atlantic-10 Conference and went 25-31 on the season in 2019, an 11-game improvement over 2018. Head coach Dave Miller, beginning his third season, is a Philly area native with passion for the program and intent on turning it into a winner. Miller played high school ball at nearby Chestnut Hill Academy. He was a finalist for the NCAA National Player of the Year in 1995 when his Clemson University team advanced to the College World Series. Miller batted .380 with 9 HR and 78 RBI that season. He was then chosen by Cleveland in the first round (23rd overall) of the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft. He would eventually advance to play two full seasons of Triple-A ball.