By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Throughout his stellar baseball career, growing up in Nutley, then playing for Nutley High School and finally moving on to Seton Hall, a place that has been home for his entire family for ages, Giuseppe Papaccio has always been known as a slick fielding shortstop.
Papaccio had no peers when it came to his glove.
However, now that he’s a senior at Seton Hall, Papaccio’s offensive skills have caught up to his defense and perhaps even surpassed his prowess with the leather.
“When we put him into the game as a freshman, it was strictly for defense,” Seton Hall head baseball coach Rob Sheppard said.
“I thought I always had to try to swing as hard as I could to hit home runs,” Papaccio said.
But before Papaccio began his senior campaign with the Pirates, he wanted to make sure that he got the most of his talents.
“I’ve always been a hard worker, but I think I worked a little harder, especially with the mental approach,” Papaccio said. “It used to be that if I had a bad at-bat, I’d think about it for the next two at-bats and then try to make up for it. It was all part of a mental game. I needed to have more of a mental edge.”
Papaccio didn’t want to put any undue pressure on himself this season as well.
“I wanted to live by the moment and not get carried away with the past,” Papaccio said. “I wanted to play in the moment and do my best in each situation. I think everything has just fallen into place.”
That’s safe to say, because Papaccio is enjoying his best offensive season on any previous playing level. The 21-year-old Nutley native is batting .355 with two homers and 34 RBI. He currently leads the Pirates in hitting and leads the Big East Conference in doubles with 18.
Last week, in a big win over Georgetown, Papaccio had three hits, including two doubles, and five RBI.
More importantly, the Pirates have rebounded from an awful 0-9 start to win 26 of their next 33 games. The Pirates now sit in the hunt for a Big East Conference playoff berth in the coming weeks.
“I think my swing is now more mechanically sound,” Papaccio said. “I’m trying to do less with my swings. I’m not trying to hit the ball as hard. I have released tension in my swing. I’m doing less and getting more out of it. I’m getting good results.”
Sheppard is pleased with the way Papaccio has responded as a senior.
“Giuseppe has worked his tail off and that hard work is paying off,” Sheppard said. “My Dad (legendary former Seton Hall head coach Mike Sheppard) would always tell me that you want to have players who go above and beyond what the coaches expect. That’s Giuseppe. He has a tremendous work ethic. He’s constantly finding ways to work after practice, to get swings on his own. He’s very coachable and a good teammate. I think those are all the reasons why he’s progressed.”
Papaccio said that he’s also seeing the ball a lot better.
“I have been getting so many repetitions in the batting cage, playing in the fall, playing intra-squad games that I’ve been able to pick up things,” Papaccio said. “I think the years add up. I think I trust myself to see the ball better and simplify my approach at the plate. I think that’s all finally working out.”
Sheppard believes that a lot of Papaccio’s progression has been through being a good student of the game.
“He’s learned about his swing and learned about the kind of player he is,” Sheppard said. “He has gotten bigger and stronger, but he’s always working hard at getting better. When you see a guy who works as hard as Giuseppe does all the time, then I’m not surprised at all with the improvement.”
Papaccio said that he just tried too hard in the past, both at the plate and trying to impress the coaches.
“I just had to get comfortable,” Papaccio said. “I like where I’m hitting now (batting cleanup) and I like being in the middle of the lineup. The coaches trust me and have faith in me to drive the runs in and I like hitting in key situations.”
Papaccio has progressed so well that he just might get a chance to get selected in the Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft next month.
“That’s something I’m pushing for,” Papaccio said. “I’ve spoken with some teams and I guess as we get closer to the draft, I’ll talk to more. I’ll just play it loose right now. If a team likes me, then they’ll take me. But I’ll follow the draft.”
Sheppard believes his shortstop has a shot.
“I think the way the draft has gone recently, a lot of teams have been giving seniors the opportunity to play, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Giuseppe gets picked,” Sheppard said.
Papaccio has been Seton Hall true blue since a child. After all, his mother is an English professor in the school. His older brother has already graduated from Seton Hall and his twin sister will get her degree as well this spring, along with her brother.
“I’m just happy to have had this shot to play here,” Papaccio said. “I’m still working hard in the cage, every chance I get to. I think all the hard work is paying off. I am relaxed and confident. I just wish this could have happened for me earlier.”