By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 18th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft, Giuseppe Papaccio thought he was well on his way to a successful professional baseball career.
The Nutley product and former Seton Hall University standout shortstop handled himself well during two stops in the Cubs’ organization last year with the Cubs’ rookie league affiliate, then with the Midwest League Class A affiliate in Kane County, Illinois.
Papaccio hit .279 with two homers and 13 RBI in 37 games at Kane County, dividing his playing time equally at second base, third base and shortstop.
It appeared as if Papaccio was a rising star, well on his way.
“I thought I had a good year,” Papaccio said in a phone interview.
But then, something happened along the way – and Papaccio doesn’t exactly understand why.
Two weeks ago, Papaccio was released by the Cubs. Three days later, he signed a contract with the Rockland Boulders of the independent Can-Am League in nearby Rockland County in New York.
Papaccio tried to put the pieces together of what happened with the Cubs after he went to spring training in Arizona in March.
“I thought I did pretty well in spring training, but then they sent me to extended spring training,” Papaccio said.
The stint in extended spring training began Papaccio’s sojourn through four different stops in the Cubs’ organization, ranging from Boise, Idaho, to Daytona Beach, Florida, to Knoxville, Tennessee, and then finally a return trip to Kane County, Illinois. The Knoxville Smokies are the Cubs’ Class AA affiliate, so he was two steps away from the big leagues, but Papaccio only had two at-bats with the Smokies.
“I wasn’t playing every day,” Papaccio said. “I felt like something was a little off. I went from extended spring training to Tennessee and Class AA for a week. I then went to High Class A in Daytona for six weeks. But I wasn’t playing. It was all so weird. I wondered what I did wrong. Looking at it on paper, I should have been playing. But I wondered, ‘Did I play myself out of a position?’”
Papaccio played just six games with the Kane County Cougars when he was called into the office by manager Mark Johnson, the former major leaguer.
“He told me that they had no room for me,” Papaccio said. “With all the rookies coming in and the team packed with talented infielders, there was just no room. There was a logjam of talent. I left on good terms. It just didn’t work out. I have no regrets.”
The 23-year-old Papaccio, who was an All-Big East selection in 2013, earning Third Team All-America and the New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, didn’t hang his head after receiving his walking papers from the Cubs.
“I wasn’t too upset,” said Papaccio, Seton Hall’s all-time leader in doubles and fourth on the Pirates’ all-time hit list with 237. “I don’t think I could have done anything differently. I didn’t think my baseball career was over. I’m only 23 and I still feel and believe I could play at any of the levels I was at this year. I just needed to play every day.”
Papaccio’s agent made a phone call to the independent Boulders and he signed a contract with Rockland just three days after receiving his release from the Cubs.
“I feel more confident,” Papaccio said. “All I thought was that I needed a chance to play.”
It has only been six games with the Boulders, but Papaccio feels extremely comfortable. For one, he’s living at home in Nutley, eating his mother’s home cooking, seeing family and friends again.
“It’s only 40 minutes away,” Papaccio said. “Over the weekend, we played at Montclair (against the New Jersey Jackals), so that was easy. It feels great to be home.”
But there’s still an empty feeling, still wondering what went wrong that his dream of playing with the Cubs ended so suddenly.
“I do have mixed feelings,” Papaccio said. “I’m really surprised. I never thought I’d be out of the Cubs’ system by now. I thought I did pretty well.”
Papaccio did enjoy his homecoming last weekend against the Jackals.
“I had about 10 of my friends there,” Papaccio said. “I had my Mom and Dad there, my girlfriend there, my sister there. I’m playing baseball and it’s fun again. I’m with a great group of guys. I don’t feel any pressure.”
Papaccio’s former Seton Hall teammates Will Walsh and Greg Terhune are also on the Boulders’ roster, so that has made Papaccio comfortable in his new surroundings.
“The way I look at it, the competition is good,” Papaccio said. “About 75% of the guys in the league have played affiliated ball before on all levels. It’s a good operation.”
And Papaccio figures his stint with the Boulders for the remainder of the summer will be a good tryout to go back to affiliated baseball next spring.
“I’d like to get the opportunity to get back,” Papaccio said. “I’ve always worked hard in everything I’ve done. Ever since I was younger, I was never the best player, but I worked hard, doing the same thing, working my way up. I’m going to play hard, take each out at a time and see what happens. That’s the biggest thing I see. I have my confidence level back. I feel fine, both mentally and physically.”
In six games with the Boulders, Papaccio is hitting .273 with four RBI and one double. He’s playing ball close to home. The dream still lives.
“Things with the Cubs just didn’t work out,” Papaccio said. “I’m still playing.”