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COLLEGE BEAT: Gozzo paths diverge; catcher Paul heads to UConn

COLLEGE BEAT: Gozzo paths diverge; catcher Paul heads to UConn

The tangible assets that Paul Gozzo’s statistics and achievements denote merely scratch the surface of what he brings to a baseball team.

Other than his family, no one can relate the cerebral aspect of Gozzo’s game better than his high school coach, Sheehan’s Matt Altieri. Right from the time Gozzo broke into the Titans’ lineup as a freshman catcher, he relayed insightful feedback that Altieri wholeheartedly welcomed.

By the time Gozzo was playing his injury-marred senior season, his study and analysis of baseball strategy diminished any numerical value by which ballplayers are judged.

Gozzo, son of former major league pitcher Mauro Gozzo, chose to attend Tulane University to further his academic and diamond pursuits. The four-year letterman and three-time captain at Sheehan was joined by his twin brother Sal.

When a coaching change at Tulane didn’t suit him, Paul opted to transfer to UConn after completing his freshman year at Tulane. In doing so, he split with Sal for the first time and accepted that he would have to sit out 2018 and lose a year of eligibility.

“I’m very happy and blessed,” said Paul, who played in 44 games as a freshman last season. “I’ve started to develop a good relationship with my teammates. It’s like night and day. The coaching staff and my teammates have my back. It’s an environment like Sheehan that I can thrive in, improve my skills and fulfill my dream of making it to the next level.”

The Gozzos were recruited by former Green Wave coach David Pierce. Pierce moved to Tulane in 2015 after serving as head coach at Sam Houston State. He guided his new team to its first conference championship in 2016, but after the Gozzos signed he was hired by the University of Texas.

Pierce was replaced by Travis Jewett, previously the associate head coach at Vanderbilt, and Paul became disenchanted.

“We were not his recruits and he was not our coach,” Paul said. “I decided to transfer after the year. I didn’t have a bad year, but I wanted to find somewhere more suitable to what I was looking for.”

Paul, who underwent shoulder surgery after his junior season at Sheehan, hit .224 with a homer and 13 RBI. He was hitting .300 through the first 16 games when the situation began to wear on him. The input that Altieri so valued was not part of the plan at Tulane.

“My relationship with Coach Altieri was parallel to none,” Paul said. “I had to earn [playing time] through my knowledge. He tested us. I had to be correct vocally and on the field. The mutual respect was earned.”

As an upperclassman, Paul would note nuances revolving around the pitcher-catcher relationship that he would discuss with Altieri. The bond helped galvanized the team that won the Class M state championship in 2015.

“[Altieri] was the coach, but I could help him with on-field adjustments because of what I could feel behind the plate, catcher to pitcher,” Paul said. “It was a collaborative effort.”

Altieri recognized Paul’s analytical gifts were far more vital to the Titans’ success than any notion of his exercising a more autocratic philosophy.

“I think UConn just scored a huge windfall,” Altieri said. “He works hard and has a good baseball mind. He cares about wins and losses, but he cares about people, too. He knows everybody has their ups and downs, but he cares and understands the game. We would battle back and forth, but I’d rather have that than have someone who’s clueless.”

Altieri’s point was re-emphasized during the summer when he took on the managerial duties for the Wallingford Silver Storm, a team in the wooden-bat Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League. He saw that his catcher Giovanni Torres could benefit from Paul’s tutelage, even though they’re virtually the same age.

“Paul was excellent with him,” Altieri said. “Afterwards, Giovani said, ‘Hey, he knows a lot about baseball; he helped me.’ If I have something I need to know about catching, I’ll text Paul. He’ll make one hell of a coach, if that’s what he wants to do.”

Paul joins a powerful contingent of state-bred catchers on the Huskies’ roster.

Zac Susi, a two-time All-Stater at Southington High, had a strong sophomore season (.286, started 56 games). Amity catcher Pat Winkel will be a freshman, reconnecting with his older brother Chris, a sophomore outfielder/first baseman.

“Susi will be a junior this year and, based on his summer [in the highly regarded Cape Cod League], he plans to get drafted,” Paul said. “I’m rooting for him to fulfill his dream like we root for everyone, and he’s high on the list. I got the chance to play against him last year and it was neat, two Connecticut kids going after each other.

“I played ball against Pat for two full years and two summers,” Gozzo added. “He’s an unbelievable player. We could have a three-headed Connecticut monster.”

Beyond the scope of baseball’s mental and physical challenges lies the emotional ordeal of being behind the plate without Sal waiting for his throw to nix a stolen-base attempt.

“We’ve been playing together since hitting balls around the living room. We’ve either been on the same team or the same field,” Paul said. “It’s going to be hard, but I know I’ll have a family member rooting for me. We have a very strong relationship. We talk almost every night. We said whatever happens, we’ve got each other’s back, but we know we have to do what’s right for ourselves.”

Sal started 41 games in the Tulane infield. He batted .211 with 23 RBI and drew 15 walks, which helped lift him to a .291 on-base percentage. He had six doubles and stole five bases.

“We felt Tulane was best for the both of us and had the opportunity to play with each other, but unfortunately there were changes,” Paul said. “We’re still teammates. I’ll root for him as much as he roots for me. I have last year, the four years we played together at Sheehan and all those summers together. It’s certainly hard, but we’re fortunate enough to have played together up until now. It’s just another adjustment we’ll have to make.”


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