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North Jersey standout Giuseppe Papaccio makes successful transition from player to coach

When growing up in Nutley, New Jersey, Giuseppe Papaccio was always extremely active and enjoyed playing multiple sports. Recognizing the rich baseball culture in Nutley, Papaccio found not only a reputable coach and gym teacher but mentor in Tom Gargiulo while attending Lincoln Elementary School. 

“When I would go to gym class every day, him and I would talk baseball among other things,” said Papaccio. “Our relationship started when I attended Division I Baseball Camps as a kid. He really is an all-around man, very serious, focused, respectful and took the development of a person very seriously.”

In 8th grade, Papaccio said he thought making the varsity baseball team was the equivalent to making it to the big leagues. However, it was his father (Pietro) that convinced him to reach even higher to become a better player.

“I was always a good player growing up when I got to high school,” Papaccio explained. “My father and I both knew it was time to take the next step in my development. He did not have a baseball background but I think he could see the passion I had for the game and he pushed me to test my limits, to do what the other players weren’t doing.”

Papaccio started taking training a little bit more seriously and that led him to be able to play more confidently when it came time to compete.

“I took pride in playing shortstop because he is usually one of the best athletes as well as the quarterback on the field,” said Papaccio

Growing up, Papaccio always followed Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez very closely. “I always admired how much talent they had and how much responsibility they carried.”

All the long hours of training paid off. Papaccio was recruited by major Division I colleges such as Seton Hall, St. John’s, Monmouth University, Manhattan College and Binghamton. Ultimately, Papaccio decided on attending Seton Hall with the critical factor that so many of his family members had attended the university.

“My Mom (Melinda) went there and has been an English professor there for 20 years,” said Papaccio. “My aunt, brother and sister went there also.” Papaccio made his decision based on the proximity to home and relationship he developed with the coaching staff.

“There had been countless professional baseball players and legendary college players that went through the program so I knew the rich history behind it. I knew there was some grit and hard work involved in earning playing time.”

When Papaccio stepped on campus, he was not as polished as he would have liked to be but the coaching staff helped mold him into a Big East caliber player by the spring of freshman year.

Papaccio had his ‘welcome to college baseball’ moment in Seton Hall’s opening weekend at Texas A & M.

“One of the best baseball venues in the league, we are warming up doing sprints down the line and 10 minutes before the game starts my name goes up on the scoreboard, batting eighth Giuseppe Papaccio playing third base and I said,’Oh My God,’“ Papaccio recalled. “They didn’t even tell me I was starting, I was kind of tossed into the fire and I think there were 6,000 people there, it was an unreal atmosphere. Throughout the whole year the coaches stuck with me, I was trying to learn the game the best I could.”

His sophomore year, Papaccio ended up playing second base before transitioning back to third for the remainder of the year. He started at shortstop his junior and senior seasons. In his final season, Papaccio was awarded First-Team All-Big East and New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association (NJCBA) Player of the Year as well as being named an All-American.  

Papaccio hit .365, led the Big East in doubles and set a Seton Hall record with 56 doubles and single-season mark of 24 and finished with 237 career hits.

“My all-around experience at SHU was amazing, from being picked to finish 11 out of 13 teams, and then winning that year’s Big East Championship, to playing alongside a bunch of pro players. My college experience is something that shaped me to be the person I’m today. I learned so much from Rob Sheppard, Phil Cundari, Mark Pappas and Jim Duffy who recruited me. I always studied the mental game of baseball but it all came together for my senior year.”

Papaccio grew physically, felt stronger and he was in the best shape of his college career. The shortstop always felt like the talent was present but most importantly he felt a lot more mentally stable and consistent with his thought process which led to a breakthrough in performance. 

Papaccio on his final college baseball game at Seton Hall, “It was emotional for me, we lost in the conference tournament and on the fringe of getting into the NCAA Tournament with at large bid. We had so many good players and thought we had a chance to win the tournament.”

Seton Hall competed in what was considered the “Old Big East” which consisted of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, West Virginia and USF (University of South Florida). The Pirates were considered one of the best teams in that league and finished the regular season ranked in the top 25 in the country but did not receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament which was a harsh end to a great four years. 

Accomplishments were not solely on the baseball diamond for Papaccio. In the classroom, he received his bachelors degree in liberal studies with a double minor in communications and writing while taking sports journalism, public relations, communication and public speaking classes. 

The pinnacle of Papaccio’s college career would occur with getting drafted in the 18th round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. 

“It was awesome, I had a really unique situation where I was drafted on my 22nd birthday by the Cubs,” Papaccio said. “My twin sister Michela and I kind of shared that celebration with a draft party/birthday celebration.” Getting the call he was going to be the Cubs 18th round selection on his birthday is something Papaccio will never forget.

There ended up being no rest for Papaccio after signing the contract and jetting out to Arizona to play in rookie ball. The stay would be short-lived in Arizona. Papaccio played about a week and a half before moving on to Single-A where he would play for the Kane County Cougars in Geneva, Illinois. 

Kane County was a quick 45-minute drive from Wrigley Field, so Chicago Cubs fans trickled into the Single-A affiliate at a high rate. Papaccio finished the summer on a strong note, hitting close to .300 before heading to the Instructional League in the fall.

Describing the ride for the next couple of years as a rollercoaster, Papaccio would bounce around from High-A in Daytona to Low-A, Double-A and Boise in the Northwest League. “When I was in High-A, I was in Daytona where I lived a block off the beach which was great  but that was a difficult stretch of baseball for me.” While spending some time in Double-A, Papaccio lived in a hotel by himself which was a different experience. He also played in Boise for Gary Van Tol who is now the head coach at Boise State.

“Being on your own right out of college was challenging at times when baseball wasn’t going your own way, all you rely on were phone calls and text messages from family and friends,” said Papaccio.

He does not have any regrets from his experience with the Cubs, he put in the work and effort, developed relationships with coaches and players but ultimately did not make it to the majors.

(Photo by Drew Wohl)

After being released by the Cubs in the first week of August, Papaccio was looking for the opportunity to still play baseball. Luckily for him, two players that Papaccio had played with at Seton Hall in Greg Terhune and Will Walsh were on the Rockland Boulders (Can-Am League) roster and had Papaccio contacted by Boulders pitching coach, Bobby Jones.

“I sent Greg a text and said, do you guys need a shortstop, I just got home and have to play,” said Papaccio. “I had an agent at the time working to see if there were any openings anywhere and willing to purchase my contract. I reached out to them knowing they were playing for the Boulders. When Junior Arrojo was on the DL and they needed another infielder. Bobby Jones reached out to me and I played a little bit for him when I was in high school and lived one town over from me.” 

“Jamie Keefe called and said, why don’t you come up and three days after I was released I was playing for the Boulders.”

The first day Papaccio arrived, he was pleasantly surprised with everything the Boulders had to offer their players and fans. “They are a first class organization with a first class facility (Provident Bank Park/Palisades Credit Union Park).” He played with five guys he knew very well in Greg Terhune, Will Walsh, Sean O’Hare, Nate Roe, Charlie Law and Steve Nyisztor who he played with and against in high school and college. “I was fortunate that I walked into the locker room and knew a bunch of faces and you usually don’t get that luxury in professional baseball.”

Thinking it would take some time before he made his first appearance in a Boulders uniform, Papaccio was in for a quite a surprise. “Jamie (Keefe) called me up and said come tomorrow,” Papaccio said. “I thought I was going to work out, take BP (batting practice) and ground balls.” He said you are going to play third base tonight and I said okay and let’s do this thing. I played pretty much after that one throughout the summer.”

The Boulders ended up going on a magical run, finishing with a 56-40 regular season, winning their first pennant in franchise history and in the championship series against the New Jersey Jackals down 0-2, reeling off four consecutive victories for the first championship title. 

Winning a championship at any level of baseball is special but winning with those guys who I loved to compete with is something I’ll cherish as one of my best baseball memories,” said Papaccio. “It was a strong finish to what started out as a tough year of baseball for me.” 

“The fan base in Rockland is awesome, they traveled down to Yogi Berra Stadium and I will never forget that,” said Papaccio. Down 0-2 to New Jersey, the Boulders did not panic, there was no reason to. Going into Game 3, they were not trying to win the whole series, they were just focused on playing confident and loose and one game at a time. The Boulders ended up getting hot at just the right time.

“We went back a couple of days after we won the championship and had the ring ceremony to celebrate with a ton of fans.” Much like many Boulders before and after him, Papaccio loved how much the community supported the Boulders night after night which makes being a Boulder one of “my best baseball experiences of my playing career.”

Coming back in 2015, the Boulders won a franchise record 63 games and set numerous franchise and league records. Despite being eliminated by Trois-Rivieres in the first round of the playoffs, Papaccio cherished the time spent with teammates and manager Jamie Keefe.

“Playing on that team with a group of really talented and best players in the league,” Papaccio said. “Guys like Joe Maloney, Charlie Law, Junior Arrojo, Marcus Nidiffer, Jared McDonald and Stephen Cardullo.” Papaccio raved about his relationship with Former Manager Jamie Keefe in saying that he was great at developing relationships with his players and getting them to play hard for him, each other, and the fans.  

Shortly after the Boulders were eliminated from the playoffs, Papaccio decided he wanted to make a career move by getting into coaching. “I was an All-American at Seton Hall, drafted by the Cubs, a couple of years of pro ball and playing in Rockland, I got done playing at the end of the summer and knew I wanted to get into coaching,” said Papaccio. “I started reaching out to my network of college coaches that I knew and reached out to Jim Duffy who was the head coach at Manhattan College and recruited me at Seton Hall.”  One of Papaccio’s biggest mentors hired him to be one of his assistants and gave him the opportunity to start his coaching career.

“I played my last game in Rockland and five days later I was coaching on the campus of Manhattan College. My turnover period was not even a week and the quickest thing I learned was you spend your whole career as a player focusing on how to get yourself better and then quickly the focus turns to other players as a coach.”

Seeing players progress physically and mentally is his favorite part of his job. He believes nothing is more rewarding thanseeing a player progress from his hard work and effort whether it being on the field or just becoming more confident and aware. “I just poured the same effort, passion and love I had for playing the game into coaching the game.”

After spending a year at Manhattan College, Papaccio returned to his alma mater Seton Hall for the next two years. In addition Pappacio was the head coach of the Monmouth Monarchs in 2016 and Ocean Giants in 2017 while serving as an assistant coach with the Ocean Firebirds in the Cape Cod League in 2018.

“It was special to coach at Seton Hall because I knew much of the staff, faculty and athletic department,” Papaccio said. “I felt like I was going home in a sense.”

Giuseppe then went on to be an assistant coach in the Cape Cod League for Orleans Firebirds.  The “Cape” is the best summer league you can be in which is full of professional caliber players from the top programs across the country. Papaccio’s progression as a coach continued with all of the knowledge he gained while working alongside head coach Kelly Nicholson, Jamie Quinn, Chris Constantine and Ryan Erickson. “They are an awesome staff who had been there for a while. I got to coach high level players and see a different talent level by being an assistant in that league.” 

“The community in Chatham (Massachusetts) breathes for baseball and coaching in an atmosphere like that and kids love to play summer baseball. We’re playing in the best summer league in the country, having good energy every day and really passionate about the game and joy to coach.”

While coaching in the Cape Lod League, another coaching opportunity popped up for Papaccio with NJIT calling his name.  It was an opportunity that could not be passed up to become the first assistant at an ASUN conference school. “I knew Robbie McClellan just from competing against each other and we worked some recruiting events when I was at Seton Hall,” Papaccio said. “He was an assistant at NJIT and we developed a relationship.” Giuseppe was Robbies first call when McCellan was named the Head Coach at NJIT.

Much like his first time in Rockland, Papaccio was pleasantly surprised the first time he stepped on Campus at NJIT.  The new head coach toured Papaccio around the brand new athletic facilities and campus before introducing him to some of his new coworkers.

“Robbie has a really good personality when it comes to relating to the players and being on the same level as them.” Giuseppe commended McClellan for his open and welcoming demeanor when it comes to his relationships and coaching style.  “Any player can come in and talk to us at any time and I think that’s comforting when you’re a college student.”

Papaccio believes his coaching style has a balanced mix of “Old school and new school.” He is one of the youngest Division I assistant coaches in the area and that helps him relate to the players and he says, “I think they appreciate the fact I am very hands-on when it comes to practice and training. I remember as a player, I liked to see the coaches jump in there with us so I use that in my coaching style.”

This year, Papaccio earned an additional role/title with the team as the new recruiting coordinator. Papaccio says the high standards of education at NJIT, top notch facilities, playing in the ASUN and proximity to New York City play a vital role in recruiting players not only locally but nationally.

“I am trying to build on the foundation laid by Robbie in recruiting better players each year.  We have a good idea of which high school players would have a successful playing and academic career at NJIT.”

The school was named a top 100 University and they have an extremely strong and respected Business program as well as their many engineering programs.  Papaccio added, “Our athletic director Lenny Kaplan who is also the Assistant Vice President has a really good vision and done an unbelievable job with the athletics and facilities for almost 20 years.” 

 The NJIT assistant thinks that playing in a conference with all warm weather states like Florida, Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia is key in the recruitment of high level of baseball players from all over the country. 

The Highlanders played at the Newark Bears stadium for a number of years but after the property was sold, the stadium was torn down last winter.  For the next year, NJIT plays their home games where the Somerset Patriots and Sussex County Miners play their home games and split their home conference schedules with two series at each stadium.

“I seriously love going into work every day, working with these guys, they’re awesome kids who are smart, bright and really respectful.”

Most important to Papaccio in his educational, playing and coaching career has been the support from his family. Having to deal with the loss of his brother Nunzio a year, he has a little different perspective and more of an appreciation for each day that he gets to do what he loves. 

“Michela, my parents and brother (Nunzio) put me in the best opportunity and situation,” Papaccio said. “They gave me everything I needed to succeed.”  He explained that his parents never let him off the hook and never let him settle for average.

“All the success I had in college and my personal life would not have been possible without the love and support from my family and wife.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.


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