When college students filter back into the classroom this August and September, Sal Gozzo won’t be there. Instead, the 21-year-old shortstop will be in Lakewood, Clearwater, Reading, or Lehigh Valley (he’ll find out later this week) as one of the Phillies’s newest recruits. Gozzo signed with the Phillies on June 11, becoming the seventh baseball player out of Tulane University to earn an MLB contract this year. This news particularly excited me as a Phillies fan, Tulane alumna, and Tulane staff member. I had the chance to chat with Sal on Sunday about baseball, Philadelphia culture, and being a twin.
You grew up in a baseball family. Your dad spent six years in the MLB and your twin brother, Paul, plays baseball for UConn. Can you tell me about how essential baseball was to your upbringing, and when you realized that your aspirations to go pro felt tangible?
My dad never really forced [baseball] upon us, he just gave us the opportunity when we were really young and saw that we were both pretty athletic. We loved to be outside and just play around. We fell in love with [baseball] at a really early age and played whenever we could, whether it was inside hitting wiffle balls in the living room or playing outside. Going pro felt tangible later in high school when I started getting some college looks, and once I got to college, with the improvement over the years that I saw, I realized that it could happen and just kept working hard. I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to do it.
I love the “wiffle balls in the living room.”
Yeah, there’s definitely a bunch of broken pictures as proof of that.
When you were in high school, what stood out to you about Tulane’s baseball program?
First off, it was a great academic school that’s in the south, which is where I’m originally from; I was born in Memphis and lived there for ten years so we kind of wanted to go back down there. The success that the team was having recently and in the past before Katrina, and the conference that it was in-- it was the perfect combination of school and sports.
Tell us about your time at Tulane. What were some of the highs and lows of your career as a Green Wave?
It was honestly a fun experience. My teammates are some of the best friends I’ve made in my life and they taught me so many things about not just baseball, but life in general. Whether it was my freshman year or this past year, they were a bunch of good dudes and you’ll never forget those experiences and the memories you made. Also the coaches, I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity in the first place. Over the past three years we didn’t get the outcomes that we wanted with not making it to regionals, but that teaches you a lot. Failing teaches you to be successful. I definitely think it’s prepared all of us for later in life. I really don’t have any highs or lows I just like to look at it in a positive light and as a positive experience.
This coming year you would have been a senior at Tulane. Did you always think you would leave college early for the big leagues?
When I got there I wasn’t thinking too far ahead. I was just taking it day by day, working hard in school, working hard at baseball, so I wasn’t really expecting to leave early. If the third year came and I was offered the opportunity, then yes-- it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, so yes I’m going to take it. I wasn’t really thinking about it in the beginning. I was just working hard, having fun with my teammates, just trying to win.
This is arguably one of the most exciting times to join the Phillies clubhouse in recent years. What attracted you to the Phillies?
When I met with a scout in the fall I like the values that he was telling me about that they look for in a player. I have a couple friends from the area and they talked about how it’s a great organization with a lot of history. They expressed interest in me, and I like how they play the game of baseball, so when they called and gave me the opportunity I was thrilled and ready to go.
Now that you’ve signed, how are you feeling?
I can’t even describe it. I know that a lot of people say that when something really good happens, but really there are no words to describe it. I’ve been working since I was 4 or 5-years-old for this, and to be experiencing it is surreal. But now that I’ve signed, it’s time to go to work.
And now…don’t think of this as a pop quiz or anything, but I want to assess your knowledge of Philadelphia culture to help you prepare for your start up north.
Have you ever been to Wawa? Are you familiar with Wawa?
Yes, I am familiar with Wawa.
Do you like Wawa?
Yes, I like Wawa.
Have you had a proper cheese steak before?
Do you know where it was from?
I can’t remember where it was from, but it was near the Eagles stadium on the side of the road. It was literally the best cheesesteak I’ve ever had. You wouldn’t expect it because it was just on the side of the road and it didn’t look fancy or anything, but it was so good.
Do you know what the word “jawn” means?
Lastly, some twin questions. I’m a twin, too, and I love talking to other twins about being a twin.
Are you fraternal or identical?
Were you born first?
How many minutes do you have on your brother?
Is one of you taller than the other?
He’s about an inch or an inch and a half taller than me.
What was it like growing up playing baseball together and playing on the same team?
It’s like having your best friend around all the time, instead of going home after playing and being by yourself. We push each other everyday and I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me, whether it’s baseball or life, he’s taught me a lot about myself and how to play the game. There was some fighting, but that just teaches you how to deal with people. But really I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done for me. I’m in the position I am today because of him.