BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- Greg Bozzo wears his passion for the game of baseball on his sleeve.
The catcher for the Ridge High School baseball team emerged as a team leader well before he ever became a senior.
"Greg really has been a great leader," Ridge baseball coach Tom Blackwell said. "Greg is that guy I have always talked about when your best player is also your hardest worker. He is just so genuine in his work ethic, his love for the game and his teammates. There are some people who want to be a leader and it falls on deaf ears, but that is who he really is."
Bozzo will never get to play his senior season now that the NJSIAA cancelled all spring sports this week in conjunction with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's decree to keep schools closed through June because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's terrible. It's one of hardest things I've ever had to go through," Bozzo said of the season being cancelled. "But this virus takes lives. We understand that. It's surreal. It really is. Like it isn't even happening."
Soon after school was closed in mid-March, Bozzo's family was directly affected by the pandemic. Not, fortunately, because anybody in his family suffered from the illness, but because of his father's occupation.
"My dad (also Greg) is contractor, and he was building rooms at the hospital in Teaneck, Holy Name, that was one of the biggest hot spots when the virus started to spread," Bozzo said. "He was away from us for a month and a half working on that job. They actually destroyed the ICU to build extra coronavirus rooms. The construction workers were living eight guys in a house. Now he comes home on weekends."
Bozzo was going to be a foundation piece in what was expected to be a very good Ridge team this spring. Last season, he excelled both behind the plate and at bat, where he hit in the middle of the batting order and clubbed a grand slam in the Red Devils' 11-1 victory over Bridgewater-Raritan in the Section 2, Group 4 semifinal last May. He also collected three hits in Ridge's 5-4, 12-inning loss to Immaculata in the Somerset County championship game.
In November, Bozzo signed a letter of intent to continue playing baseball at Division 1 LaSalle University, so, at least for him, he is counting on having more baseball in his future. He's trying to get through this period when there is no baseball in his present.
"I have a pitching machine in my basement, and I've been able to do blocking and receiving, footwork to bases, but I can't really throw or long toss with anyone," Bozzo said. "I live close to our high school field, and the batting cages are open, so I have been throwing to the back of the cage, using a target, visualizing a lot. I will also do pickoff throws from my knees."
Bozzo reached the point of getting back to working on his game as much as he could after a period of adjustment when the season was initially suspended before scrimmages began.
"It took me a long time. That first month, I was looking for stuff to do," Bozzo said. "It's a mental grind. It's easy to just succumb to the thoughts of how bad this is, but you can't think like this all the time."
Bozzo was also counting on playing summer baseball in a league to prepare for college baseball, but he realizes that he might not be able to do that, either.
"Boz wishes he could be on the field, that is his home. It's where he is most comfortable," Blackwell said. "After games or practices, he is the last guy to leave. That draws other guys to stay with him."
Blackwell said that has potent a bat as Bozzo swings, he might offer even more value defensively.
"If anything, Greg is even better defensively, in terms of handling a pitching staff, blocking the ball and throwing runners out," Blackwell said. "He's unbelievable."
"Coach Blackwell has been going on Google Classroom with us," Bozzo said. "He's been sending us e-mails on staying motivated, telling us how much he misses it. No one loves the game more than he does. His heart is poured out in these e-mails. He is such a great coach. I feel so bad for that guy. Hopefully losing the chance to play this season inspires some kids who graduate to play club sports in college. Physical activity is important, and this is a great way to make friends."
Just how much does Bozzo miss being out on the diamond interacting with teammates?
"You could put me on a field with a bunch of 10-year-olds and I'd be happier than I am now doing nothing," Bozzo said. "I need some good news."