Wallingford has four current professional baseball players, from Low-A to the major leagues

Groton, home of Fitch High and big-league alumni Matt Harvey and Jesse Hahn? Westport, home of annual Staples High title contender Ben Casparius and Chad Knight? Southington, homeland of several former major leaguers? Woodbridge, the house of Eternal Power Amity High?

What about Wallingford?

It might not be your first choice, but there isn’t a city in Connecticut that has more professional baseball players right now.

PJ Higgins recently got his long-awaited first promotion to the Chicago Cubs. The 2011 Lyman Hall graduate is the face of Wallingford baseball right now, but more could be on the way.

Sal Gozzo, in only his second pro season, has climbed three levels this year at Lehigh Valley, the Triple-A branch of the Phillies. Zach Hart, a 2019 10th round draft pick by Cleveland, is pushing Low-A Lynchburg in several roles out of the relieving box. And Jake MacKenzie, who signed with the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent last summer, is with Low-A Salem.

“I think it’s pretty unusual, four guys from the same city playing professional ball – especially not a crazy big city,” MacKenzie noted.

Hart and Gozzo (along with Gozzo’s twin brother Paul) were teammates on Sheehan High’s 2015 M-Class State Title squad. They were also teammates of Goose’s Gamers, the AAU team founded by the Gozzo’s father, Mauro, the former great league who now coaches the independent Gastonia Honey Hunters in their inaugural season.

The Gozzo twins were teammates at Tulane for a year before Paul moved to UConn for two seasons. He is now ending his college career at UC-San Diego, where he is earning a master’s degree in accounting and may soon start a job with Ernst & Young.

“I hope he can be my accountant and do my taxes someday,” Sal joked.

MacKenzie went to high school in Choate, but remembers teaming up with brothers Gozzo and Hart at Moran Middle School – in baseball and basketball.

Higgins, 28, is the oldest statesman in the group. His father, Duke, coached MacKenzie for a few years with the CT Bombers. All the players have sometimes trained together during the offseason.

Small town, lots of connections.

“Any recognition we can get for our city is always a good thing,” Hart said. “And there is still some good baseball talent, as we can see, in Wallingford. So very happy with that.

Higgins is the town’s toast right now. On May 19, after six years of hard work in the Cubs farming system, he finally got his first call-up in Chicago. Higgins is Wilson Contreras’ replacement but has made three starts since his promotion.

“It’s fantastic, especially to see someone from our hometown doing it,” MacKenzie noted. “He’s been working on it for a while, so it was nice to see him finally get up through the system. He deserved it.

“Obviously,” Gozzo added, “this is where we all want to be.”

Gozzo, 23, is just one step away in Triple-A right now. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Phillies in 2019, he spent this summer at the Rookie Ball, hitting .186. Like all Minor Leaguers, his season was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gozzo spent most of his time in his buddies’ apartment in New Orleans trying to stay. in shape.

He remained in extended spring training at the end of camp this year, but a day later was sent to Double-A Reading and yo-yoed a few times between Reading and Lehigh Valley, which have both been players at the bottom of the position. All 24 Gozzo drummers this season have been with the IronPigs. He’s playing second, third and outfield (“wherever they need me, I’ll be there”), though he’s always on the hunt for his first triple A hit.

“Not the best on the plate,” he admitted, “but I think I’m adjusting as I go and just learning. These guys know how to throw. And they can say all of a sudden, “I can throw that throw at him, and it’ll bring him out.” Sometimes they know how you can get away with it. But I feel comfortable, just trying to provide good ABs to the team and do whatever I can to help here.

“I FEEL AMAZING NOW”

On the road about 350 miles in Lynchburg, Va., Hart started the season with 121/3 scoreless innings in four outings in the Hillcats reliever box.

“Since spring training I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Hart said early last week, before being knocked down on his next two outings, raising his ERA to 4.02. “So I kind of kept moving forward through the season. I’m feeling great right now, and I’m ready to continue in whatever role they have for me for the rest of the year.

Hart, 24, started four years in Division 2 Franklin Pierce and spent the summer at Rookie Ball after being drafted by Cleveland in 2019. He started spring training last year feeling “physically” the best I have ever felt ”, only to have everything wiped off.

“I was sort of like, ‘OK, I can either sit on the couch and do nothing or find a way to improve myself,’ he recalls.

Hart developed an articulation curve last summer “out of nowhere” and trained in simulated games at Norwalk against other local minor leaguers like Seymour’s Jake Walkinshaw and Milford’s Joe Zanghi.

Now he’s putting it all together – as MacKenzie can attest. On May 14, Hart delivered five scoreless two-hit innings in a 4-0 loss to Salem. He got MacKenzie on a Grounder in third and roster in first.

“He didn’t take me out,” MacKenzie hastily pointed out.

Playing time was somewhat scarce for MacKenzie in his first professional ball season. After a successful career at Fordham, where he hit 0.306 with 12 homers in three seasons, he signed with the Red Sox last summer. He trained at home during last year’s canceled season, often at Diamond Zone in North Haven, went to his first spring training in April and broke camp with Salem, rather than Rookie Ball.

It has been a mixed blessing. Until the end of last week, MacKenzie had only played six of the Sox’s first 21 games and hadn’t played at all since May 21.

“It’s a bit of a pain, personally, but I’m doing my best with the number of club appearances I got,” said MacKenzie, who managed .267. “It was great to be on the pitch, and doing it in the Red Sox uniform was pretty cool. Lots of fans come out and are quite loud and support the team. Coming from a small school, where there aren’t a lot of fans watching the games, that’s cool from that aspect. It’s a business, you have to be very professional, be on time and be responsible for everything like having a job. I appreciated it in this aspect. I just hope to get into training a few more times.

It is certainly a long way to the top in baseball. PJ Higgins has proven to his fellow Wallingford products that it is possible.

“It’s great to see a small town like that, where you don’t see a lot of guys from one town playing professionally,” Gozzo said. “I hope we can all play for a long time.”

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