By: Nick Galle
Nearly 690 days before his Opening Day start at Doran Park, Gordon Graceffo took the mound for the final time of the 2019 summer with the North Adams SteepleCats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He went six innings against the Valley Blue Sox to close out one chapter of his career, but another was right around the corner.
The Villanova Wildcat went 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA with North Adams and struck out 47 batters through 49 1/3 innings pitched through his nine starts. He said that the NECBL helps prepare younger players for what could possibly lie ahead.
“I was one of the younger guys there, so you’re facing guys that are primarily older than you,” Graceffo said. “You start off there as a younger guy and then move up to the Cape League later on, so that helped me get into the Cape League my sophomore year, just because of the competition we faced.”
The right-hander had oringinally signed a Braves contact for the 2020 season, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Field manager Harvey Shapiro said he first heard about Graceffo following Villanova’s Scout Day two years ago.
“The fall of 2019, a couple scouts called me to tell me they liked him. That’s how I got him, scouts I trust,” Shapiro said. “He was supposed to be a permanent player because he was a sophomore in 2020 who I didn’t get, and so I felt a certain loyalty to him and I don’t usually sign draft-eligible (or) juniors for permanent contracts. So he came up here because he had been close to being with me the year before.”
In terms of differences between the two leagues, Graceffo said there aren’t many and both feature plenty of talent, but Cape Cod League baseball focuses more on preparing a player for the next level.
“The competition level there is great, it’s almost just as good as it is here, but this is obviously the best of the best from all over the country,” Graceffo said. “(In) the NECBL you still got some very, very, very good talent, but this is just kind of that next level up. NECBL is that stepping stone, this is that next level up to where you’re trying to get to professional baseball.”
Although he is a native of Cranford, New Jersey, a town over four hours away from Bourne, the five-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll selection said there was still plenty of chatter about the Cape Cod Baseball League back home, even from 255 miles away.
“When you’re younger, it’s definitely the league you hear about the most before you get into that college level. It’s almost like a legend,” Graceffo said. “You hear about guys who have played there that are now in the major leagues doing fantastic, and that’s where you want to end up when you’re playing college ball.”
Not only has Graceffo made it to the league he considered legendary as a child, but he’s also been a dominating presence on the hill.
As the Opening Day starter, Graceffo went four scoreless innings, allowed just four hits and struck out four in his Bravos debut. He followed it up with another stellar outing on June 26 against the Gatemen in which he went four innings, allowed just one run on five hits, walked one and struck out four.
“The body of work here is still very small. But I mean he had a great college season,” Shapiro said. “He was as good as anybody in his league. He gave UConn a lot of trouble and the UConn pitching coach who worked for me really liked him. He had all the background to do well here.”
Some of that success can be attributed to the parts of his game that he worked on during his time in North Adams. Graceffo said one thing he really focused on with the SteepleCats was improving his changeup.
“I worked with another kid on my changeup and he helped me with my grip there, and it helped me get it really, really good,” Graceffo said. “I went into the fall my sophomore year with a better changeup and I was a lot more confident in it.”
Since he was only a freshman back when he was pitching in the NECBL, Graceffo also said he wanted to throw more so that his arm could continue to get adjusted to the length of a college season.
“I definitely wanted to pitch more just to get my body in that game shape that I knew I was going to have to pitch for in college,” Graceffo said. “The college season, it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen while pitching in high school. It’s longer and more innings, so I wanted to get my body conditioned in that sense. So I was definitely pitching more in the NECBL than I was here, just because they wanted more innings, more pitches.”
With the 2021 MLB Draft fast approaching, Graceffo is now gearing up for the next chapter in his journey. He is currently ranked as the No. 205 prospect by MLB.com and Shapiro said the coaching staff is only working on small things with him for the time being.
“Pitchers are like library books, they’re on loan to us for the summer,” Shapiro said. “We can’t do wholesale, mechanical changes because it takes too long. You can make little changes.”
While his time on the Cape might be limited, Graceffo has still been able to take a lot away from the experience he’s had here in Bourne.
“I belong. There’s nothing like fear up here,” Graceffo said. “Everybody’s here to play baseball, everybody puts their pants on the same way. It’s nothing different than what I’ve been used to.”
Cover photo via: Joe Sullivan