John Gandolfo has traveled from New Jersey to West Virginia to Florida to Louisiana while playing for four different coaching staffs in four seasons of college baseball.
Emerson Gibbs has not left New Orleans, starring for Jesuit High before heading to Tulane two years ago as a hotshot pitching prospect.
They have one thing in common, though. As Tulane’s fall baseball wrapped up Thursday, both of them finally appeared to have found their comfort zone.
Gandolfo, who hit .133 last season while playing in only 20 games as a junior college transfer, drove in two runs in the first of three intrasquad contests this week and had two hits in the second, including a tying RBI in the sixth inning.
“I’ve just totally changed my whole mindset,” he said. “I’m letting the game come to me.”
Gibbs, who allowed a whopping 85 hits in 61.1 innings with an earned run average of 6.02 through his first two seasons, pitched 4.1 shutout innings while striking out three in the first intrasquad game.
“I was pounding the zone, keeping it low and letting the defense play behind me,” he said. “Every year is a new start, so I’m not going to dwell on the past.”
Gandolfo’s and Gibbs’ performances this week reflected their work all fall. New coach David Pierce will need big years from players like them to keep his streak of 14 consecutive NCAA regional appearances alive while ending the Wave’s six-year postseason drought. Tulane returns only three seniors, including Gandolfo, and is unproven almost everywhere.
Gandolfo, whose father changed his hand placement on the bat during the offseason, could go from benchwarmer to leadoff hitter and starting center fielder.
“He hit in junior college and hit in high school,” Pierce said. “He just needed an opportunity to get in there and relax and play every day. He felt good about his swing, and we let him go with it. I’ve been real impressed with his offense. Defensively I’d like to see him get a few better jumps, but he really has been a pleasant surprise.”
Gandolfo’s odyssey began when he signed with Marshall out of high school in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. He spent one year with the Thundering Herd, batting .267, but he decided he needed a new atmosphere. He played his sophomore season at Seminole State College of Florida, improving his average to .367, before transferring to Tulane.
He had no idea Chad Sutter, the assistant who recruited him, would be gone by the end of his junior year along with coach Rick Jones and interim coach Jake Gautreau.
“I’ve had my ups and downs in my college career, but I just brought a tough mentality to treat every single day like it could be my last because I’m a senior,” he said. “This could be my last year ever playing baseball. I’m playing as hard as I can every day, and I’m glad my fourth year is going this way.”
Very little went right for Gibbs in his first two years after he led Jesuit to a Class 5A state championship in 2011 and his American Legion team to a World Series title in 2012.
While plenty of negative attention went to the 193 pitches he threw in one game against Rummel as a senior, he said high school overuse had nothing to do with his early struggles at Tulane.
“I was healthy, but baseball is a humbling sport,” he said. “You can get from the top to the bottom real quick. College is a level playing field. Everybody is just as good as you are, so it takes some adjusting.”
Gibbs added that Pierce has the entire team playing relaxed, getting the most out of their talent. Gibbs has a modest fastball but possesses all of the other ingredients to succeed.
“He’s a strike-thrower, and he’s got enough on the ball to do well,” Pierce said. “The other key is he can throw three pitches for strikes. He’s able to pitch backwards and then able to throw the fastball by some guys, and he’s not afraid to pitch inside. I really like him.”
The work is not over for the team just because fall baseball has finished. Pierce his speed and agility and strength and conditioning program would begin Monday. … Tulane’s fall included two 14-inning games against outside competition –a 9-4 loss at Rice and a 20-3 win against UNO at Turchin Stadium. Said Pierce, “You get exposed when you play other teams. You find out your own strengths and weaknesses.” … Junior catcher Cameron Burns, who had zero home runs in his first two years, blasted a three-run shot over the left-field wall off Alex Massey on Thursday.