Seizing Opportunity in Debut for NJIT Baseball, PDS Alum Franzoni Earns All-Freshman Honors
CATCHING ON: Paul Franzoni is taking control at catcher this spring in his freshman season for New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Division I baseball program. Franzoni, a former Princeton Day School standout, enjoyed a superb debut campaign for NJIT, hitting .271 and earning ASUN (Atlantic Sun Conference) All-Freshman team honors to help the Highlanders go 22-25 overall and 9-12 ASUN on the way to making the league’s postseason tournament. (Photo by Mike McLaughlin Photography for New Jersey Institute of Technology, Courtesy of NJIT Sports Information)
By Bill Alden
Surveying his options as he went through the college baseball recruiting process, Paul Franzoni concluded that the New Jersey Institute of Technology offered a range of opportunities that he couldn’t pass up.
“I loved that NJIT plays in a really cool conference, the ASUN (the Atlantic Sun Conference); it is the sixth best conference this year out of all 32 Division I conferences so that was a big selling point.,” said Franzoni, a former Princeton Day School standout catcher and three-time All-Prep B performer.
“I wanted to play at the highest level possible. I also love that it is close to home. I can come home and hang out with my brothers on a weekend. Another part that factored into my decision was they had a kid who was a three or four-year starter at catcher who graduated last year, so there was an opening in that position. I came in and my focus was to go and win that spot.”
Franzoni earned the starting catcher spot and enjoyed a superb freshman campaign, hitting .271 to earn ASUN All-Freshman honors and help NJIT go 22-25 overall and 9-12 in league play as it advanced to the conference postseason tournament for the first time in program history.
Although things ended up going well, Franzoni harbored some doubts early on as he went through fall ball.
“I struggled in the fall, to be honest, just adjusting from high school where you see a Division I guy every 10 games, if even that, and then going to the fall and scrimmaging those pitchers single day,” said the 5’10, 175-pound Franzoni. “I was getting used to hitting that caliber of pitching and just being away from home too.”
With NJIT beginning its season by losing three games at NC Central in late February, Franzoni wasn’t sure if he was a D-I caliber hitter.
“That was a tough weekend. We got swept,” said Franzoni, who started the opener and picked up an RBI on a sacrifice fly.
“The first weekend at NC Central, I was wondering if I am really ready for this. I struggled a little bit at the plate that weekend.”
A week later at Navy, Franzoni got into a groove, going 5-for-10 with two runs and an RBI as NJIT went 2-2 in the four-game set.
“Against Navy, I had a breakout weekend,” recalled Franzoni. “I had some hits and I played well behind the plate. Then from there, I thought you know this is your spot so let’s just lock it down.”
Franzoni was locked in the rest of the spring, piling up 36 hits, 21 runs, 16 RBIs, seven doubles and tying for the team lead with three home runs.
“Really, this whole trend of this first year was getting my confidence up,” said Franzoni, who ended up starting 42 games this spring for the Highlanders.
“I faced a ton of guys who got picked up in the MLB draft, which is a really fun experience. It is getting used to seeing those guys and building up confidence, knowing you can hit them and play with those guys.”
Behind the plate, Franzoni emerged as a vocal leader for the Highlanders.
“I just tried to lead by example and bring energy; my biggest thing this year was to direct everything on the field through bringing the best energy and having my teammates feed off of that,” said Franzoni.
“I know I was only a freshman, but I was trying to be a leader out there, helping everybody get up and ready to play. The biggest thing this year was getting wins. That is all I really cared about, that is all I really wanted to do.”
One of the team’s biggest wins came over eventual league champion Stetson when NJIT posted an 8-1 victory over the Hatters on April 22 to stay alive in its drive to make the ASUN postseason tournament.
“They beat us the first two games and we knew that it was huge game, so to not get swept and to stay in contention because only the top six of the eight teams qualify for the tournament. We ended up beating them that game 8-1; I had a home run that game, which was good.”
While Franzoni is proud of what he accomplished in his debut campaign, he is not about to rest on his laurels.
“I was super honored to make the ASUN All-Freshman team, that really meant a lot; it was one of my goals heading into the season,” said Franzoni, who is spending the summer training with his younger brother Luke, who will be starting his freshman season with the Xavier University baseball team this fall, and cousin B.J. Dudeck, who played college ball at VMI and LaSalle University.
“I just wanted to go out there and prove I could be a difference maker in the conference and help NJIT win baseball games. That was my biggest goal all season, just do everything I could to help us get wins and make the conference tournament. I just want to keep building on that in the next three years coming up.”