South Jersey Sports Report: Robbie Petracci is CAL Player of the Year
When Robbie Petracci was a toddler, his father, Robert, said the youngster’s swing reminded him of New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. And that’s the reason that throughout his life Petracci has worn No. 7. The sweet swinging lefty right-fielder realized his potential this season, leading one of the more surprising late-season surges in recent Cape-Atlantic League baseball history.
Egg Harbor Township was highly touted in the preseason, as the Eagles were ranked No. 16 in nj.com’s preseason Top 20 poll. But four straight losses to start the season, and a lackluster month of April, had the Eagles on the brink of not even making the state playoffs. The Eagles got back to 4-4 with a win over Bridgewater-Raritan on April 18, but EHT still limped into May with a 6-8 record.
Petracci and the rest of his senior teammates knew they had come too far during their careers to see it end like this.
“We got off to a rough start, obviously, and we all got together as a team without the coaches and said, ‘listen, we’ve been playing together since we were little kids and if we don’t turn it on now we’ll never get a chance to.’ And that really fired us all up. I knew I was going to put the work in, individually, to put my best out there, and I think a lot of the other guys did, too, and that really changed the course of our season,” said Petracci, Glory Days’ Baseball Player of the Year. “I’ve said this a million times, but we knew we had the guys and the talent. We really never lost confidence in each other. We knew we were having some fluke losses — both games against St. Augustine Prep, against Vineland we were up like seven runs. We knew we just had to start closing out games. It wasn’t hard to stay confident, we just had to stay hopeful that we had enough games left to turn it around.”
The Eagles went 4-3 in May before the cutoff date for the state playoffs, and did just enough to earn the No. 16 seed in South Jersey Group 4. That meant a road game against top-seeded Shawnee in the opening round, and the Eagles scored a surprising 5-3 victory. They advanced all the way to the sectional semifinals before falling 5-0 to Cherry Hill East and finishing the season 13-12.
Petracci did all he could to keep his senior season going, racking up 39 hits, 32 RBIs, 28 runs, 10 doubles, two home runs, 12 walks and nine stolen bases. He batted .464 in 84 at-bats. For his career, Petracci hit .380 with four homers, 62 RBIs, 78 hits, including 21 doubles, 58 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.
“It really hit me after having a little bit of success junior year that there was something I had that I could accomplish, both helping the team and personal things. That fired me up, having a little bit of success, and made me realize I had to work even harder to really achieve something. I actually started to implement sitting on off-speed pitches on the first pitch because it became so common, to the point where my best bet was to sit on the curveball,” said Petracci, who plans to continue his career at Old Dominion University in Virginia. “The way I set my goals, I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was disappointed (in myself), but I wasn’t overly impressed with myself — and as a player, unless you’re getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, you should never be sitting there congratulating yourself. For example, I’m in a room right now (at Old Dominion) with three other Division I players who are just as good as me, if not better, so if I’m sitting there patting myself on the back, they are going to pass me by.”
Petracci said the key to his breakout senior season was simply becoming more focused on a daily basis in practice.
“The biggest thing for me was taking nothing for granted. Every swing (in practice), instead of just swinging because the coach said I had to take 10 swings, I had a set routine and I knew what I wanted to accomplish every time I stepped onto the field, whether it was on the tee, in the cages,” he said.
“Really just having a plan every time I was working on my craft. With that, you start to become confident in the box because you know you’ve done everything you can to prepare, so there’s no shame in getting beat at that point.”
Petracci is one of those guys who just looks like a baseball player, from the eye black to the taped wrists, to just the way he runs on and off the field. He looks like a guy who is comfortable in the all movements baseball players make throughout the course of the game.
“I’ve always prided myself on looking the part out there. As a little kid, I was always the guy who was wearing the Evo Shield and stuff like that. There is a piece of it that some guys are born with it and some guys aren’t, to a certain degree. It definitely came from my dad. He tells me he remembers throwing to me when I was 2 years old, and he said he tried out every sport with me, and he said it was always baseball,” he said. “My dad would always say I had that left-handed Mickey Mantle swing.”
The past four years, Petracci and the rest of the 2019 senior class have helped elevate the Egg Harbor Township baseball program to now, when you’re talking about the best teams in the Cape-Atlantic League, the Eagles have to be mentioned up there along with the likes of St. Augustine Prep, Holy Spirit, Mainland, Ocean City, Vineland and Millville.
“When I say you shouldn’t feel satisfied, that’s more as an individual player, but as a team, when you can go out there and kind of shock the area a little bit, that’s the best feeling in the world. At the end of the day, it’s nice to get personal accolades, but there’s nothing like winning with your brothers,” Petracci said. “Although we never took a state title or South Jersey Group 4 title, we’re going to be a team that will be remembered. I don’t know that we’ll be a team that’s really remembered around the whole CAL, but I think within the program we’ll be remembered for being hard workers and changing the culture a little bit. With the younger guys, we taught them that EHT doesn’t accept slacking off or not caring, and I think that will stay in the program for a long time.”
One thing Petracci has always been passionate about is playing for his hometown school instead of going off to a private school. He said he hopes that is part of the legacy he and his teammates leave, that you can stay at EHT and play in big games, and be in contention for championships.
“It’s definitely a blessing and it’s even more cool that I didn’t have to pay to go to another school, I just went where I was meant to go to school, and just play for my town. And to be able to play in big games, meaningful games, is just icing on the cake,” he said. “It’s something that I always wanted to do, and pretty much all the seniors. We’ve seen guys here and there go to other schools, but I think there’s something to be said for guys who go in with what you’ve got and work with it, and do all you can to still come out on top.”
Recently, Petracci was at Old Dominion working out with some of his future college teammates, and he said he understands the opportunity that is before him now.
“I was just out there looking at the Old Dominion field and I almost cried. It’s just an honor, and being around all these guys you realize you’re not as good as you thought you were, you’re not as strong as you thought you were. It’s humbling, but it’s pretty cool.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays