By Claire Cornelius
The Red Storm baseball team won their game against Iona College on March 11.
When they headed into the locker room for practice March 12, they were told to hang up their cleats for the season.
Saugus High School alumnus Brandyn Cruz had moved more than 2,000 miles across the country to play for St. John’s University, only to have the season cut short due to the coronavirus.
Cruz, 20, has been a pitcher since age 4. He experimented with multiple sports, such as soccer, basketball and football, but ultimately baseball was what he returned to every year.
Until Cruz moved to New York and St. John’s last fall, he had spent his whole life in Santa Clarita.
“It definitely took a good amount of adapting because it’s just like a whole different world out there,” Cruz said. “But I adapted well. I enjoy every minute that I’m there.”
Cruz’s SJU coaches agreed that he had fit in well, especially for someone who had to move across the country. He was seen as a calming presence in the locker room in comparison to his native-to-the-East Coast teammates.
“I think he’s a perfect California kid in a New York locker room. He’s a relaxed, fun-loving type of kid. Never too high, never too low,” SJU pitching coach George Brown said. “I think that that can bring a definite positivity to the locker room, you know he’s not living and dying with every single thing that happens during the day.”
During his four years as a varsity athlete at Saugus High, Cruz developed his humble and team-oriented leadership style.
“Oh, he’s the quiet leader. He’s not going to get in your face. He likes to set the example when he’s on the mound,” Saugus baseball head coach Carl Grissom said.
Adjusting from a high school workload to a more rigorous college one is difficult enough, but Cruz also had to learn how to navigate private school life after being in the public school system the entirety of his educational career. Despite these challenges, Cruz feels Saugus High put him “in a good position to succeed.”
In high school, Cruz focused on his grades just as much as he did baseball.
“He’s great in the classroom. When I was checking grades, he was always above a 3.0. He is a very intelligent young man,” Grissom said.
Cruz has continued to emphasize his academic performance into college, and has surrounded himself with teammates who do the same.
“Our coaches are checking in. They’re really on top of us about our grades,” Cruz said. “And our team GPA this semester was a 3.69.”
The SJU baseball team was extremely welcoming to its incoming freshmen, and encouraged strong friendships which translated to the field.
“When I’m playing the field and Brandyn is pitching, I want to do everything I can to make him do better, so I’ll do anything extra to get it going,” freshman infielder Marty Higgins said.
Back in New York, team bonding would consist of weekly barbecues where the team could “just be boys,” Higgins said.
The team’s connection on and off the field only made the heartbreaking and abrupt end to the season more difficult.
“It broke my heart because I mean, there’s nothing I like doing more than baseball. But to watch our seniors and our fifth-year guys’ careers virtually come to an end, and the look on their faces, and to watch them, grown men, cry tears, is what really got to me,” Cruz said.
Despite the devastating circumstances, Cruz is moving forward by taking advantage of this time to perfect his technique and get his body in better shape.
“He’s a kid who can brush things off quickly and move on, and not dwell on them, which I think you need to have a short memory as a pitcher,” Brown said.