There’s a saying in independent baseball, Joe Campagna says.
You get here to get the hell out of here.
Getting here wasn’t much of a problem for the former Slippery Rock University infielder, a two-time PSAC West honoree. After a fantastic career with The Rock, one in which he started 160 games, hit 28 homers, and drove in 125 runs, Campagna was hopeful of getting selected in the 40-round Major League Baseball Draft.
“Having two very good years [at SRU], I thought for sure, ‘I’m going to get drafted,’” Campagna said. “I got invited to all the pre-draft workouts. I got invited to the Pirates’ one. I had phone calls and everything. It was disappointing sitting there and watching your name not get called, especially when you had [all of those accolades] all underneath your belt.”
Still, however, he wanted to continue taking the diamond.
“After I graduated, I got together with Coach Messer and we were weighing out options and things to do […] if I didn’t get drafted,” Campagna says. “We all knew that I wanted to play past college.”
Messer, who’s coached baseball at Slippery Rock University for 35 seasons, was able to get in touch with the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL). After going undrafted, Campagna agreed to go to New York’s Mohawk Valley and suit up as a Unicorn.
“It was a lot of Coach Messer,” Campagna says. “It says a lot about the man and his family that they’re willing and they’re caring enough for their players, even whenever I can’t really benefit him anymore other than saying […] I played professional baseball […] that he’s willing to go that extra step to help the guys that he brought into his program.”
Campagna’s stint in the Empire State didn’t go as planned.
“It was rough in the USPBL for me, personally,” Campagna says. “I was doing really well to start off with. I had four bad games, and they ended up releasing me after four bad games.”
Campagna admits his release from Utica gave him an extra push to key in on parts of his game and himself that he needed to improve upon.
“I just came back and worked my tail off,” says Campagna, who lost 25 pounds after being cut. “A lot of what’s defined me is that I haven’t always been the underdog, but there’s been a lot of people that have doubted me […] I take that personally, sometimes. I go and show you wrong.”
It was a humbling experience, putting things into perspective for the former six-time All-Region selection.
“I didn’t believe that I should’ve been in an independent league, anyway,” Campagna said. “I thought that I should’ve been getting drafted and playing in affiliated ball. Whenever that happened, it was honestly a wake-up call. I’m very thankful that it happened.”
Having just finished playing with the Fort Lauderdale Superstars in the spring, including a game against the most storied organization in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), the Kia Tigers, Campagna got word from Washington Wild Things General Manager Tony Buccilli that a four-team league was being put together and was invited to join.
The managers of the Superstars also managed with the Sussex County Miners of the Can-Am League and, with a solid showing in Florida, Campagna thought he would be signed. It ended up that Buccilli reached out first.
“First off, I have to give it to that league,” Campagna says. “With all the stuff that happened, they did a fantastic job of keeping us safe and doing all the necessary safety protocols […] to give us a platform to play and showcase our ability […] They did everything correct.”
With the Steel City Slammin’ Sammies in the umbrella league, Campagna recorded a .303 batting average, hit five home runs, and notched a dozen RBI. He got to play alongside his cousin, John Sansone, a former Florida State Seminole who played in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league system.
After his summer with the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy, it was announced that Campagna signed to play for the Wild Things’ 2021 roster. For the 2019 D2CCA All-American and New Castle native, it’s a heartening feeling to play close to home. Having off each Monday, Campagna looks forward to driving an hour to spend time with his parents and his dog, Koda, a three-year-old German Shepherd-Husky mix.
“I’m very excited to get going and get playing with them,” Campagna said. “I love the management, the coaching, the staff, and everything. I’m used to that ballpark because Cal U plays there. It’s comforting.”
He continues, envisioning the crowd as he suits up for the Frontier League team.
“It’s really cool to be able to see some familiar faces that come to the games, too, as fans,” Campagna says “It’s going to be really cool to see them and be one of the guys that they know coming to the games.”
Though, he doesn’t forget that his hope is that this stop is a temporary one, a mile marker on the way to larger things.
“I’m looking to get in there, come out the gate hot, and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Campagna says. “And then, personally, hopefully get signed to an affiliated contract out of there. If that doesn’t end up happening this year, I want to win a championship with the Wild Things […] I think it says a lot if you can go out there and grab a championship.”