“Professional baseball player.”
Those are the words Mike Garzillo, ’16, wrote on his kindergarten worksheets when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Little did Garzillo know at the time, he would have multiple opportunities to make that dream a reality.
During his third year on the Lehigh baseball team, Garzillo was selected in the 38th round of the 2015 MLB Draft to play for the New York Yankees.
After Garzillo decided to stay and finish his last year at Lehigh, he got another chance to play professionally when he was drafted in the 25th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins. He played for the Marlins’ minor league organization for two years.
“It was a pretty surreal process,” Garzillo said. “Growing up, I always dreamed of getting drafted and playing professional baseball. To see that come to fruition was pretty cool.”
The former second baseman is the only player in Lehigh history to be drafted multiple times.
After graduating from Lehigh two years ago with a Patriot League title under his belt, Garzillo decided to return to his alma mater as the hitting coach for the baseball team this season.
At Lehigh, Garzillo was named the 2015 Patriot League Tournament MVP and an All-American in the same year. His senior year, Garzillo was the 2016 Patriot League Player of the Year. He is the only player from Lehigh to land a spot on the All-Patriot League First Team three times.
Upon graduating, Garzillo held program career records in hits with 236, doubles with 60 — which was also a Patriot League record — games played with 205 and at bats with 746 over the course of his four-year career as a Mountain Hawk.
Chris Kersey, a senior on the baseball team and one of Garzillo’s former teammates, spoke highly of Garzillo’s success and character.
“There is so much about him that is impressive,” Kersey said. “He has one of the highest characters of anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
Kersey said Garzillo always led by example and acted as a mentor for his team.
Lehigh baseball coach Sean Leary said Garzillo was the ideal player, and by the time he was a senior he had “a tree of younger brothers underneath him.”
Garzillo will now influence the team from a coaching and mentoring position — a role he began to embrace when he played for Lehigh.
Leary said he remembers telling his players that, if they wanted to be successful, all they had to do was follow in Garzillo’s footsteps. Leary described Garzillo as the type of leader who looked out for his teammates and held them accountable both on and off the field.
Not only did Garzillo embrace a big brother role for his younger teammates, but Leary said Garzillo also reached out to players who struggled.
Leary said Garzillo set a precedent for the program by creating a model to follow and leaving a legacy as a leader.
“I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” Leary said. “I’ve never had a person have that kind of sphere of influence.”
Garzillo said the connections he created with his former teammates made the transition from player to coach a unique one because some of them are still on the team. He said he considers them his best friends and his family.
Garzillo said the team is made up of a group of guys who work hard and respond well to advice. He said it’s been fun working with the team as a coach and getting to know the different personalities, something Kersey said Garzillo also did well as a player.
“As a player, he did a really good job getting to know his teammates,” Kersey said. “He was such a good leader here in his time while he was playing that he’s just transitioning and carrying that over to a new role.”
Along with his strength as a leader, Kersey said Garzillo has a tough mental approach to the game.
“He’s very confident in himself and confident in the people that are around him,” Kersey said. “He brings that to the table as well and instills that in us when we play.”
In his first season as hitting coach at Lehigh — the place to which he attributes his success — Garzillo has one main goal: to be the best coach he can be for his players while motivating them to win a championship.
He already has an advantage — the baseball team’s dedication, sense of leadership and competitiveness is familiar to the former Mountain Hawk.
Garzillo said he has seen the game played from a variety of different angles and uses what he learned playing for Lehigh and the Marlins organization to coach his own players.
“Just like anything else in life, all the information you get, you sort through it and distill it down to what you feel is the best thing,” Garzillo said.
While Garzillo enjoys coaching, he said he misses playing competitively, training hard to be the best player he can be and being a part of the camaraderie of the team.
At the end of the day, however, Garzillo said he’s excited to be back at Lehigh with a team of players and coaches who believe in him.
“Anytime you come into a place where people believe in you, it’s a place you feel good about,” he said, “and Lehigh’s always been that type of place for me. I’m back at the place that I love and that gave me so much, and I’m happy to be here.”