Bruno one of country’s top pitchers
As he entered the Little League media room, Gregory Bruno looked more like he had fought 12 rounds than pitched a baseball game.
It provided the perfect illustration. That is who Bruno is. He is part pitcher, part gritty street fighter. That combination has helped him become of the country’s best Little League Baseball pitchers.
Bruno proved that again Sunday when he threw 5 1/3 innings of three-hit baseball and helped Staten Island, New York, defeat Texas, 2-1, to earn a spot in Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final.
“He’s a tough kid. He loves that spot and he wants that spot,” Staten Island manager Joe Calabrese said. “Not many kids want the ball in that spot and he thrives in that spot.”
Bruno has displayed that all season. He has been hit by hot-shot comebackers when pitching and in the face while hitting, but Bruno has never backed down.
On a team complete with 11 all-stars who have all flourished, Bruno has shined especially bright. He has been virtually untouchable and has saved his best pitching for the biggest games. Going back to regionals, Bruno is 4-0, allowing just one run and six hits in 18 innings. He also has struck out 38 during that time. Oh yeah, he also threw a perfect game against Maryland in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship, a first in that tournament’s 18-year history.
Bruno has not slowed down at the Series, earning the win in his first two appearances and striking out 12. He throws in the mid-70s and features nasty breaking pitches. Bruno also has all the intangibles.
“He’s had it this entire season. His work ethic is second to none,” Mid-Island Little League president John Pleszewicz said. “His mechanics are flawless. Beside the fact we’re saying it at the league, the anchors on ESPN are saying his mechanics are as good as Major Leaguers. It’s not the norm for a 12-year-old.”
Bruno is a normal 12-year-old off the field, but on it he is a pitching prodigy. He rarely takes a day off and a balance between commitment, talent and drive has Bruno flourishing on Little League’s biggest stage.
So overpowering Bruno has been that Major League pitchers are approaching him. Prior to Sunday’s MLB Little League Classic between the Phillies and Mets, Bruno was asked to the press box at Lamade and met Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta. Instead of being in awe, Bruno used his time with the former Cy Young winner as a brain-storming session.
“I asked him what advice would you give me to be as successful as you. He just said have fun and keep doing what you do,” Bruno said. “Getting called up to the press box and meeting someone that is very successful at what I do at this age is really cool. It was really cool to meet him to absorb the information he was able to give me.”
Bruno is one cool customer. Pressure and large stages do not rattle him. They make him stronger. He did not allow a run at regionals, going 2-0, striking out 23 and throwing his six-inning perfect game on just 62 pitches.
He entered in relief when Staten Island opened the Series against Iowa, inheriting a one-out, bases-loaded jam. Bruno hit the first batter and struggled early with his command.
But Bruno maintained his composure. He owned the moment and struck out the next two hitters. He added four more strikes, did not allow a run and helped Staten Island win, 5-2 He then stifled a powerful Texas offense three days later, striking out six more in a 2-1 victory. It was the first time this summer Texas had lost.
“To be that cool mannered under all that pressure is amazing. I didn’t see him sweat,” Pleszewicz said. “He’s all business when he’s on the mound.”
Nothing really distracts Bruno and that includes physical punishment. During the state tournament, Bruno fouled a ball off his face. His eye was swollen, but he stayed in the game and again make a big impact. Bruno was hit by a wicked grounder Sunday, but he stayed in the game and threw until he reached the pitch-count limit.
During that time, Bruno buckled down after Texas scored the first run off him in nearly a month.
With the go-ahead runs on second and third in the fourth inning, Bruno retired the next two hitters and Texas never threatened again.
That is a big reason Mid-Island Little League is closer to a world championship than it has been since 1964 when it won the title. The team’s warrior is helping lead the way.
“He’s a complete pitcher. He’s the real deal,” Calabrese said. “When he’s on the mound we’re an extremely tough team to beat.”
And Bruno is just tough, period.