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While on a California spring training swing two years ago, Penn baseball coach Bob Seddon asked Jeff Gregorio if he would take the field at third base. A consummate team player, Gregorio was naturally up for the challenge. "I told him, 'Sure, I'll play third,'" Gregorio said. "I can field fine, and I was willing. The only thing was that I didn't have a glove." You see, Gregorio doesn't own a fielder's glove -- he hasn't had need for one since the wiser Bush was in the White House. For more than a decade, all that's kept Gregorio company on the field is a trusty mitt. "I've been catching for something like 10 or 12 years," Gregorio said. Although he's been donning the tools of ignorance since he was in Little League, in this, Gregorio's fifth year in the Quakers dugout, he's much more than just the backstop. He's the backbone. He's the starting catcher; he'll call most of the pitches when he's on the field; he bats clean-up; and he provides the kind of senior leadership that's intangible but extremely valuable. "He definitely leads by example," said Nick Barnhorst, a Daily Pennsylvanian sports writer and Gregorio's roommate on roads trips. "He leads by the way he plays and by his dedication to the team." Gregorio caught in 30 of Penn's 41 games last season, and he was a DH in seven other contests. His return to the lineup this season therefore brings an important dose of consistency. "Him coming back is big," Seddon said. "You're as good a team as you are up the middle... so keeping an experienced catcher is real important." If last season is any indication, Gregorio will be just as integral to the Quakers when he's at the plate as when he's behind it. Gregorio led the team in RBIs (46) in 2000, while tying for the team lead in triples (3) and home runs (6). En route to a .305 batting average, Gregorio had more than his fair share of monstrous outings. In an unbelievable 33-13 win over La Salle, Gregorio hit for the cycle, recording six hits and 11 RBIs. Things haven't always come up roses for Gregorio, however. The reason he has the chance to take a fifth year on campus is that he sat out all of the 1998 season. "I had some back trouble coming off a summer where I played something like 60 or 70 games, and between that and lifting [weights], I put a lot of pressure on my back," Gregorio said. Although his season on the sidelines must have been somewhat trying, it has enabled him to keep things on a very even keel this school year. "It's been great," the International Relations major said of his fifth year. "Right now, my class schedule is really relaxed. It's been going real well." His back is also doing fine these days -- Gregorio's made his doctors happy by losing a little of the extra weight he had sophomore year. That said, catching three games per weekend puts strains on a player's body that few can really understand. "It's not the knees even; it's my arm. In a seven-inning game, pitchers will throw maybe 120 pitches, so that's 120 throws not counting all of their warm-ups," Gregorio said. "And that's only in a seven-inning game." Often, Gregorio will be asked to catch two nine-inning games and a seven-inning tilt on a given weekend. As if the physical gauntlet weren't enough, Gregorio is taking on a new mental burden this year -- one which he welcomes with open arms. "This year, I'm expected to call a lot more of the pitches," Gregorio said. "I'm more comfortable calling them." Last season, long-time pitching coach Bill Wagner called a majority of Penn's pitches from the dugout. This year, with Gregorio's expertise behind the mask, the coaching staff can hand the job largely over to him. According to Seddon, this move has precedent. Two of his catchers in the early and mid 90's, Ben Breier and Rick Burt, also called their own games. Penn's backup catchers -- junior Bill Collins and freshmen Dan Goldstein and John Slaughter -- won't be calling many pitches, but they will have the benefit of learning from a well-schooled veteran. It's not Gregorio's sole responsibility to train these young receivers, but he's ready and willing to do the work. Just like he was ready to play third base.

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