His title happened by mistake. His involvement didn’t.
Jo Jo Cruz didn’t show up to the initial gathering for Georgia Gwinnett College’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee formation meeting aiming to become president or even a board member. As a self-described “social guy,” Cruz just wanted to be a part of the group.
“I was highly interested in it because I like to consider myself very sociable,” Cruz said. “My teammates like to make fun of me all the time that we can’t go anywhere without Jo Jo knowing someone.”
At Georgia Gwinnett College, the Grayson graduate does have a leg up on sighting acquaintances around the county. But it’s not just his immersion in the county, as the vote at the advisory meeting showed.
“I was nominated as president and vice president,” Cruz said, then added the VP slot was taken first. “I just had to take the role that was there. It was awesome.”
For Cruz, this was just another new path to follow; another first to direct or instigate. Even in high school Cruz took charge.
As a senior at Grayson, he helped change the course of the Rams program. To that point, no freshmen had played on the varsity team to start the season, but prior to his final year, Cruz and the other seniors advocated for a lifting of the unwritten rule.
“We sat down with our coach senior year and said, ‘We think these three players should be on varsity,’” Cruz remembers.
One of those freshmen was eventual first-round MLB draft pick Austin Meadows.
Next followed college at Middle Georgia. The small town and established program first drew Cruz, but after a year, the smallness and tradition weren’t for him anymore. That, and his pitching coach Christian Castorri had just joined the staff at GGC. Castorri is now in the scouting department with the Miami Marlins. But the lure of GGC came calling for Cruz, who had been in one of the early classes at Grayson and saw the opportunity to not just play closer to home and with a coach he trusted, but help build something like he did at Grayson at GGC.
“I wanted to bring what I knew to GGC,” Cruz said. “I saw what their program could be from (what I saw) at Middle Georgia and I wanted to bring what I knew to GGC and start something new and special. It’s honestly a blessing. Starting something new has been the big thing.”
After just a year at the school, Cruz built the social credentials to earn a nomination onto the new advisory committee. This was well before the Grizzlies qualifies for the NAIA World Series.
On the field, Cruz appeared in 10 regular season games in relief with no record and a 4.15 ERA, but off the field is where his work took hold.
Just like his rapid rise through the ranks of the baseball team’s social stratosphere, Cruz wants to expand the reach to all the athletics.
“(My role) as president is to help build unity with all the teams,” Cruz said. “Right now, all the athletic teams at GGC are really close (as individual teams). We are trying to make that a whole athletic team. We are just trying to be closer.”
Included in Cruz’s plans to build stronger bonds are community service projects with all the teams involved as well as making the first home soccer game of the season a sort of welcoming party for all the new athletes and a welcome back for the returners.
“We are trying to figure out where we want to go,” Cruz said.
As president, accident or not, Cruz is charged with directing that path and making certain it’s followed. It’s not his first time walking a new path.
“I love the idea of leadership,” he said. “I love being the voice.”