When Rock Bridge senior outfielder Sean Zullo was in eighth grade, his parents, Paul and Connie Zullo, were divorced. He said the experience changed his life.
“It was a difficult time, because knowing a lot of people who’d been through divorce, I knew what to expect,” Zullo said.
At first, Zullo was angry at both of his parents, especially his mother. But he has learned that in the end, divorce was the best thing for both him and his family. His relationship with his mother and her family has greatly improved recently.
“I realize that I can’t hold a grudge,” he said. “She’s done a lot for me, and I can’t just shut her out like that. She’s done so much for me. I have to forgive and forget.”
He credits his relationship with his family, especially his father’s side, with helping him grow up quickly.
“It showed me that there are people there that care about you no matter what,” he said. “It proved to me that I loved my family.”
He said his family also helped him adjust to the new situation of living with his father and not having his mother around as often.
“There are certain situations where you’re not going to have one person there to help you,” he said.
Paul Zullo said he thinks that the divorce has molded his son into a stronger, more self-reliant person. He said that communication has been the key to his relationship with both his children.
“It’s made him a little bit more mature,” Paul Zullo said. “He’s had some life experiences and had to grow up pretty rapidly. I think that any time you separate a family with a young kid, it has a profound impact.
“I believe in talking a lot to my kids. I talk to them both quite a bit.”
Sean Zullo said that early on in his life, he was able to cultivate a deeper relationship with his father because of his father’s work as a dental technician.
He said Paul and Connie Zullo swapped the roles of the stereotypical American family.
“He took me to school and was there when I got home,” he said. “Mom’s a teacher, so she’d work late every so often to help kids who need extra help on projects and stuff like that.”
Paul Zullo said that he has a personal relationship with his son, going so far as to say he and Sean joke about being roommates as well as father and son.
“I just try to treat him like an adult and what he’ll be seeing next year in college in housing and maintaining himself,” Paul Zullo said.
Sean said that his relationship with his father’s side of the family extends further because of frequent trips to his grandparents’ house in New Jersey.
There, Zullo said, the large Italian family spends much of their Sundays eating and talking about a wide variety of topics. It was where he cultivated his respect for his Italian heritage.
“In the Italian culture, you went to church on Sunday and then had the Sunday meal,” he said. “It was a three- or five-course meal, and we ate for hours upon hours.
“We’d get all the family there in the summer. Dinners and social gatherings were kind of a big deal.”
Zullo is also close to his grandfather, Sal Zullo, who he said is “my biggest fan and biggest critic.”
“My grandfather and I are really close,” he said. “He’s like a surrogate father. He’s always the one there to let you know the life lessons that your parents would say.”
Zullo added that time spent at his grandparents’ home over the summer were some of his fondest memories.
His father agrees.
“My family is Sicilian, and my mother likes to cook,” he said. “When the whole family is together, it’s quite a few folks.”
“If you ask anyone who knows me, I’ll be the last one there for the bus because I’ll always have McDonald’s or something in my bag,” Sean Zullo said.
His affinity for food has extended greatly into its preparation, which Zullo credits to both his classes and the time spent in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother as they cooked. He added that if he wasn’t going to college to play baseball — at Salem Community College in Carney’s Point, N.J. — he would have considered going to culinary school.
He always enjoyed trips to his baseball games with his father and sister.
“One of the fondest memories I had would be driving to games with my dad,” he said. “We always played late games during the summer. My sister would go with us, even though she was a lot older. She’d go regardless of where they were at. We played all over, in Omaha, Florida, Kansas City.”
The devotion his parents show in coming to his games has had a profound affect on Zullo.
“It reminded me of how strong of an impact my parents have had on me,” he said. “It just shows you that there are a lot of people who believe in you and your abilities.”
Through the realization of the necessity of the divorce, he has come to forgive his parents and have a greater appreciation for the involvement of family in his life.
“It was just kind of difficult,” he said. “I blame my dad and mom for that happening but realized that it probably worked out for the best.
“It just shows you that there are people there to help you out whenever you need them.”