April 3, 2006
By G. Venkat Ganeshan - Special to sjuhawks.com
PHILADELPHIA - How would the atmosphere be inside the clubhouse when you have two senior members platoon at the same position? And imagine how volatile the situation would be if those two said members are vying for the catcher's job? Cordial would be the last word that would crop up in your mind. But that's exactly how it is inside the clubhouse of the Saint Joseph's baseball team as two of the most experienced members alternate playing time as the backstop.
"We are good friends and we certainly support each other," Mason says. "Obviously, we compete for playing time but I am always supporting him and the team and he does the same way."
Mason, a native of Manchester, N.H., points out that their mutual bond could act as a catalyst for younger guys who are vying for playing time with each other.
"A lot of younger guys compete for playing time," Mason says. "And if they look at us and learn as to how we compete and remain friends, things could be easier for them."
When Mason came to the team he had a feeling that something was amiss. He felt the team lacked a spark that could put them in the elite bracket. Thankfully, a change in the coaching regime helped improve Mason's baseball acumen.
"I learned more baseball last year than my entire life," Mason says. "My first two years here, the experience baseball-wise wasn't great but when Coach (Shawn) Pender came to manage this team I learned more last year from him."
It is no surprise that when you mention Pender's name to him you can see him effuse nothing but praise and respect for the man making all the calls on the field.
"When he came in, there was excitement because of his background," Mason says. "Coach Pender has brought us back to focusing on the fundamentals, executing routine plays. He has adapted to us and understands our potentials and limitations.
"Since we aren't a power team, ours is a momentum-based one, he emphasizes on stealing, bunting and hit-and-run plays. Coach Pender is really focusing on creating an atmosphere and attitude that starts with positive energy, being aggressive and playing the game with a passion," Mason says with a bubbling sense of enthusiasm.
When you start to hear Coach Pender echo the same feelings about the team's captain, you begin to wonder that it certainly is a two-way street.
"Mason is a wonderful leader," Pender says. "He's the guy that plays the game with a commitment that others would love to play."
Ask him to assess Mason's skills you almost get a scouting report that's as clean and impeccable as a romantic love story.
"He's unselfish and has got a great work ethic," Pender says with pride filling the entire room. "He's very supportive and has a good influence on people."
For a coach who has spent considerable time in the major leagues, he waxes eloquently about his two senior catchers' chemistry.
"It's never easy when people with the same age and experience level compete for playing time. Things could turn sour," Pender says. "But it hasn't happened here. Due to an injury that Greg picked up and also because Dustin's playing well, Dustin gets more playing time right now. But they have been respectful of each other and Greg has handled Dustin's rise with the same level as a captain of any squad would."
And it's those niggling injuries that have often bothered Mason and curtailed his presence on the diamond. He says matter-of-factly that he has picked up an injury almost every year like it's some sort of an annual ritual.
Though he suffered a minor eye injury his vision about the future of the team hasn't diminished.
"I am not going to see the glory days of this program," Mason says with a tinge of sadness, "But I want my name to be mentioned as the guy who helped in seeing this program reach this level."
It seems like Mason clearly understands his role on this squad, which isn't confined to helping out pitchers in pitch selection and catching. He is considered an elder statesman of the team and new kids look up to him and defer to him to fine-tune their skills. Also he acts as a conduit between the coach and the younger kids. He thoroughly enjoys the additional responsibility and doesn't treat that as a burden.
"I am the captain of this team," Mason says. "Even when I'm not on the field, I am kind of knowledgeable about the game and the younger guys come to me and I talk about situations and what they need to do. And I try to help them with what I learned in this game so far."
When it comes to communicating with the players and spreading his message, Pender relies on Mason. Maybe it's time to call him Mason the Messenger.
"He comes to me and talks as to how he's approaching the game," Mason says alluding to Pender. "And he discusses with me as to how to communicate with the players and ensure that his message is received by every single player on the team. We have a strong level of respect for each other."
"He's a straight-shooter and he's involved with the team and has got an open door. The school did a very good job in choosing Pender for the job. He's doing his part."
When asked to rate his team's chances, Mason presents an optimistic yet pragmatic view.
"We are a young team," Mason says. "Our record's better than last year. We won the series against Temple and we have a good start. We have a very good chance of making the A-10 playoffs. But for that to happen we need to focus a lot and our pitchers need to keep attacking the strike zone."
"Offense-wise, we are swinging our bats better and we are hitting well. But each person should know what we need to do at the ballpark."
And he alludes to the fact that the A-10 has become more competitive this year with teams like Charlotte in the fray, he wants every member of the team to give out his best.
It's not surprising that Mason, a marketing major, is envisioning a career in the front-office of the ball club. Naturally, hailing from New England , he wants to become the nxt Theo Epstein.
Only without the politics and the gorilla suit, that is.