BC's Johnny Mason is greeted by teammates after the senior outfielder hit his fifth home run of the season Wednesday against Mary Washington. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
On Feb. 23, Mason, a senior right fielder for the Bridgewater College baseball team, joined Ventura and McCarver in a dubious distinction: he hit what is colloquially known as a “grand slam single.”
With the bases loaded and the game tied with one out in the ninth inning against Messiah, Mason pulled a high fly ball to right field. Initially, Mason thought it would be caught, allowing the runner on third to tag and score the winning run, so Mason ran through first base. But the ball cleared the right-field fence for an apparent home run.
Until Mason turned left.
BC teammate Nick Fulk was still standing on first base, also waiting to see whether the ball would be caught. When Mason turned toward second base, he technically passed Fulk on the base path.
The umpires, unclear about the ruling for that situation, initially declared that no runs counted. Three innings later, they consulted the rulebook. They decided that the runners should score, meaning that Mason’s hit still won the game – but it was ruled a single.
“I can look back and laugh at it now,” Mason said at practice Friday.
Especially given the way he’s been smoking the ball this season.
The Sterling native was named Division III National Hitter of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Thursday after going 11-for-16 over four games last week. His slugging percentage in that time was a gaudy 1.125.
For the season, he’s third among regular BC starters in batting average (.382) and he’s leading the Eagles in slugging (.674), on-base percentage (.491) and, despite the gaffe against Messiah, home runs (five).
That grand-slam-turned single put him in the same company as McCarver, a former catcher and currently a notable baseball broadcaster, who passed a runner after hitting an apparent grand slam – like Mason – in 1976 when playing for the Phillies.
Ventura, now the manager for the White Sox, famously belted a walk-off grand slam in the 1999 National League Championship Series, but it was officially ruled a walk-off single after he never made it to second base because his Mets teammates mobbed him in celebration.
When told about the two MLB All-Stars’ grand slam singles – Mason responded, “Hey, I’ll take it.”
For Mason this season, it was a rare case of doing the wrong thing.
“I’d say just being a senior, knowing what’s going on at this point in the year,” Mason, who’s been the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Player of the Week twice this season, said in explaining his early surge. “In other seasons I’d be just thinking too much at that time, maybe not doing too well. But I’ve let the bad games go and the good ones come along. I think that’s just one of the things that’s helped me; maturity.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound left-handed hitter said he never thought he’d be smacking home runs in college before he got there.
Mason said he hit just three home runs in his career at Park View High School, where he played for Elkton resident Mickey Leap. Mason said BC and Eastern Mennonite University were the only schools that seriously recruited him.
“Did we ever know he would be what he is [this season]? Probably not initially,” BC coach Curt Kendall said.
So how did he become such a prolific power hitter? It helps that he’s a weight-room rat. He started lifting with his father, John, at age 10, because John was afraid his son’s Little League power wouldn’t translate to a regulation field. Since graduating high school, Mason said he’s added 25 to 30 pounds of muscle.
He doesn’t just lift weights with the Eagles – he also does it for fun, recreationally. If not in an actual weight room, then on the pull-up bar in his dorm.
“Every day, I’ll tend to go in the weight room and just lift for an hour or so, hour-and-a-half,” Mason said. “It just makes me feel better.”
He started crushing the ball during his sophomore season in college. He hit five home runs and batted .300 in 2011, and was named first-team all-Old Dominion Athletic Conference. In March that year, he won the same national hitting award he got this week.
But then, he admitted, he got home-run happy. Even in situations that demand a single – like with runners on second and third base with no outs – he said he would try and hit pitches to the gaps. He kept hitting home runs – seven as a junior – but his average dipped to .274 in 2012.
“He got impatient, chased a lot, got himself out, I always told him,” Kendall said. “When he started doing that, he was easy to get out, and then he became frustrated, and then he had no patience.”
Obviously, these days, he’s fixed that problem.
“When I had games back-to-back when I was hitting multiple home runs [in past seasons], I was like, ‘I can do this [all the time],’ and it turned out I couldn’t, because I ended up struggling for a week or two weeks,” Mason said. “I think now I’m just realizing that they’ll come when they come, and aside from that, just to try and get base hits.”
It’s precisely for that reason, Mason said, that he avoids looking at stats – because “they get in my head,” like they did earlier in his career. But he still loves numbers; he’s a business management major with a concentration in accounting, and said one of his aspirations is to be a CPA. (He’ll attend graduate school for accounting at James Madison starting in the fall.)
“I guess you could say I’m not a very spontaneous person, which could be boring – which could be maybe why I want to do accounting,” Mason said, laughing.
Mason likes to have everything in order, a trait he said he gets from his mother, Marilyn. He likes having a life plan. He avoids distractions.
With a family that John Mason said has a history of alcoholism, Johnny Mason is an officer in a club that helps BC students make smart choices about using alcohol and drugs. He’s even in the process of creating a blanket policy for the school regarding alcoholism and drug use, Kendall said.
As Mason was being interviewed, a teammate walked by and jokingly called him “Mr. Do-Everything-Right.”
“He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Hacker said. “…He’s got it all, basically. He’s the man. That’s the bottom line.”
Now that’s a good breath to be remembered in.