Long Journey Brings Masterson To San Diego State

Talented pitcher makes immediate impact on Aztec baseball

Junior right-hander Justin Masterson has moved into the starting rotation in his inaugural season at San Diego State.

Junior right-hander Justin Masterson has moved into the starting rotation in his inaugural season at San Diego State.

Feb. 23, 2006

by Tim Miguel

The international journey of San Diego State starting pitcher Justin Masterson, a transfer from Bethel College in Indiana, has brought him to SDSU, where he struck out 12 batters in his first appearance at Tony Gwynn Stadium on Feb. 18.

Masterson and his family have been all over the world since his father is a pastor and goes on missions. The junior transfer was born in Jamaica, before moving to Indiana at the age of two. He moved to Ohio where he lived for most his life before returning to Indiana to attend Bethel. The right-handed hurler has also spent time playing ball in the Dominican Republic last fall and the Cape Cod League last summer in Massachusetts.

All the points on the globe ended with Masterson's final destination - SDSU.

"Every place I go to has different things that stick out about them," Masterson said. "I'm laid back so I can fit in well wherever I go. Each place has its beauty. In the east coast, it was the atmosphere of the people around there. In the Dominican, the love that those people have for baseball was amazing to me. In Indiana, it was definitely the people. I had some of my best relationships there. Here it's almost a combination of the weather and the people."

It was playing in the Cape Cod League that provided Masterson with the opportunity to come to The Mesa. On his team (the Wareham Gateman) were Aztec starting pitcher Bruce Billings and infielder Lance Zawadzki. After meeting his current teammates, they persuaded Masterson that SDSU would be a good fit for him to continue his baseball career.

Befriending Billings and Zawadzki was one of the main reasons why he decided to move west.

"Meeting the two of them was really nice," Masterson said. "I talked to Bruce and some other people, and they told me this team is good and it's just missing some pitching. Great weather, a great opportunity and I had never been to the west coast before, so I thought, let's try it out. If something were to happen, like I got hurt, I'd still be in San Diego, a dream place for many people to come to."

Getting to San Diego didn't come without a little bit of luck besides being on the same team as Billings and Zawadzki. Just getting into the Cape Cod League required a lot of help from his coach and a little bit more luck as well. All of the rosters are decided at the beginning of the fall, but Masterson didn't tell his coach at Bethel that he wanted to play until December.

It took a long chain of contacts to get Masterson in the league initially. His coach at Bethel knew the school's former head coach, Mike Hutcheon, who left Bethel to become head coach at Air Force after the 2003 season. Hutcheon used to coach in the Cape Cod League and knew the manager of the Wareham Gatemen. He called the general manager of the league, who in turn scouted Masterson and gave him a shot as a temporary player until the top talent arrived.

After his first outing, he was offered a spot as the closer for the Gatemen. By the end of the season, Masterson went from being a temporary player to winning the Sylvain Bigelow Award given to the team's top pitcher. He compiled a record of 3-1 with 10 saves and a 1.15 earned run average in 22 appearances for Wareham.

"I was amazed to get that because we had such great pitching," Masterson said. "Looking at the team and how much talent there was, and I wasn't even supposed to be out there. It was the good work of the Lord, opening doors, people's minds and giving me the opportunity to be out there. I used the ability that He gave me and impressed them enough to say `hey, we want this guy to stay around.' I did well for myself and I'm here."

Along with the Bigelow Award, he also left the east coast with the Fran Tripp Award given to the player who had a positive impact on the community.

The Cape Cod League was just one memorable experience in the Masterson's baseball journey. Playing in the Dominican Republic for Bethel was another memorable trip for him.

It was a team mission trip through the school. The team would hold a camp in the morning for a local school and then play the city's all-star team. Along the way, Masterson and his team met Raphael Furcal of the Los Angeles Dodgers on the trip as well.

"The coolest thing about it was the people," Masterson said. "A few of the fields had stands, but people would just line up in the hills, all the way around. Anywhere you could sit, they would sit, sometimes on the field. It turned out being something really amazing.

"It was tiring. It was amazing, playing against people who don't speak English, but you know that they love playing the game as much as you. There's so much passion in everything that they do, whether it was baseball or the passion they had for God. The conditions there are not the best, trash everywhere; it's not the prettiest thing, but they love life."

Through 11 games, Masterson has a 1-1 record with an ERA of 4.12. He currently leads SDSU and is tied for second in the Mountain West Conference with 20 strikeouts.

As far as the rest of the season is concerned, Masterson wants to be part of a one-two pitching punch with Billings. He hopes the two will become a formidable duo for opposing teams.

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