by Paul R. Condry of RRSN
The Cleveland Indians announced that former Bethel College standout Justin Masterson will take the ball on "Opening Day" (April 5) when the Tribe face-off against the Toronto Blue Jays. Last season, Masterson emerged as the Indians' most reliable starter after beginning the year in the rotation's third slot. Overall, the big right-hander went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA over 34 appearances. Masterson's win total would surely have been higher had it not been for a significant lack of run and defensive support throughout the year. Masterson's numbers during the 2011 campaign were solid. The lanky 6-foot-6 right-hander posted career highs in strikeouts (158), wins (12), innings pitched (216) and games started (33). His 3.21 ERA was the 12th best in the American League in 2011.
These impressive totals allowed the 27-year old Masterson to sign an arbitration deal in the seven figure range during the off-season.
"I feel blessed to be where I am at," Masterson said. "My first reaction was of great excitement, knowing that all the hard work had paid off. But, with this also comes great responsibility. The staff is counting on me to set the tone for that day, the season, and getting the fans onboard. On the other hand, it's very humbling. We have some guys on this pitching staff who easily deserve to be out there on opening day. I am just hoping that I can go out there and pitch well and be the "ace" of the day."
Bethel head baseball coach Seth Zartman was thrilled when he heard the news that his former pupil getting the nod on opening day.
"I am very excited for of Justin, but more importantly, I am proud of what kind of person Justin is," Zartman said. "I am so happy for where he is at. I look back and say I had the great privilege to not only to coach him, but to get to know him and who he is. To me, that will always be the most important thing."
Spring Arbor head coach Sam Riggleman, who coached Zartman at Bethel, also takes pride in seeing the a former Bethel ace and a player from the competitive Mid Central Conference get the call on opening day.
"What a proud moment for our conference," Riggleman said. "I remember the days he was pitching at Bethel. He was a handful to deal with. He is going to provide that young club in Cleveland great leadership through his career. It's going to be a proud day for our conference to see him out there on opening day."
Masterson began his career in Boston where he was a second round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2006. Masterson made minor league stops at Lowell (A-), Lancaster (A+), Portland (AA), and Pawtucket (AAA) before making his big league debut on April 24, 2008. On July 31, 2009, Masterson was traded to the Cleveland Indians. "The Big Nasty", as he was nicknamed at Bethel, has appeared in 146 major leagues games and owns a 28-38 career record with 485 strikeouts with a ERA of 3.92.
Masterson, who played at Bethel from 2004-05, still has great memories from his time on the Mishawaka, Indiana campus.
"One of the things that I will always remember is getting up at 4:30 in the morning and walking across the frozen tundra (the soccer field) to go to baseball practice," Masterson recalled with a laugh. "I will remember looking at Coach Z (Seth Zartman) and saying what are we doing."
Masterson laughs about the great memories associated with being part of the Pilots' baseball program, even his stint as my broadcast partner on his "off days".
"Paul, as you know, we have discussed this before," Masterson said. "One of my favorite things I did while I was at BC was announcing games with you. In all, the relationships that I formed at Bethel College are some of the most important things in my life.
"I have so many great friends and teammates, who I met at Bethel, who have really kept me grounded. And most importantly, I met my wonderful wife (Meryl) at Bethel, so it will always be an important part of my life."
Justin and Meryl (Ham), along with their one-year old daughter Eden, now call the Indianapolis area home for the off-season.
About the author: Paul R. Condry is the President/Founder of the Regional Radio Sports Network. The Hall of Fame Sportscaster has been the voice of the Bethel College Pilots for over a decade.