There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2019-20 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.
This week: Gopher sophomore pitcher J.P. Massey
The Minnesota baseball team this week completes its longest homestand of the 2020 season at the Vikings downtown stadium, a 14-game stretch that began in late February.
Soph right-hander J.P. Massey’s current record is 1-1—he posted career highs in innings pitched (4 2/3 innings) and strikeouts (seven) in a February 17 win over Arizona, his second appearance of the season. “Everything I did out there was because of my guys, and they were behind me the whole game,” Massey said afterwards.
But last Saturday he suffered his first defeat of the year, lasting only four-plus innings in a loss to Utah.
An effective pitcher must have amnesic-like memory each time he steps onto the mound. He can’t afford any carryover effect from his last appearance. Whether successful or not, he must deal with the present—the batter in front of him 90 feet away.
“Confidence and command is very important” for any pitcher, legendary Gopher Coach John Anderson told the MSR before the season. “If you can’t command the fastball, it’s very hard to pitch at this level, because if you are behind in the strike zone and behind in the count all the time, the hitters know what is coming. You have to limit your works at this level.”
“J.P. has worked extremely hard at it,” Anderson said of the 6’-5” second-year hurler. “He has a growth mindset.”
The coach during the off-season called his 2020 Minnesota pitching staff one of his best ever in his 38 years at the helm. Anderson recalled seeing Massey’s potential and liking his mechanics the summer before his high school senior year during an RBI tournament in St. Paul. He pitched for the Chicago White Sox ACE Program that won the 2018 RBI World Series.
“Someday this kid is going to be a pretty special pitcher,” Anderson said.
Massey was a four-year starter at Chicago’s Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, where he was an honorable mention All-American his senior season. He was listed among Illinois’ top 30 prep baseball players, and one baseball publication rated him the state’s 4th-best right-handed pitcher and number 210 nationally.
Being a pitcher was virtually in his blood when he first started playing baseball, Massey admitted. “I think at an early age I was very good at pitching. I knew this was the right road for me, and I am so glad that I took it.”
Choosing Minnesota also has been the right road for his college education, he continued. “School is going great. I am a business management major, and I will be getting a minor in management from Carlson [School of Management]. Hopefully, I will understand how to take care of my money if I’m blessed enough to move forward in baseball.”
“He will be a draft choice out of this program next year,” Anderson predicted of Massey. “He is on that track right now.”
Anderson told Massey that he will primarily work out of the Gopher bullpen as a reliever this spring. “He has a high confidence level and seems to have a short memory when it doesn’t go well,” something that is very important for a relief pitcher, he pointed out. “That’s why we like him at the back end [of the bullpen].”
“I want to win as many ball games as I can with this club,” Massey said. “I want to stay focused on improving day by day.”
“I couldn’t be happier that he’s here,” Anderson concluded.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.