When Justin Masterson decided to show off his undeniably world class dancing skills in a crowded bar, on top of a table for all to witness, one of the many marveled bystanders stood by in awe as the 6-f0ot-6-inch, 250-pound pitcher worked his magic.
“Wow, someone’s going to have trouble taking this guy home,” said the man with a get-a-load-of-this-guy grin.
It wasn’t long after, presumably while Justin was mid-Rodger Rabbit, that Meryl Masterson informed all in attendance that her husband had not had a drop of alcohol to drink. Such is the life of a starting pitcher who not only experiences very little in terms of embarrassment, but ensures proper balance between his on-field role of a fastball hurler and his off-field role as husband, father and devout Christian. In an appearance at Cleveland’s Nexus Cafe, mediated by Indians’ team Chaplin Alex Ennes, Masterson continued this delicate balance by discussing items in his personal life — from his birth in Kingston, Jamaica to his collegiate pendulum featuring stops in Bethel College and San Diego State University — as well as current baseball-related items like his emotionally charged closer and his interaction with pessimistic fans on Facebook.
While Masterson isn’t exactly scribbling verses into his eye black and getting down on a knee following double-play balls, he is easily the biggest advocate for Christianity in the Cleveland clubhouse. This notion, just as the one about his birth on Jamaican soil, may be a relative unknown by Tribe faithful, however, due to Masterson’s ability to have a chameleonic approach to life. The son of a pastor and college roommate of a marijuana dealer (not by choice, of course), Masterson has managed to take pieces of his upbringing to help mold himself in a way where he can believe and practice without being outwardly dismissing of lifestyle choices by others. He was referred to as “Jesus” by his friends who would partake in the otherwise collegiate lifestyle. Why? Well, because he reminded them of Jesus.
Masterson admits that references like this make him a bit uncomfortable as he is a far cry from the man whom the reference is drawn, but if the way in which he conducts his life makes others think of the message, then so be it. He’ll also gladly spread The Word to anyone willing to listen, but will not overstep his boundaries. Often times, as he gets ready to head to team chapel, teammates will casually wave and loosely request that Masterson send a few prayers their way. Other times, teammates will join him in efforts to clear up cold spells at the plate. Fellow pitcher Jeanmar Gomez has also joined the ranks of professional athletes who have publicized their faith, recently giving God credit for a successful outing. Ennes takes a similar approach to his players, discussing Christianity with those who opt to partake, but otherwise being a friend to the rest of the clubhouse.
But don’t let the lifestyle fool you. Masterson is everything his large stature leads him to be: a tough, competitive baseball player who has seen his fastball touch 99 miles per hour. Challenged by the father of a teammate who, back in 2005, thought that the devout Christian was ”too soft” in that lover-not-a-fighter way, Masterson reached back and used all of of his 6-f0ot-6-inch frame to promptly plant a four-seam fastball right into the leg of the lead-off batter. Not exactly one for confrontation, Masterson was one of the first members of the Cleveland Indians to sprint onto the field following the team’s recent victory to congratulate teammate and closer Chris Perez who had been the subject of much consternation. The same Perez who effectively blew the lead in a game which was arguably one of the best starts by Masterson in a Tribe uniform.
The 2012 season may not have started as well as the former mid-western farm boy may have desired, what with an ERA nearly two full runs more than last year. But to think that Masterson – who makes sure to have his “chill time with God” be it at home or on the road — would be deterred by such is to not know the subject at hand. Hanging change-ups may be sent into the gap for doubles and a two-seam fastball may not run as much as intended, but Masterson, with his cannon-like arm, heart of gold and immense faith in the gospel, won’t let speed bumps get in his way. Whether or not he gets some additional Tebow-like help on Thursday when he squares off against reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander remains to be seen.