The players on the 2014 Shoreham-Wading River High School baseball team were a close bunch. “The closest team I’ve ever been a part of,” said catcher Jack Massa.
Massa said he still sees former Wildcats teammates and spends time with them when he is home from college. He even crosses paths with one of them, Tyler Osik, on the baseball diamond.
The two Shoreham alumni faced each other again on Monday when their teams played in a Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League game. While Osik is a second baseman for the Riverhead Tomcats, Massa plays catcher for the Westhampton Aviators.
Were any words exchanged when they met on the field?
“We’re good friends, so it’s just another baseball game,” said Massa.
Osik said, “We just joke around.”
The level of play in the HCBL is no joke, as Massa has found. In 18 games, he had a .226 batting average and six runs batted in, but he has earned rave reviews from the Aviators’ new manager, Dan Luisi. Luisi said Massa has worked well with the pitchers and has been on the same page with the coaching staff in his approach to batters.
“He’s doing all the things that help us win games,” Luisi said. “That’s why he’s one of the guys that we look to in big games.”
Massa said, “In the beginning of the summer I was kind of tired, struggled a little bit, got out of it, and I’m pretty content with what I’m doing right now.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Massa is coming off an impressive freshman season at NCAA Division I Canisius College (N.Y.). He didn’t go into his first college season expecting much, but an injury to a sophomore catcher presented him with an opportunity for playing time and he seized the chance to show what he can do. Massa played in 56 games, starting in 42 of them for the Golden Griffins.
“It was a nice bonus,” he said. “I didn’t expect to play that much.”
Massa finished with a .270 batting average and 30 RBI. Defensively, he had a .991 fielding percentage with three errors. To top things off, he made the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference all-tournament team.
“I just went with it,” Massa said. “I wasn’t expecting much going in. I just wanted to do my best to help the team win.”
Massa has good memories from his playing days at Shoreham. He was a four-year varsity player who twice received all-league honors. He was recognized as the top defensive catcher in Suffolk County his senior season with a Gold Glove award. That year he had a .459 on-base percentage, scored 18 runs and drove in 14 runs.
Massa acknowledged the big jump, even from a well-respected high school program like Shoreham’s, to college baseball.
“College baseball is nothing like high school baseball,” he said. “It’s a faster pace; pitching is 10 times better. Everybody can hit on every team that you face.”
The toughest adjustment, he said, is handling pitchers, offensively and defensively. “When you get up to the plate,” he said, “you’re seeing mid-to-high 80s [pitches] with good offspeed, so you got to adjust.”
The HCBL requires another adjustment: the use of wood bats.
Massa, who has used wood bats before in summer leagues, said it makes a batter better.
“You just got to time it right,” he said. “You get out front, you break the bat. You get jammed, you break your bat. You could have cheap hits with a metal bat, stuff like that. This is all true hits.”
Monday was a good day for Massa. He delivered a two-run double and threw out a runner trying to steal second base in a 9-2 Aviators win.
It wasn’t anything that Osik had not seen before from his former teammate.
“He’s a great player,” said Osik, who will enter his sophomore year at Coker College (S.C.). “He’s a really good hitter and he’s a great defensive catcher. He’ll block anything and he has since we were like 9 years old … playing together.”
Massa said he is enjoying his time in the HCBL.
“There’s great players on every team we play, and just the places we play,” he said. “I love the Hamptons.”