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Montoursville to Cooperstown

Mike Mussina, congratulations! Certainly over the course of the past two weeks, since the January 22 announcement of his selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame, accolades have been pouring his way from well-wishers all across the baseball landscape. The media, both national and local, have been providing the statistical accomplishments which somehow will be

Mike Mussina, congratulations!

Certainly over the course of the past two weeks, since the January 22 announcement of his selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame, accolades have been pouring his way from well-wishers all across the baseball landscape. The media, both national and local, have been providing the statistical accomplishments which somehow will be condensed on that golden Cooperstown plaque to be unveiled July 21 at the Hall’s enshrinement ceremonies.

Indeed, entrance into the Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of any baseball player’s career. It matters little if the confirming vote came on the first year of eligibility, the last year, or in Mussina’s case during his sixth year on the ballot. He will be forever known as a Hall of Famer.

Over my lifetime love affair with baseball, I have been most fortunate to meet several of those greats enshrined in Cooperstown. Breaking bread and sharing conversations with the likes of Ernie Banks, Joe DiMaggio, Carlton Fisk, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Rice, and others have left me with wonderful memories shared with those greats of the game. But watching that televised announcement of Mussina’s special moment ignited flashbacks of the numerous times our paths have crossed over the years.

My first encounter with Mike came back in the early 1970s when I was serving as Little League Baseball’s Summer Camp director. Mussina was among dozens of local youngsters participating in LLB’s Day Camp program, held just prior to the official opening of summer camp.

The Day Camp consisted of morning instruction in various phases of the game, afternoon ball games and splashes in the pool until dismissal time. Players were placed on teams and given the opportunity to play various positions of their choosing. Of course, many said they were pitchers, including young Mussina. As an eight-year-old Mike had to wait his turn to pitch in a camp game, but when he did, he became the talk of the camp. Coaches and counselors were immediately impressed by both how well he pitched and the mechanics he possessed at such a young age.

When it came time for his second pitching opportunity, the word had gotten out, and all the camp personnel wanted to see this youngster throw. I recall one coach asked him who had taught him to pitch. To which Mussina replied, “My Dad.” From that day forward his local legend began to grow.

From Montoursville High School to Stanford University to the Major Leagues Mussina’s private life has never been compromised by his athletic greatness. He has shunned the spotlight, supported his family, community and those causes to which he was drawn. The glitz and glamour of the ‘Big Apple’ were never as important as those family roots planted firmly in his beloved Montoursville soil.

During my days with the Lycoming County United Way, he willingly gave me a hand by appearing in promotional videos, attending special events and signing baseballs for United Way supporters. In the aftermath of 9/11, the World Series was pushed back causing him to have to cancel an agreed-upon local October United Way appearance. But true to his word he rescheduled his time to attend an event a few months later.

A few years later, during a Christmas shopping outing at the mall, a young man bumped into me at a crowded store. “I’m sorry Scott,” I heard a voice say. Looking up it was Mussina trying to corral his excited sons. As I exited the store, I passed a kiosk selling sports memorabilia merchandise. A young man was pleading with his mother to purchase an autographed Mike Mussina photo on display. As the scene unfolded Mike and his family walked by unaware of what was going on at the stand they had just passed.

Mussina has been passing on his sports expertise to baseball and basketball teams at Montoursville where he is now the Warriors head basketball coach. Just after his retirement from baseball, he spent a few years coaching basketball at the junior high school level. As my own South Williamsport junior high team was warming up prior to a game at Montoursville a few of my players broke from our layup line and excitedly said to me, “Mike Mussina is their coach!”

Indeed, it is a little tough to have the full attention of young teenagers when one of their baseball heroes is sitting on your opponent’s bench.

I thought it was most fitting that when the Hall of Fame phone call came Mussina’s way he was dressed in sweats just finishing practice with his Montoursville team. While the next several months will have the national sports spotlight focused on him it will not change who he is despite the lasting fame he will now endure. Millions know who Mike Mussina is, but only a precious few really know what makes him tick.

Cooperstown will have his bronzed likeness and will hear his induction speech but Montoursville, Pennsylvania will always be his nesting place.

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