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Big Time Deeds by a Small Town Boy

There were occasions during my professional career when I was involved in conducting job interviews. Everyone-once-in-awhile I would ask the applicant a totally hypothetical question – “If the job fairy could grant you any job you’d want; what would it be?”

It was an off-the-wall question with some surprising answers. One applicant once answered, “I would want to cut grass on a golf course.”

I would guess if that question were asked of young boys; many of them would respond that they would want to be a Major League Baseball player.

I have no idea if Mike Mussina was ever asked that question. In reality, it doesn’t really matter because, from the time Mussina rode his bicycle to the Montoursville Little League field as an eight-year-old, baseball had already seemed like the path his life’s direction would take.

From January, when the announcement came that he had received the votes needed to make the Baseball Hall of Fame until late July when the induction ceremony took place, Mike Mussina has been in the media center spotlight. It is a spotlight he richly earned, but one that he is not comfortable having shine upon him. He is a small-town boy who achieved big city things, but no matter where he traveled, his Montoursville roots were deeply planted.

He caught the attention of local sports fans very early in life. People knew who he was as a Little Leaguer. Some folks still talk about the masterful pitching duel he and Nick Caringi threw against each other at a District playoff game at South Williamsport’s Little Mountaineer field.

Members of the Little League Baseball Summer Camp staff were mesmerized when as a nine-year-old he displayed a pitching form way beyond his years. Once, a camp instructor asked him who had taught him to pitch. When Mussina replied that it was his father, the staffer told him, “Don’t let anyone change it!”

He was a three-sport all-star at Montoursville High School in football, basketball, and baseball, where he amassed a 24-4 pitching record, before accepting a baseball scholarship to Stanford University where he wasted little time making his mark.

As a freshman in 1988, he gained a starting spot in the rotation and led his team to the NCAA College World Series championship. With Mussina on the mound, Stanford made a second trip to Omaha during his tenure. He was named an All-American in 1990. He graduated from the prestigious school in 3 ½ years with an economic degree.

Mussina’s MLB stats have been well chronicled. He was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1990 and in keeping with his hometown roots made his first professional pitching debut at Bowman Field. Officially, the game never counted as rain ended the proceedings. A few days later he repeated that ‘first start’ in Hagerstown.

He spent ten years pitching for the Orioles where he won 147 games and eight years with the Yankees, with whom he signed as a free agent after the 2000 season, winning another 123 games. During his career, he was a five-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner and appeared in two World Series.

Through it, all Mussina maintained a low profile away from the game and often would show up in Montoursville watching his son’s Little League games between starts with the Yankees.

I’ve known Mike casually over the years and appreciated his help during my career with Lycoming County United Way. He has been generous with his community support that included appearances in a United Way video and a recognition banquet for volunteers of the organization. He currently serves on the International Board of Directors for Little League Baseball and has supported a variety of youth-related charitable causes.

Before he became the Montoursville High School boy’s basketball coach, he spent a few seasons coaching the school’s junior high team. One winter’s evening my South Williamsport squad traveled to Montoursville for a game. As the two teams were going through their pre-game routines, two of my players excitedly ran to the sideline to talk with me.
“Coach,” they said. “Isn’t that Mike Mussina,” pointing to the Montoursville bench.

“Yes, it is,” I replied, “But don’t worry, he isn’t playing in the game!”

He might as well have been as my awe-struck players spent as much time watching the Montoursville coach as they did the opponents on the floor with them.

Many memories of Mike Mussina went through my mind as I watched from the stands as the Williamsport Crosscutters honored him during a late July game. He was interviewed pre-game, raised funds for local charities, threw out the first pitch, and signed autographs for fans. Through it all, he appeared relaxed, smiling, and appreciative. It was a much different type of spotlight than had shown on him in the Major Leagues or in Cooperstown, New York just a few days prior. He was home, and he was comfortable.

After years of youth sports, 18 seasons in the Major Leagues and a list of professional accomplishments good enough to qualify him as a baseball immortal, his bronzed Hall of Fame plaque will forever be displayed in Cooperstown. It is fitting that recognition hangs in a library-like setting in a small town on the banks of the Susquehanna River. After all, that is where Mike Mussina has always been the most comfortable.

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