By STEVE KRAH
Justin Masterson put the wraps on his professional baseball playing career in 2017.
A 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander possessing what was often a devastating sinker pitched for the Boston Red Sox (2008-09, 2015), Cleveland Indians (2009-14) and St. Louis Cardinals (2014).
“Mr. Clean” appeared in 25 games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 2016. He also pitched in the minors for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.
Before any of that, the Kingston, Jamaica-born, Beavercreek (Ohio) High School graduate spent two seasons at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (he was an honorable-mention NAIA All-American in 2004 and National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association All-American in 2004 and 2005), and one at San Diego State University (2006).
At Bethel, he was a combined 20-8 on the mound with 185 strikeouts posted earned averages of 2.09 in 2004 and 1.59 in 2005. With a bat, he clubbed a team-best 10 homers in 2005.
He was inducted into the Bethel Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.
Masterson was selected in the second round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Red Sox.
Justin and wife Meryl Masterson (her maiden name is Ham) celebrated 11 years of marriage Nov. 3, 2018. The couple resides in Fishers, Ind., and have three children — 7-year-old Eden and 4-year-old twins Cruz and Nadia.
Philanthropists, the Mastersons founded a non-profit, Fortress Foundation, in 2013 with business partner and former Bethel teammate Matt Zappasodi. Justin Masterson is chairman, Matt Zappasodi director, Meryl Masterson co-chair and Emily Zappasodi treasurer.
Masterson also partnered with the One Child Matters baseball project in the Dominican Republic in 2008, spoke at the Pentagon’s weekly prayer breakfast in 2009 and worked with Bright Hope in 2013.
He has also indicated that he will support The BASE Indianapolis. The group brings baseball and educational opportunities to urban youth.
Masterson, 33, was an award presenter in October at the Bethel College Founders Society Dinner, where plans were revealed for the school’s transition to Bethel University in May 2019.
Recently, Masterson agreed to an IndianaRBI Q&A session.
Q: What are some of your fondest on-field memories at Bethel College?
A: Let’s see. Justin Gingerich, fellow pitcher, hitting a bomb off of me in fall ball. And — no! — he didn’t have much practice leading up to that moment. I think that was the fall of our sophomore year.
I felt all the emotions during a doubleheader. We were facing Marian, I think for the conference, and I start the first game and we did well and won. Game 2, we are winning and I am brought in to close out this game. Control was a little off, I think I walked the bases loaded, then their best hitter at the time — don’t know his name, but he had a solid beard and long hair — he came up and crushed one into the trees for a grand slam. The day started on a high note and ended on a low note. There are so many incredible memories!
We set a record in wins my freshman year (44 in 2004) and it was a pleasure to play with some great players.
One game, I am still trying to figure out if it was true or folklore, but Marcel Guevara, a well-sized left-handed Venezuelan, crushed six or seven homers in a doubleheader. And the joke remains that Marcel hit a guy with a ball over the fence during batting practice, we looked at Marcel and said, ‘You hit that guy!’ He responded with, ‘He shouldn’t have been standing there.’ Fun times!
Q: What are some of your fondest off-field memories at Bethel College?
A: My time started with incredible roommates. First year I had my cousins Dan and Aaron Hamrick, along with Kyle Feller and Matt Savill.
The next year it continued with my cousin Aaron and we added Logan Halley and Aaron Engbrecht.
Along with the fact that my older sister (Mandy) was at Bethel, this made for the baseline of a blessed college journey.
One of my favorite things to do was to join my cousin Dan for open gym basketball just about every evening. Even the days I had two-a-day baseball practices, Dan would still drag me to open gym, but I didn’t fight too hard either.
Meeting my wife, Meryl, has to be near the top of fondest memories at Bethel. I was a sophomore and she was a freshman. We were together in perspective of fine arts, that is we were both taking the class and she noticed me well before I noticed her, but once I noticed she was noticing me, well, lets just say we celebrated 11 years of marriage.
I could go on for days and know there are plenty that I am forgetting. Enjoying myself I did!
Q: What was your favorite class or classes?
A: Anything with Dr. Bob Laurent! There were other great professors and enjoyable classes but he — just like he has for thousands of students and people in his lifetime — impacted my life in lasting ways that were helpful in molding me into who I am today.
Q: What else can you tell us about your studies at Bethel or San Diego State? What was major?
A: At Bethel, I was taking a smorgasbord of bible classes and when I went to San Diego State those that transferred turned my major into a criminal justice/psychology/sociology major.
I worked hard in all my classes, but school was honestly a means for me to grow and develop socially, physically and mentally as I continued my journey to the Major Leagues.
Q: Who were the toughest hitters you faced in the big leagues?
A: One most people will agree with — Miguel Cabrera. I believe he is one of the best hitters because he can do anything with a bat and is willing to do what the situation dictates. He can hit a home run, but is satisfied with a base hit that scores a run. Not afraid to take a walk if the pitcher is giving it to him.
Melky Cabrera raked me, but the other I talk about most is Don Kelly.
If you haven’t heard of him that is understandable, also means you are not a Tigers fan. Don was the king at just dropping balls in over the infielders’ heads. (Kelly) would bat in the 9-hole against every other pitcher, but would hit in the 4-hole against me. It culminated to 2013, I gave up three runs in each of my games against Detroit. Those runs came from Downtown Don’s two three-run home runs. If he wasn’t an incredible guy, I might be more upset about it!
Q: Who were some of the best that you got out regularly?
A: I do not remember the best. I would say the majority of right-handed hitters I fared quite well against with my low three-quarters arm slot and heavy sinking action.
I do remember my first playoff series against the angels and facing Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero each game. I did not get them out every time, but fared decently well against them, at least we won that series so I didn’t do too terrible!
Q: What do you think it’s been like for her to be a baseball wife?
A: A journey! It is such an interesting world to navigate as a professional athlete’s wife.
That world ranges from ladies who, by the way they talk, are out on the field making plays, to ladies who are some of the kindest, most humble people you will ever meet.
Of course, my wife is a part of the kind, humble spectrum and she was and still is well-respected by all who crossed her path. Not only do they have to deal with each other, but they have to deal with their husband who may or may not have fared very well that night.
I think my wife’s husband made that part of the gig a little bit easier. Not because he always performed well, but because the game was just that — a game! And he answers in third person!
Q: What are you doing these days?
A: I am available. What do I mean by that? I have dug a ditch, I have milled some logs, I have done some speaking, I have done some leading, I have done some lessons, I am coaching second grade basketball and the list can continue.
I did not want to jump into anything too permanent right away after deciding not to play anymore.
What do most of my days consist of? Lots of family time, reading, writing and some bootleg guitar playing!
Q: What about Fortress Foundation?
A: A refuge to those in a time of need. We are trying to go where God is leading us to impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Meryl and I started the foundation in 2013 and do not plan on it lasting forever but wanted a way to be good stewards of God’s financial blessings through baseball and also have a way to hold the organizations we work with accountable.
Matt Zappasodi and I are going to India soon to impact lives in a positive way
Q: Do you keep in-touch with other former Bethel teammates or classmates?
A: We have been blessed to have the Zappsodi’s around and have also had chances to keep in touch with many Bethel people over the years.
One of the great things about baseball is that you travel to a lot of neat cities and with Bethel alumni being scattered throughout the country, lets just say the joke in the clubhouse was that I knew someone in every city that we went to.
And if I had time I loved meeting before the game or after the game for a late night bit to eat. Many opportunities have arisen though the friendships that I made at Bethel.
Q: You say you live in or near Fishers, Ind.? Is that near where Meryl is from?
A: Meryl is from the mean streets of Mishawka and I hail from two minutes east of Dayton. We could live anywhere after we were married and (the Indianapolis area) kind of splits the difference between our families. Ten years later, we are still here and it is a pretty good place to live.
Justin Masterson (foreground) captures the scene at a fall retreat in Brown City, Mich. Masterson is a member of the Bethel College Athletics Hall of Fame and former Major League Baseball pitcher. He is kept busy doing many things, including making impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically through the Fortress Foundation.