LOWELL -- The 6-foot-6-inch, 245-pound kid from Beavercreek, Ohio, dreamed about playing basketball for legendary Indiana University coach Bobby Knight, but he realized, ``my basketball skills weren't quite up to par with my baseball skills." So Justin Masterson concentrated on getting into a Division 1 baseball program.
He was sick the day he was supposed to meet Notre Dame recruiters and missed the meeting. The Fighting Irish never rescheduled and elected to pass on Masterson.
Masterson's disappointment subsided after a circuitous route from San Diego State to being the Red Sox' second-round selection (71st overall) in June.
Masterson, who received a $510,000 signing bonus, is pitching for Lowell in the New York-Penn League. Because he had a full college season, the Sox have limited him to two-inning outings. In 13 innings, he's allowed one earned run (0.69 ERA) with no walks and 17 strikeouts.
Masterson, the son of an evangelical pastor, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. In high school, Masterson did not receive Division 1 offers, so at the suggestion of his father, Masterson enrolled at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., making his mark in the NAIA with a 20-8 record, a 1.85 ERA, and 185 strikeouts in 185 innings over two seasons.
But the best thing that happened for Masterson at Bethel was the networking, which helped land Masterson a temporary roster spot with the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League in 2005, and he wowed everyone. He became Wareham's closer, saving 10 games with a 1.15 ERA. At Wareham, he met Bruce Billings, San Diego State's top pitcher, who brought Masterson to the attention of San Diego State coach Tony Gwynn, the Hall of Famer and former San Diego Padre.
``I didn't want to leave Bethel but I knew I needed to get that D1 experience. My buddies on Wareham told me I'd love San Diego with the weather and the scenery. Bruce Billings called his coach and I got my release [from Bethel] and I got my experience," Masterson said.
In Wareham, Masterson's fortunes turned for the better.
``Honestly, what's happened is I have more movement," he said. ``I didn't start throwing a two-seamer for my sinker until last summer. Before that, I just threw a four-seamer. I also didn't start throwing my slider until last summer. But I'd always been successful even when I was at Bethel. And now I'm working on a changeup. I threw a nice one [Tuesday]. I've been playing around with them all my life. Before when I threw it, it was always a pitch that got hit. Now it's falling off the table. I'm throwing it 90-91 [miles per hour]."
But his bread-and-butter is a sinking fastball that he throws 90-95 miles per hour with movement.
``I throw my two-seamer most of the time and I throw it to set up my four-seamer and mix in the changeup. Sometimes the batters take some swings and I'm saying, `Wow!' "
His numbers at San Diego State -- 6-7 record with a 4.81 ERA in 16 starts and 116 innings -- probably cost him a chance to be a first-round pick.
``I was pumped that the Red Sox drafted me," said Masterson. ``So many people in the Cape League were hoping the Red Sox would take me. I think, looking at the organization, there's the potential for me to move up quickly if I keep showing that I'm improving and that I can get hitters out."
He's surely doing that.