It’s a question that’s often posed to Major League Baseball veterans. And it’s a question that almost every player can answer in great detail, as one’s first big league call-up typically represents a dream realized.
For Justin Masterson, who is scheduled to pitch Thursday for the first time in a Boston Red Sox uniform since July 29, 2009, the answer isn’t the stuff of legends.
“Wife and I were about to go, I don’t know, look at puppies or something like that,” Masterson said with a chuckle Wednesday in Philadelphia.
But the 30-year-old’s baseball journey since that fateful day in 2008 has been anything but ordinary, as he’s faced twists, turns and road blocks en route to returning to where it all started.
“There’s a reason I came back here (to the Red Sox): familiarity,” said Masterson, who signed a one-year contract with Boston over the offseason after spending parts of six seasons with the Cleveland Indians and half of a season with the St. Louis Cardinals. “The great things, love the city, love the things that were going on and things we’re doing. It’s nice to be here.”
Masterson has gone through peaks and valleys since the Red Sox traded him to the Indians at the 2008 non-waiver trade deadline in a deal for Victor Martinez. The right-hander flashed ace-like potential and earned an American League All-Star selection in 2013, but a myriad of injuries ruined his 2014 campaign and snatched away what once looked like an inevitable hefty payday.
Now, Masterson is out to prove himself in the hopes of cashing in next offseason. And he’ll look to do so this season in front of a fan base with which he maintained an amicable relationship through the years.
“I’ve had a lot of people over the last five or so years I’ve been with Cleveland that have been like, ‘Come back to Boston. When are you coming back,’ ” Masterson said smiling, using his best Boston voice for emphasis. “I was like, ‘You guys been watching? You may not want me.’
“But no, it’s just neat how many friends we had made at the beginning, and here we are.”
Here we are. Six years, 11 months and 16 days since Masterson debuted with the Red Sox on April 24, 2008. The man who notified Masterson of his first major league call-up, former Double-A Portland manager Arnie Beyeler, is coaching first base for Boston these days. It’s a small detail, yet it further solidifies Masterson’s connection to the organization and highlights the uniqueness of his voyage.
“He was just like, ‘Hey man, we’ve got a game at Fenway Park for you.’ I was thinking, ‘Oh, Triple-A? They’re playing there,’ ” Masterson said Wednesday, looking back on the life-changing phone call he received from Beyeler in 2008. “He’s like, ‘No, the Big Show, man. Against the Angels.’
“He was superexcited at the moment, and so was I. It was pretty neat last year, last couple of years, seeing Arnie around and being able to talk to him as an opposing player. But now being able to be with him again is pretty cool.”
So, will there be any extra emotions Thursday when Masterson again toes the rubber for the team that drafted him in the second round in 2006?
“Not really,” Masterson said with a laugh. “No real emotions. It’s just nice to be feeling good. Nice to be feeling good in general, to be able to go out there and pitch.”
Masterson can downplay his career path all he wants. It’s still special. And, in a way, it just feels right.
Thumbnail photo via Brynn Anderson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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