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RailCats Weekly: Mike Massaro a manager in the making

Gary's Mike Massaro follows through two run triple first inning against Lincoln Thursday evening Steel Yard Gary. | Jeffrey D.

Gary's Mike Massaro follows through on a two run triple in the first inning against Lincoln Thursday evening at the Steel Yard in Gary. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 17, 2013 7:21AM



GARY — With Mike Massaro and the RailCats in Amarillo last week, a fellow Colorado State University-Pueblo assistant coach of the outfielder stopped with his 15-and-under team on the way to a tournament in Wichita Falls, Texas.

The kids hung out with Massaro, took batting practice and shagged fly balls, then watched about five innings of that Wednesday game, before getting back on the road to continue their trip.

“He (Brian Falsetto) texted me when he saw were going to be in Amarillo,” said Massaro, whose father, Joe, also had independently made the drive of some five hours, covering 300-plus miles, from their hometown. “I’m glad we were able to hook that up. It was fun.”

RailCats manager Greg Tagert had a broader perspective.

“Just to see him interact, to see the relationship between him and the coaches and the kids, you could see he’s outstanding at it,” Tagert said. “I have no doubt he could be a coach — a head coach — at the collegiate level, or a coach in an organization.”

Massaro has been preparing for such a future, with aspirations to run his own college program or to coach in the professional ranks. The 29-year-old hasn’t come to that point quite yet, in the process of putting together yet another fantastic season for the RailCats. He reached Triple-A in the Oakland Athletics organization in 2008, with Tagert — who says, “In my mind, he’s the best player in the league (American Association)” — on any number of occasions stating that Massaro is, and has been, capable of playing in the major leagues.

But before last season, in the spring, Massaro finished the coursework necessary for his degree from CSU-Pueblo in exercise science and health promotion (EXHP), with an emphasis on kindergarten through 12th grade. And after last season, in the fall, he did his student teaching in physical education and health at Heaton Middle School — where he had attended — to complete the process.

“I finally got it done, something I can be proud of,” said Massaro, selected by the A’s in the 13th round of the 2005 draft after his junior year at Division II CSU-Pueblo, with the not-unusual practice of the contract providing for the franchise to pay for him to finish his undergraduate education.

Leading into this season, Massaro — who has an eye on beginning work on his master’s degree in a year or two — did substitute teaching at both Heaton and Pueblo East High School, also his alma mater.

And he has coaching experience in both baseball and basketball.

Massaro has been an assistant at CSU-Pueblo for several seasons, expanding his responsibilities each season, including coaching third base for the last three. He has been coaching basketball at Pueblo East for close to a decade, beginning as the freshman coach before moving up to take over the JV team and become a varsity assistant. He recounts with pride Pueblo East’s 2010 run to the Class 4A (Colorado’s second-largest classification) state championship game, where it lost in overtime. He still curses (about) this past season’s team’s premature exit in the “Sweet 16” — “worst shooting percentage of the season,” he says as he shakes his head — to end with a 20-3 record, before quickly adding the “core group” will be returning as seniors next season and he’s “expecting big things.”

Massaro has continued to do big things for the RailCats, currently the longest-tenured member of the team in his fifth season, after spending four in the A’s organization. He is Gary’s career leader in batting average, and this season — barring anything unforeseen — will become the franchise’s career leader in hits and runs scored. Massaro also is the RailCats’ all-time leader in triples (he also holds American Association records for triples in a career and a season), and the team’s single-season leader in hits, runs, triples, sacrifice flies, total bases and at-bats. The right fielder has played all three outfield positions for the RailCats and throughout his career, above-average at each of them.

“With him and Adam (Klein), we’re fortunate to have two of the most dynamic players in the league,” Tagert said. “Unfortunately, the one thing that still surprises me to this day, is that they’re still with us; selfishly, that’s great for the RailCats and for me. But I’ve watched a lot of major league games and I think have a pretty good idea about talent, and there’s no doubt in my mind that both guys could be in the big leagues today — and I only say that about a handful of guys I’ve managed over the years, it’s a short list of guys that I am absolutely sure about. That’s not to say he (Massaro) could be starting in right field for the White Sox, but I’ve seen a lot of fourth and fifth outfielders over the years that he’s as good or better than.”

Tagert’s fondness for Massaro extends off the field, as well.

“There’s so much more to him than just the baseball player; he’s so good and he plays with an edge, he has his own intensity, he’s hard on himself — sometimes too much so,” he said. “But he’s able to do what some other players can’t do, and that’s channel some of that frustration in a way that helps him become more successful. So many guys it affects in an adverse way.

“He has that quiet demeanor about everything he does. Again, there’s a certain edge there and intensity level, but that’s not because he’s yelling and screaming in the dugout — you don’t see any of that. He just has that in-the-dugout presence that he doesn’t have to scream at a teammate, but just a word will do it. He just helps me — especially after some of the performances we’ve had the last week or so, when the manager is getting extremely upset with the situation, it’s great to have a guy like that around because he can be a little bit of a calming influence for the players. As much as Mike wants to win here — how the RailCats do is very important to him — he understands what we’re trying to accomplish, too, introducing some of the younger players. He’s really taken on that role. I’m sure his coaching and teaching has helped him with that.”



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