Zero balls, two strikes. Junior Mason Black takes a deep breath on the mound of J. David Walker Field. His heart is beating, his adrenaline is pumping, but a calming presence takes over.
He decides to finish the batter off with his fastball, which registers as one of the fastest in the country. Black winds back and lets it rip. The sound of the baseball zips into catcher Adam Retzbach’s glove, and Black retires the side.
Black, who is largely predicted to be the first-ever first-round pick in the MLB Draft in Patriot League history, wasn’t always on the mound. He played catcher until his junior year of high school.
“Put a bat in my hand, it looked like I had no idea what I was doing,” Black said.” It looked like a lightsaber.”
Black has been dominant throughout this shortened season. He leads the Patriot League in strikeouts with 61 and has received Patriot League Pitcher of the Week Honors twice. Through April 10, Black is 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA in seven starts.
It’s not so much Black’s talent that blew away first-year pitching coach Sean Buchanan, but his open-mindedness and ability to compete.
“I was prepared from video, and speaking with the other coaches on how to work with Mason (Black),” Buchanan said. “His openness and willingness to learn, and pitching knowledge has been shocking. When you are good, you have a process. I know what makes me good. I’m going to do X,Y and Z. Mason is the opposite. He asks every day, ‘Okay, how can I get better?’”
Retzbach, a sophomore, has been around Black since seventh grade.
They both played on the same travel team together, Baseball U Pa., From middle school to college Retzbach said Black has always been a great teammate.
“Mason (Black) is a great teammate and a strong leader,” Retzbach said. “He is not a huge in-your-face guy, showing excitement. It’s a quiet swagger. You can tell by the way he pitches. You can feel his presence on the mound.”
Junior third baseman Gerard Sweeney echoed Retzbach’s feelings about Black.
Sweeney said when Black is on the mound, there is a different type of energy on the field.
“It’s definitely fun to watch,” Sweeney said. “At third base, I don’t really get much action while he’s pitching.”
Black displays his emotion as the game progresses more and more, he said. On March 27, Black was emotional on the mound against Lafayette College.
“As the game progresses, you start to get more into it, and every strikeout means a bit more,” Black said. “That’s how you feed off your teammates in that situation. If I am throwing game one, I have to bring the energy and set the tone.”
Black said he finds his energy from listening to music by the DJ/producer duo Two Friends.
The morning of the game, he likes to get up early and get moving.
“I’m usually throwing at 12 p.m., so I wake up around 6 a.m,” Black said. “I make pancakes and get over two to three hours before the game to hang with my teammates. About an hour to an hour and a half from game time, I get some caffeine going and start stretching.”
The upbeat rhythm of Two Friends music and Black’s demeanor on the mound correlates to the fire underneath his cap.
Black’s fire isn’t just burning on the mound, but in the classroom as well. He is a bioengineering major and said he wants to become an orthopedic surgeon after his baseball career.
Black credits his success in the classroom and on the diamond to each other.
“School and baseball work hand in hand together,” Black said. “If I didn’t have baseball, I don’t think I would be as good of a student. Each allows me to get in a routine.”
Buchanan said Black is one of the best teammates he’s ever seen.
“He has started to become a conduit for me as a coach to younger players,” Buchanan said. “If you are an underclassmen, you want to be Mason Black.”