Right about now, Alex Massey figured, he’d be pitching somewhere in the minor leagues, just like his close friend and Catholic High teammate Aaron Nola.
And that would be after Massey had helped Tulane gain three NCAA tournament berths and maybe a College World Series appearance or two before exiting as a first-round draft pick.
“That was the plan,” he said.
However, in life, things seldom go as planned:
2012: Massey makes the Conference USA All-Freshman team with a 3-1 record and 3.86 ERA. But Tulane just misses the NCAAs despite going 37-20.
2013: A routine scope of his sore shoulder reveals surgery is needed. Massey spends the year as a medical redshirt while the Green Wave slips to 30-28.
2014: Healed physically but not fully confident of his abilities, Massey is relegated to midweek starter and goes 3-4 with a 5.79 ERA. Tulane goes 23-29, its first losing season since 1993, the year Massey was born, bringing an end to Rick Jones’ 21 years as the Wave’s coach.
But life also often presents second chances.
And Massey is getting his. He’ll be pitching this weekend in his hometown Baton Rouge regional at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium, a place where he’s only been a spectator in the past.
Exactly when, nobody’s sure, Wave coach David Pierce declined to name a starter beyond Friday’s tournament opener against UNC-Wilmington.
And, if for some reason, it never winds up being against the Tigers, that’s OK.
“My focus is our beating UNC Wilmington,” he said. “One pitch at a time, one batter at a time,one inning at a time, one game at a time.
“If we’re playing LSU and I’m not pitching, I’ll be the guy standing on the dugout step leading the cheers. I just want to help my team in any way I can.”
So he says.
“There’s probably a little a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t come to LSU,” said Tigers senior outfielder Chris Sciambra, another former Catholic High teammate. “He probably just won’t say anything about it.”
LSU didn’t recruit Massey. Besides the one from Tulane, his only offer came from Southern Miss.
When you grow up playing ball in Baton Rouge and the Tigers don’t come calling, it has to sting a little — especially when your high school teammate (Nola) become one of the best ever in Purple and Gold and you were considered his near equal.
“When we’d play somebody and Aaron wasn’t pitching, they’d get excited,” Sciambra said. “And then they’d face Alex and they’d find out they weren’t much better off.”
Plus, in his career, Massey has gotten to throw exactly one inning against LSU — an inning of relief, giving up one run and two hits in the Wave’s 13-7 home loss to the Tigers on March 24.
But this is the NCAAs — the first for Tulane since 2008 — and sentimentality has to take the place of the Wave using Massey (6-3 3.38 ERA) in the right spot.
That’s because when Tulane has needed a clutch pitching performance this year, Massey has been the man.
In his last eight starts, Massey is 5-1 with two no-decisions.
Four of those five victories came in American Athletic Conference games after the Wave had been beaten the day before, including a complete game Sunday two-hitter at eventual AAC champion Houston after Tulane had lost the first two games of the series.
Reverse any of Massey’s winning efforts, and his team probably doesn’t make it to postseason and Massey isn’t pitching in his first postseason game since a 4-3 Catholic High victory against C.E. Byrd in the 2011 Class 5A quarterfinals (Nola and the Bears lost to Jesuit 3-2 in the semifinals the next day).
“That Houston game was huge for us,” Tulane Coach David Pierce said. “Those others were, too.
“Alex’s been really special for us because he can pick us up when we’re down and need a win.”
Being able to come through in such situations has made this season even more special for Massey.
It’s one thing, he said, to dominate the opposition. It’s another when you are scrapping through a season when every game counts.
And that, Massey added, is far superior to last year when he endured his first losing season since at any level, presumably including tee-ball.
“Nobody enjoys winning more than I do,” Massey said. “That’s what made me determined to come back strong this year.”
And if a losing season is no fun, how about having to sit out the previous year after never before being injured?
“I knew Alex would come back from that,” Sciambra said. “Ever since I’ve known him, he’s loved to play the game.
“It’s all he ever talks about.”
But Massey said he never doubted his ability to regain his freshman form, even if it did mean struggling with his form for a season, a credit to the way his parents, Roger and Gayle Massey, raised him.
And now, Massey faces what might the final game of his college career. A redshirt junior who is six hours away from his degree in business management, Massey is undecided on what he’ll do if drafted.
Already he’s chosen college over the pros, coming to Tulane after being picked by Boston in the 27th round in 2011. Massey was draft-eligible last year, but went unchosen.
Returning also would give Massey the chance to play with his younger brother, Russ, also a pitcher, who signed with Tulane last fall.
He’ll decide after the June 8 draft.
“My dream has always been to play in the majors,” Alex said. “But my mind’s not on that right now.”
Still, even with the stakes this weekend and the knowledge that lots of friends and family will be cheering him on, Massey said he doesn’t want to make the situation bigger than it is.
But that might not be possible.
“This year has really been fun,” he said. “I’ve got great teammates and great coaches.
“And now we’ve got the opportunity to finish strong. We’re going to Baton Rouge, and no matter what anybody else thinks, we’re going there to win it.”