One of the most charismatic players in the game, Justin Masterson knows how to win friends and influence people. The Red Sox right-hander also knows how to win games and induce ground balls. A 23-year-old native of Beavercreek, Ohio, Masterson had an outstanding rookie season in 2008, riding his slingshot delivery and bowling-ball sinker to a 6-5 record and 3.16 ERA in 36 regular-season appearances. Entrusted in the set-up role during the postseason, Masterson also excelled in October, allowing only two runs in nine and two-thirds innings. Masterson sat down late in the season to talk about staying humble while he learned on the job, clubhouse chemistry, and why he likes to toy with the Boston media.
David Laurila: How would you describe the 2008 season?
Justin Masterson: Oh my goodness. The 2008 season has been pretty crazy. I’m at a point where my plans had been-how should I say it? I was hoping to get to the big leagues by September, but I never expected to be here as many days as I have been here. So it’s been kind of crazy, and it’s been kind of like learning on the job. I haven’t really had a good feel on my sinker all year, in many respects, but we’ve still been able to make it work. I’ve had more walks than I usually do, and given up more home runs than I usually do, so it’s been a nice learning experience. It has certainly kept me nice and humble. But I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s just been awesome.
DL: Does it feel like you’ve been here a long time, or more like you just walked in the door?
JM: You know, it does kind of feel like I’ve been here a long time, at least in some respects. And at other times, it is like, ‘Oh, man. I haven’t been here very long.’ I come in, and I’m not a veteran, by any means, but I do feel like I know what I’m doing-most of the time, anyway. Sometimes I get on the mound and it’s, ‘Man, what is he doing?!’ But most of the time, I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m trying to do out here.
DL: What do you know now that you didn’t back in spring training?
JM: Part of it is that I know that I can be successful against major league hitters. And do you know what? It is just as cool; it’s actually even better than I expected. A lot of people said, “Enjoy the minor leagues,” and I definitely think that I’m spoiled here with the Boston Red Sox and everything they do, and how they take care of us; you hear that from other guys coming in. But a lot of people say, “Enjoy the minor leagues, because that’s a lot of fun. When you get to the big leagues, it’s kind of like guys are just playing,” and this or that, but maybe they just had a bad experience. Coming here-I think the most fun I’ve had in baseball is being here in the major leagues, because these guys are great. Everyone wants to win, because that’s what it’s all about, and no matter what your differences are, you come together, but this is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a year. It’s been challenging, but it’s been a lot of fun.
DL: What did you enjoy the most in the minor leagues?
JM: I enjoyed the relationships. Kind of like you have here, but not only do you have the relationships-and you’re trying to win, too-but you’re building relationships; you’re getting to know guys; you’re seeing guys progress and get better as they go along, and move to the next level. And sometimes you’re seeing guys go to other teams, and all of a sudden you’re playing against them. So it’s really just building bonds and seeing people grow and having success. That’s what’s been fun at that minor league level.
DL: How does the atmosphere in the Red Sox clubhouse compare to the atmosphere in the Pawtucket clubhouse?
JM: It’s just different. Part of it, you know-and I think it happens in most of Triple A-is that you have a lot of guys who are very talented and are on the brink of being in the major leagues. That’s where everyone wants to be, and some have already had a taste of it and want to get back there. So it’s kind of one of those things where, I don’t think it’s necessarily bitterness, but it’s like, ‘Man, I’m so close. I just want to get there.’ So it’s not always about just coming together to win, even though you want to win. When you get to the major leagues, guys are either established, or especially in this clubhouse, if you come up you’re expected to contribute and be a factor. So they’re like, ‘Hey, you’re here; we want to see you do something,’ so everyone is kind of pushing for everyone, in some respects.
DL: You knew most of the guys here from spring training, but have any of the personalities you’ve seen in the clubhouse surprised you?
JM: Not really. Sean Casey is Sean Casey, and when I saw him in spring training, he was nice and jabber-jawed, and of course we had the Ohio connection because he played in Cincinnati and I’m from the Dayton area, just north of there. But then, what you really get, and I think that sometimes the media doesn’t portray it the best, is that you’ll see some guys and it’s like, ‘Oh, man, he’s kind of a jerk-or this guy,’ but when you get in there, and maybe it’s because you’re in the circle now-you’re in that inner sanctum-and you realize, ‘Do you know what? These guys are like anyone else.’ They like to have fun, they’re good guys, they like to joke around, they’re sarcastic; they’re not jerks by any means. They’re just like anyone else. If you’re trying to encroach upon what they’re doing, then sometimes they react. And if you’re the person they’re reacting to, then sometimes you over-react, which will make it look worse than it really is. And I think that’s one of the coolest things to see, because I love people, and I love relationships. Getting to know the guys here, you know, some people say that this clubhouse is a blessing, and I’m like, “Man, these guys are nice, open and honest.” And I think that what they kind of do is, while not everyone is always hunky dory, they kind of bring it together to win. We have an overall goal, which is to win the World Series.
DL: What has it been like dealing with the Boston media?
JM: They crack me up. I mean, it’s funny, because I’ve never been a part of it where everyone just stands in the middle of the clubhouse. I think that you see it more because of the team we have here, and the fans we’re going towards, but they just kind of stand in the middle, and it’s like, ‘OK, you’re not talking to anyone, you’re just kind of going on.’ And some people have their agendas where they’re waiting around to chat with someone, or this or that, but it’s just weird. And honestly, I like, in some respects, to toy with them-just like I toy with anybody else. I’ll give them a little bit of this, a little bit of that, be overly, whatever-I don’t know. There was this one time-it was funny-somebody asked me-I had given up a walk and a hit to the first couple of guys before I got the next three hitters out, and he asked me, “So, what happened with those first two guys?” I said, “Well, the first guy walked on four pitches, and I think the second guy got a hit.” Then you kind of see a smile come on their face and they’re like, “Is that it?” and I say, “Yeah, that’s what happened.” But no, it’s been neat and interesting. You get people who come to you for their fillers, and all. And for a guy like Jason Bay, it’s like, “Man, in Pittsburgh we’ve got a couple of guys, and they get their stories and they get done. Now we’ve got this guy who needs something, and this guy, and this guy, and that guy over there.” So it’s pretty crazy. Sometimes I take a break by going up to eat some food. They can’t get there.