Defying the Odds: Jeremy Massie (A Feature Story)
June 25, 2014By Kevin Maloney of NORTHWEST MISSISSIPPI COMMUNITY COLLEGE
The ultimate storybook ending for Sardis native Jeremy Massie culminated in Omaha, Neb., on June 21 on college baseball's biggest stage.
Massie ended his Ole Miss career with a shutout inning in a postponed game against No. 3 Virginia, who came back a day later to end a magical season for the Rebels after tying a school record with 48 wins.
Although the team flight from Oxford to Omaha and back was a smooth 2-hour ride, the road from Senatobia was a longer journey with several bumps, breaks, strains and scars in the road.
Massie lettered four years at Magnolia Heights School under head coach Chris McMinn from 2007-10, helping lead the Chiefs to a 2009 state championship as a junior. As a senior, he was 6-4 on the mound with a 2.63 ERA in 10 appearances and also played left field. He was showered with awards as a senior, being named an MPSA All-Conference selection, an MAIS All-Star and Magnolia Heights School Ace Pitcher.
Everything was cruising along just as Massie had planned until April 26, 2010.
Just one week before the state playoffs in the season-ending series with Washington Academy, Massie was told to play outfield in a makeup game against Pillow Academy because coach McMinn was unsure who they'd throw in the Washington series. He wanted to keep Massie's arm fresh on the mound for the playoffs.
Towards the end of the game against Pillow, however, the plan backfired. Massie and Nathan Smith, a former Ranger soccer player, collided in left-center going for a ball and Massie snapped both bones in his right leg below the knee. To make matters worse, it took almost an hour for the ambulance to get there.
Massie was out for the rest of the playoffs his senior year and was also unable to play summer ball like he planned. By this time he had already signed to play for head coach Mark Carson at Northwest Mississippi CC, but entered his freshman season not completely healed.
His surgery went well and he was on his way back to a full recovery months later before another unexpected thing happened. He had a skin infection show up in several places which required another surgery in January 2011 to remove the metal rod in his right leg.
He missed the entire fall of his freshman year with the Rangers and nearly nine months had passed until he was able to face live batters in spring scrimmages.
Massie took the mound for Northwest for the very first time on March 3, 2011 at Arkansas Baptist, almost 10 months after his injury, and allowed one hit in one shutout inning.
"I was really, really nervous," Massie said. "If I remember correctly, there was a ball hit back at me and it hit my hand and I think that may be why I came out. It was a scary situation. But not facing a live batter for almost a year, I was nervous but ready to get back out there."
Massie finished his freshman year 2-1 with a 2.90 ERA and a save in 13 appearances.
The following season another injury hampered him and he missed the first three weeks of his sophomore season due to an oblique strain suffered during a spring intrasquad game.
After rehabbing at Cornerstone, he made his season debut at Southwest Tennessee on March 6, 2012.
Massie went on to appear in nine games, seven starts, and was 4-2 with three complete games and a 3.57 ERA. In 47 innings pitched, he struck out 46 against 13 walks. For his efforts on the field, he earned MACJC All-State honors, and for his academics off the field, he was named a Capital One Academic All-District selection and Who's Who in addition to making the Dean's List.
Recruited by Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi College and Belhaven University, Massie wasn't ready to sign with any of those schools to continue his career and came very close to going to Mississippi State for school and giving up baseball.
"To be honest, I wanted to go to MSU because most of my family went there," Massie said. "They talked to me a little bit about walking-on early in my sophomore year and I told them I didn't know if that was a good idea. I didn't want to take that chance too early in the year in case some other offers came in."
Still unsure in late May 2012 of what his next move was, Massie finally caught a break.
"Coach Carson and coach (Bill) Selby came up to me and said coach (Carl) Lafferty needed some left-handed pitching and asked me if I would be interested in going to Ole Miss," Massie said. "I told them, definitely."
A day later, coach Lafferty came and watched Massie throw a bullpen in Senatobia and offered him a chance to walk-on. He would be promised the whole fall and then final cuts would be made in December.
Massie made the 35-man roster and 27-man travel team both seasons in Oxford and did it without a baseball scholarship, like nearly 2/3 of Division I players do each year. His grades and Phi Theta Kappa scholarship helped pay some of his tuition and the rest was out of pocket.
As a junior, Massie made 19 relief appearances for the Rebels and posted an 0-1 record with a 2.92 ERA and a save in 24.2 innings of work. Of his 19 appearances, he turned in 12 scoreless outings on the season, including two against William & Mary in the NCAA Tournament.
Massie's first-ever appearance at Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field came against TCU on Feb. 17 and he remembers it very well, smiling brightly when I asked the question.
"I warmed up for 4-5 innings on Friday and again on Saturday and finally got to go in on Sunday," Massie said. "I was nervous but prepared to pitch. I can remember the feeling like it was yesterday."
Heading into his senior year, Massie knew he would be a bigger contributor.
"My goal was obviously just to pitch more," Massie said. "I wanted to be out there as much as I could. I love to pitch. One thing we talked about was I needed to cut down on my walks and I feel like I controlled that better. Basically, anything I could do to help the team win more games."
Rebel fans will tell you there was something distinct about this year's team and Massie agreed it was a special group of guys. Not only did Ole Miss tie a school record with 48 wins, but they ended a 42-year drought in Omaha and were one of the last four teams standing.
"Going all the way back to the fall, we talked about being tough every day," Massie said. "We went through a lot with our new strength coach Ben Fleming and during practices. The bond was very strong. We knew we'd have a good team this spring, but how good was up to us."
After getting swept at Alabama to fall to 4-5 in the SEC in late March, the Rebels won 15 of their final 21 conference games to win the West, qualify for the SEC Tournament and host an NCAA Regional.
Ole Miss advanced to the Super Regionals after winning the Oxford Regional and lined up with No. 1 Lafayette, one of the craziest atmospheres to play college baseball.
"It was a pretty wild and hectic environment," Massie said. "They love their team and that stadium can get pretty loud. I can't repeat what some of their fans said, but they were leaning all on the fence by the bullpen when I was warming up and just talking trash and yelling at me the whole time."
Ole Miss dropped the first game 9-5 but came back to win the best-of-3 series with 5-2 and 10-4 victories to advance to the CWS.
The Rebels finished 2-2 in Omaha and Massie saw action in both games against Virginia on June 15 and 21. He threw a shutout inning in their 2-1 loss and a shutout inning in a 4-1 loss that ended his career.
He's just the second former Ranger behind Taylor Walker (USM, 2009) and second former MHS Chief behind Russ Sneed (MSU, 2007) to make it to the CWS.
Massie tossed 63.2 innings this season, fourth-most on the team, and ended the year with a 4-3 record, a save and a 2.69 ERA. He appeared in 21 games, starting in nine, and struck out 46 against 17 walks.
From nearly giving up baseball to making it to Omaha, Massie's Cinderella story was four wins and a glass slipper shy of the ultimate prize of a national championship.
He ends his four-year college baseball career a part of a combined 142 wins at Northwest and Ole Miss, a pretty impressive feat in itself.
What's next for Jeremy Massie? He'll be coaching CageRat Baseball in Indiana this summer.
Massie leaves bright and early Thursday morning for Cincinnati, Ohio, to meet his team for a tournament. That will be his first experience as a coach, his desired profession.
He'll return to Oxford this fall to be a grad manager for the Rebels while working on his master's in integrated marketing communications. He hopes to become a college coach when he's done there.