06/13/2014 2:25 PM
Manager John Massarelli surveys his team during an early season game. (Photo by Matthew Hicks.)
By DOMINIC HOLDEN
The start of the 2014 season marked the beginning of a new era for T-Bones baseball, as John Massarelli began his tenure as the club’s manager. After a disappointing season in 2013 during which the T-Bones finished 40-60, T-Bones ownership and general manager Chris Browne decided it was time for a change to be made.
For Massarelli, who’s managing in his 13th professional season, there was never a doubt that he would end up in baseball as he was growing up in Ohio. After all, he was born and raised in a baseball family.
“I have a passion for the game,” he said. “My father played professional baseball, so the earliest I can remember is me having his old uniform on when I was five or six-years-old playing in the backyard, pretending I was a big leaguer.”
Massarelli’s childhood dream would eventually come true. After playing college ball at the University of Akron, Massarelli was drafted by the Houston Astros in 1987. He remained in the organization until 1993, when he started playing in the Florida, Cleveland and San Diego organizations. He finished his playing career in the Taiwan Major League in 1997.
Although he never actually made it to the major leagues, Massarelli had a successful minor-league career. During 10 years of playing, as a catcher and outfielder, his slash line was a respectable .271/.341/.359. Perhaps the most impressive feat in his playing career was his stolen bases. Massarelli finished with 288 career stolen bases and stole 54 in 1990 for the Osceola Astros of the Florida State League, a team which included future major-league ballplayers, Kenny Lofton, Gary Cooper and Manny Acta.
Shortly after his playing career ended, “Mazz” began his managerial career with the Auburn Doubledays, a Houston affiliate. He managed in the minor leagues until 2004, when he moved over to the independent level. He has managed at this level ever since, with the exception of 2008 and ‘13.
With many stops throughout the affiliated and independent minor leagues, Massarelli has adapted to changes in location. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his team’s performance on the field. Coming into this season, Massarelli has had only one team that didn’t finish with a winning record.
With a winning history, it is not surprising that Massarelli has a championship under his belt. He won the Frontier League title with the Lake Erie Crushers in the team’s first ever season, 2009.
“My proudest moment as a manager was taking an expansion team to the championship in their first year of existence,” he said.
Massarelli hopes to bring his winning pedigree to Kansas City. He is trying to bring a championship back to Kansas City for the first time since 2008. Even early in this 2014 season, he has seen improvements from the team since his first day as manager.
“We are finding guys who play the game play and play it right,” he said. “The guys on the team right now can do that.”
That’s not to say the 2014 T-Bones are perfect; certainly not to their manager. He is still trying to institute what it means to be a “T-Bones-type of player” into the minds of his players.
“We are trying to establish a tradition and work ethic,” Massarelli said. “We want players who leave their heart out on the field, have a passion for the game and play with a lot of emotion.”
It seems that Massarelli’s style is rubbing off on his players and coaching staff.
“He’s intense, detail-oriented, structured and demands the most out of his players,” said hitting coach Dave Schaub, who coached with Mazz at Lake Erie and works at the Massarelli Baseball School.
There’s a lot of baseball to be played in 2014, but the playoffs are a realistic possibility. Although the team is teetering around the .500 mark, it sits in second place in the Central Division of the American Association. So winning a division title can surely be achieved. Statistically, the team’s offensive statistics are similar to Massarelli’s in his playing days. The team hits a respectable average, does not have much power, but does get on base, mostly from generating walks due to their patience at the plate, and steals many bases.
Off the field, Massarelli is adjusting to life in his new city quite well.
“I have loved it so far,” Massarelli said. “The city has been great. I’m excited for my wife to come down so we can go see some of the sights like the World War I Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”