Graduation. Championships. Making better leaders. Giving back. These are head coach Jim Penders’ four pillars of UConn Huskies baseball.
Star junior pitcher Mason Feole takes most pride in the fourth and final pillar.
Feole’s high school baseball coach at the Prout School in Rhode Island, Mike LaBarbera, said the most important thing to the Huskies’ ace was dedicating his life to Christ as a member of the campus ministry and as a peer minister. LaBarbera said Feole showed his impressive humility each and every day. That was the case on and off the baseball diamond.
“When he gave tours as a student ambassador, he wouldn’t talk about being a baseball player,” LaBarbera said. “He would talk about being a Prout student to prospective students at Prout, which is awesome.”
Feole said working to be a better person has made him a better baseball player and vice versa.
“Baseball is a very good way to reach out and be a better person,” said Feole. “I think it’s about what type of person you are first and foremost. I say it all the time. We have four pillars here, and pillar four happens to be give back. Any chance you have to give back in any way possible, I think that is the most important thing you can do in life.”
Feole’s strong faith works hand-in-hand with his terrific baseball acumen.
The junior was selected as The American Athletic Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year, a D1 Baseball Preseason Third Team All-American and was on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award watch list.
Christopher Crawford, who writes for NBC Sports, said Feole is a top 15-20 pitcher in all of college baseball. These accolades and predictions are all well and good, but Feole has other goals in mind.
“My main focus is to be the best that I can be this year for our team to win the national championship,” Feole said. “That’s our main goal. That’s our group goal. That’s a collective goal that we’re all working towards every single day. Everything we do is directed towards that goal. A national championship is the only thing on my mind.”
Feole’s work ethic behind the scenes helped catapult him to the player he is now. In high school, LaBarbera said that after practice, the young pitcher would head to Hop’s training facility in Coventry, Rhode Island, to lift weights, do some band work and throw.
While at UConn, Feole gets up before the sun rises and grinds throughout the day to continue to improve as a ball player.
Feole said he is especially proud “to be a part of the culture that is UConn baseball.”
“[It’s] the nitty gritty, get down and get your hands dirty, blue-collar mentality, you’re going to wake up before everyone else on campus and you’re going to put more work in than anyone else on campus, and we know we are going to get results.”
Feole was heavily recruited by Bryant and Boston College before UConn was involved in the process.
“I love coaching him. I love that he’s a UConn Husky, and we got kind of lucky that we got him,” Penders said. “We were late to the game on him. We had seen him early and weren’t super impressed with his pitching. Then we caught wind that he really picked up his velocity and went back to see him and good thing we did because he had a couple of offers on the table.”
Some of the issues Feole had to overcome were balking and harnessing his tremendous energy. Feole recalled when his nickname was “Panic,” due to his balking issues and sense of, well, panic.
“There was one day freshman year, the last game of the fall, I came off the mound after firing a ball to first base, on a ground ball, the first baseman didn’t have a shot to catch it,” Feole said. “I was, like, two feet away. It was just a total panic throw over there. I get off the mound and coach [Josh MacDonald] said, ‘I don’t even know what you have to do, yoga or extra breathing, something, just figure it out.’”
Feole took his advice and ran with it.
The pitcher now meditates, participates in yoga and focuses on breathing to slow him down, which have clearly helped as he is coming off a sophomore year in which he had a 2.50 ERA, 120 strikeouts and a 9-2 record.
Feole’s teammate and battery mate Paul Gozzo, who transferred from Tulane, said he’s happy he doesn’t have to face him anymore.
“There are games where he can be as dominant as a Madison Bumgarner when he’s that dialed in,” Gozzo said. “There are games where he is at your throat like a reliever for seven innings, and you’re just like, ‘Wow’ … I think he’s gonna be Mason Feole, someone who people look up to later on.”
LaBarbera said he can’t exactly pinpoint what it is that makes Feole so much better than the rest, but he does think there is one factor that plays a huge role in Feole’s incredible success.
“He is the most competitive person. You might not see it right away, but internally he’s got a fire that is unbelievable,” LaBarbera said. “He wants every pitch to be so perfect, to be so good, and even when he loses that control a little bit, he is able to come back around and rarely get hurt by it. That’s his competitiveness. Sometimes you look at certain athletes and they have it, but you can’t explain what it is. That’s Mason.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.