Baseball, the romantics cite, is steeped in so much tradition that it’s simple to draw a line in the sand and connect generations – whether we’re referencing fathers and sons or ballplayers from different eras.
Sometimes, though, the art of bridging venerable types with youth whose chapters are waiting to be written requires assistance. In that regard, Mason Williams, the Pawtucket native and high-ceiling outfield prospect in the New York Yankees' farm system owes Joe Logan much thanks.
By tapping into his connections, Logan paved the way for Williams to rub elbows with 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larkin. While he’s still relatively green in a professional sense, the 20-year-old Williams already has developed an insatiable appetite when it comes to heeding the message dispersed by accomplished types such as Larkin.
As Williams rationalized when reached over the weekend, any nugget of knowledge helps. He understands Larkin was once in his “trying-to-climb-the-ladder” shoes prior to going on a 19-year run with the Cincinnati Reds.
If Williams can pick the brain of arguably one of the finest shortstops the game has ever seen, it’s seen as an opportunity that can work in his favor.
“Every time Barry was talking, I was standing there trying to hear everything,” said Williams. “Not only can you learn by watching, but also listening. Asking questions is also key.”
Here’s the background regarding how Logan brought two individuals from the opposite end of the baseball spectrum together. From time to time during the past two offseasons in Florida, Larkin would stop by to check on Williams whenever the latter was maintaining his sharpness under the watchful eye of Logan.
His relationship with Mason dates back to when he coached him at age 16 on the Orlando Reds AAU team (the Williams family relocated to Winter Garden, Fla. after Mason completed seventh grade at St. Teresa’s School).
A pitcher who enjoyed a three-year run in the Montreal Expos farm system, Logan came to befriend the Orlando resident Larkin. In Feb. 2011, the pair traveled to South Korea as part of U.S. efforts to spread the message of using sports as a diplomacy tool. On YouTube, you’ll find a clip of Larkin and Logan hunting Florida’s wildlife.
“They’re pretty close,” notes Williams about the kinship between Larkin and Logan.
Regarding what transpires between the white lines, Larkin advised Williams to stay patient in terms of understanding that the power numbers will grow in due time. Speaking on a topic that allowed him to get in touch with his instructor side, Larkin – these days supplying baseball analysis for ESPN – never fit the profile of a long-ball threat, though he did demonstrate enough offensive prowess to win the Silver Slugger award nine times.
Williams may not fall into the category as a slugging prospect, though this season has seen him emerge as someone who can go deep every now and again. Entering Sunday, Williams has 10 home runs in 87 games spanning two levels of pro ball. He started the season in Low A Charleston before getting promoted to High A Tampa earlier this month.
“Barry told me not to worry about hitting for power and that it will emerge in the years to come; just worry about getting stronger,” said Williams, whose named graced Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects list, ranking 28th.
As far as curious minds go, Williams implored Larkin to share some of the secrets that allowed the latter to enjoy a career that included a World Series title, MVP award, 12 All-Star Game appearances and three Gold Gloves.
“What was the hardest time for you during the season? What was it like to win the World Series?” were some of the curiosities in which Williams wished Larkin to provide insight. “He told me to take everything day by day, saying that baseball is a process and you have to take it slow.”
Sunday saw Larkin take his bows as the newest member of Cooperstown’s hallowed halls. Some 1,300 miles away in Bradenton, Fla., Williams and his Tampa teammates faced a team consisting of Pirates farmhands. If this seems like a juxtaposition of polar opposites, it’s exactly that. Larkin is now immortalized with the rest of the game’s greats while Williams toils away in the low minors, no doubt hoping to achieve a career that rivals his mentor Larkin.
As Williams will attest, it’s nice to have friends in high places.
“I saw Barry after he got elected. I gave him a huge congratulations, shook his hand and told him it was a well deserved honor,” Williams said.
While Williams is mostly satisfied with how he’s performed to date, he touched upon a realm that you normally don’t hear minor league ballplayers expound upon. Winning has always been superseded by development and the private quest players undertake in seeking to transition from one level to the next, yet Williams expressed immense desire to help his current ballclub reach the playoffs and ultimately capture a title.
No doubt the fruits of success he tasted last season, when Williams was part of a Staten Island outfit that won the New York-Penn League crown, helps fuel his drive to finish the season on top. A year later he’s on a Tampa squad that entering Sunday was part of a three-way tie for first place atop the North standings in the Florida State League.
“I definitely want to come out and win a championship. That motivates me every day,” said an eager Williams.
Daniel Bard dropped a “When I get back to Boston” reference following his most recent appearance with the PawSox. Of course, the question of when such a course of action actually unfolds is one of morbid curiosity as no one associated with the Red Sox probably anticipated that Bard would still be seeking to put all the pieces together eight weeks after throwing his last big-league pitch.
Later in the same conversation, Bard touched upon his present minor-league status, understanding the cut-and-dried goal of placing himself in a position that if something happens at the top, he’s the guy receiving consideration to get called up.
At a time when Chris Carpenter – the power-armed relief pitcher the Red Sox received from the Chicago Cubs as part the Theo Epstein compensation saga – is working his way back into form while toiling with the PawSox, Bard understands that it behooves him to start stringing together a bunch of outings like the scoreless ones he produced last Thursday and again on Sunday night while staying away from the performances that have contributed to the unsightly 7.85 Triple-A ERA he carried into last night’s game against Louisville.
“When they’re starting to see consistency, then they’ll know I can pitch at that level,” Bard said. “I’ve just got to prove that I’m still me [meaning the pitcher who thrived as an eighth-inning weapon the past few seasons].”