After winding up his two-year baseball career at Potomac State (W. Va.) Junior College this past spring, former Altoona Area High School standout Mason Hershey had a heart-to-heart discussion with his mother, Cynthia, about his college baseball future.
"I told her it was going to be Division I, or nothing at all,'' Hershey said. "And I wanted to play at a warm-weather school, because I feel like I play better in the heat than I do in the cold.''
Hershey, 20, got both of his wishes granted when he was awarded a scholarship by East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn.
East Tennesee State competes in the Atlantic Sun Conference, where it is the northern-most school. That means some of the team's road games will be played in sites as far south as Florida, which suits Hershey just fine.
"The worst weather we're going to see is on [East Tennessee's] end,'' said Hershey, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder who shared catching duties this past season with another player for Potomac State, which reached the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. on Memorial Day weekend.
Hershey, a third baseman-catcher during his days at Altoona High School, received a 50 percent academic scholarship to ETSU. He is carrying a 3.27 grade point average in his sports management major.
Hershey played catcher for the Johnston Realty team in the Altoona AAABA Division of the Greater City Baseball League in each of the past three summers. Johnston's coach, Mel Curtis, said that Hershey has developed into a very strong catcher.
"Over a period of three years, he's grown drastically as a catcher,'' Curtis said. "He calls an excellent game, he changes pitches and locations up, and a lot of the pitchers like him catching them and are very comfortable with him.''
Hershey's defensive skills are also an asset, Curtis said.
"Defensively, he's grown phenomenally in three years,'' Curtis said. "His two best [attributes behind the plate] are his defense and his ability to call a game for the pitchers. He loves the game, he knows the game, and he's more or less a student of the game.''
Hershey sees the ETSU opportunity as a very promising one, for a number of reasons. The school has had many players drafted by Major League Baseball organizations, including catcher Derek Trent, who is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class A affiliate State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League.
Trent's move into professional baseball leaves the catching position at ETSU open, and Hershey, with his junior college experience, figures that that the spot could be his for the taking.
"Since [Trent] started at catcher there all four years, the catching position is now wide open for somebody to take. And my junior college experience will give me the upper hand over another player who is just coming in,'' Hershey said.
Curtis thinks the ETSU opportunity will be a good one for Hershey.
"He works very hard and I think he's going to do very well there,'' Curtis said. "I think this is the break that he needed.''
Hershey's Potomac State team finished third in the Junior College World Series in Colorado. Potomac lost in the semifinals to Central Arizona, which went on to the championship game before losing to Navarro (Texas) College.
"It was fun,'' Hershey said of the Junior College World Series experience. "We got to play in front of 14,000 people on Memorial Day evening, and that was probably the biggest crowd any of our players ever played in front of. We were used to playing in front of 50 people - family and friends - back [at Potomac State].''
The East Tennessee State University opportunity should be an even more thrilling one, Hershey believes.
"They're known for getting players drafted [by major league organizations],'' Hershey said of the ETSU program. "This could be a building block to playing at the next level.''