He was affectionately referred to as “Fungo” while a member of the Waynesburg University baseball team.
That nickname was given to Mason Miller, who at 6-5 and just 150 pounds reminded teammates and coaches of a Fungo bat – which is a long skinny bat crafted to be lighter and longer than traditional bats and used during practice drills and pregame defensive warmups by coaches.
No one is calling Miller “Fungo” anymore.
Having left Waynesburg and utilizing a fifth season of eligibility at NCAA Division I Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Miller is now known as a “staff ace” and a potential high-round draft pick in this year’s Major League Baseball draft, which will be held July 11-13.
Miller, a Bethel Park High School graduate, is making serious noise.
“I’ve talked to every major league organization,” said Gardner-Webb Coach Jim Chester. “Honestly – and this is not a shot a Waynesburg – if he had Ohio State across his chest, he probably could have been picked last year.”
A year ago, MLB reduced the draft to five rounds. All other players could have signed $20,000 free-agent contracts. Miller opted to graduate from Waynesburg and utilize a fifth season of eligibility at Gardner-Webb.
“He made a mature decision to come here and get his MBA and to pitch at this level,” said Chester, the former coach at Lock Haven University, Liberty Borough native and Serra Catholic graduate. “He’s furthering his education and enhancing his pitching. Mason is taking advantage of an opportunity.”
In five starts this season, Miller has a 2-1 record with a 3.03 ERA. He has struck out 35 in 32 2/3 innings while allowing 23 hits and walking 13. Opponents are hitting just .192 against him. His WHIP is 1.10.
Waynesburg athletic director, Adam Jack, recommended Miller to Chester. Jack and Chester played against each other in college, Jack at Waynesburg, Chester at Thiel.
Miller, who received an extra collegiate season because of COVID-19, settled on the Bulldogs after considering offers from Coastal Carolina and Arkansas.
“I felt Gardner-Webb was the best choice for me,” Miller said. “It felt right, and with Coach Chester here it just made me feel it was the way to go. It is working out.”
Chester calls Miller a “special talent.”
“Is this more than expected, I would say yes. We knew he was good. Him throwing his fastball 99 mph ... nobody envisioned that. We expected he’d add a little more velocity. He’s throwing three pitches for strikes, all swing-and-miss pitches. He’s developed his breaking ball and changeup.”
Miller’s work has been diligent. He has made a progression from outstanding Division III pitcher to NCAA Division I Big South Conference standout.
Much of what he is doing now, is a by-product of his success at Waynesburg and the discovery at age 20 that he was a Type 1 diabetic.
As much as he tried, eating and lifting weights, Miller could not add weight.
“Mason was always a good pitcher,” Waynesburg coach Mike Humiston said. “He was undersized (weight-wise). I urged him to get bigger. He was a beast in the weight room. I just felt something had to happen here. That’s why we called him “Fungo.” He was a long and skinny kid.”
In April 2018, Miller took a drug test for an internship he was pursuing. It was then he was found to be a diabetic.
“It was clear,” he said. “I was surprised, shocked. I had to take an education course on diabetes. Here I am as a 20-year-old in the same class as 12-year-olds and younger.”
Since that time, Miller has become healthier and his strength, velocity and ability just keep improving. Now, there is no kidding around. Miller now weighs 225 pounds. His look and his pitches are menacing.
“He had a pretty big impact on our program, said Waynesburg pitching coach Perry Cunningham. “Once he found out about the diabetes and started to deal with it, he’s just kept taking it to another level.
“From what we saw last year, it is not surprising what he is doing now. He has effortless velocity.”
Said former Waynesburg teammate Joe Sabolek, a Belle Vernon graduate: “Every year he has made huge improvement, especially velocity. After the diabetes diagnosis, he really got much better.
“I’m not surprised by his success. He put a lot of weight and strength on in the gym. Mason has always worked hard. He’s mixing his pitches well and hitting 98, 99 mph on his fastball.”
Miller could become the first Bethel Park player to be drafted since Joe Lydick, who was taken in the seventh round of the 2000 draft from Pitt.
“Mason was a real good pitcher for us,” said Tony Fischer, former Blackhawks baseball coach. “I don’t have any doubts about him. He just wants to cement in the scouts’ heads about what he can do. I’m confident he is doing that.”