Twenty-one-year-old Andrew Massie, a minor league pitcher for the Mets, sat in the waiting room of a New York City back specialist alone, injured and exhausted. He was a world away from the life he thought he’d be living as a professional baseball player.
At 18, Massie walked away from a baseball scholarship Union offered him in pursuit of a dream nearly every high school baseball player can relate to: the chance to be part of the .1 percent of adolescent athletes that end up playing their sport of passion for a living.
The decision hadn’t been an easy one to make, and Massie rejected the Mets recruiter twice before he said something that rumbled around in the Dyer County High School senior’s head for days.
“He said, ‘Look, if you go to Union there’s barely ever been anyone make it past Union,’” Massie said. “’With us, you’ve got time to either succeed or fail.’”
After talking with his girlfriend and his family, he decided to take the chance, and he pitched for three seasons. While he learned a lot and matured both as an athlete and a person, his dream of life as a professional athlete was much more glamorous than the mundane reality.
He didn’t make much money. He didn’t have many friends, as being a Christian meant not participating in most activities the other players enjoyed. He lived in a hotel out of a suitcase. He missed his girlfriend.
“Professional baseball is not what everyone thinks it is. It is not glamorous at all,” he said.
During his second year, he hurt his back. The team trainer brushed off his concerns and Massie kept pitching, but during spring training the following year, he couldn’t tie his shoes or even sit up.
The Mets flew him from Florida to New York City to meet with one of the best back doctors in the world, but the doctor found nothing wrong. He flew back to Florida the same day feeling even more discouraged and exhausted than before.
“It was terrible,” Massie said. “I still hate New York today, just thinking about that whole experience.”
Eventually, a doctor in Memphis was able to diagnose him with a condition that causes his L5 vertebrae to be out of alignment with the others in his spinal column when he leans forward. He also told Massie he had arthritis in his back. The doctor was optimistic he could still pitch though, if he learned to work around the pain.
As the season wore on, he changed the way he pitched to compensate for the pain and did well enough the lead the team in ERA.
When he pulled his groin though, he began to feel like his time in professional ball might be winding down.
“Obviously, you can see that the Lord is like, ‘Don’t play baseball,’” Massie said.
He talked to bosses and they agreed to let him retire though his contract wasn’t finished. Massie came home and applied to Union. Because of the way he negotiated his contract originally, The Mets and Major League Baseball funded most of his college expenses.
He enrolled this past fall in the athletic training program, and proposed to his girlfriend, Rian Burch, a senior social work major.
After three years of long distance dating, Burch said the proposal was liberating and exciting.
“Before the proposal, it was kind of like we were just day dreaming of a possible future. The proposal gave us the right to actually start thinking and planning for our future together,” she said.
Massie said he is enjoying his first year as a college student, though finding it full of new challenges. Especially difficult was learning how to study and take notes, since it had been several years since he sat in a classroom.
He said he has no regrets about the time he spent playing for the Mets because it helped him grow up and it also prepared him for life after baseball. He appreciates Union more now than he would have as an 18-year-old because he understands what a gift it is to be in Christian community.
Burch said she hopes her fiancé continues to grow and comes to love Union as much as she does.
“I hope that Andrew’s time at Union is spent learning to love the things he is studying and the people who are teaching him,” she said. “I hope that he can be surrounded by people who will pour into him and he will pour into.”
*an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Massie’s former high school as Dyersbug County High school.