The year is 2007. The Punxsutawney Chucks baseball team is on the brink of a historic season.
(PHOTO: New York Mets’ Devin Mesoraco, center, and relief pitcher Robert Gsellman, left, walk back to the dugout after the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Wednesday, May 9, 2018, in Cincinnati. AP Photo/John Minchillo.)
Not only are several Punxsutawney players moving on to play college baseball, but their program is also about to capture a state title. Luckily for the Chucks, they had the service of one of the best baseball players ever to grace District 9: Devin Mesoraco.
Before Mesoraco became a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, he actually overcame a lot of adversity that some may not know or remember.
As an underclassman, Mesoraco was both a pitcher and catcher for the Chucks, but his pitching days would soon be behind him as the youngster needed Tommy John surgery. His junior season was spent as the designated hitter for his high school team, but it did not deter him from returning behind the plate for his senior campaign.
While he worked back from injury, it certainly did not deter many programs from offering the former Chuck an opportunity to play college baseball for their program. Ultimately, he committed to the University of Virginia who has become one of the top college baseball programs in the entire nation.
It is interesting to think about what could have been if the former big leaguer did not sign out of high school, but it is obvious he made the right choice to turn pro.
Humble beginnings ensued for Mesoraco, and he said himself that “I was not very good when I first entered the minor leagues. There was a lot of talent, and my routine changed, as did the talent competing directly against. I went from baseball a few hours a day to showing up in the morning to work on baseball and then playing games every night.”
Honestly, it cannot be easy for a small-town kid to leave all of his friends and family as just eighteen years old to go to an unfamiliar place to start an entirely new chapter in life.
Despite some of the challenges, Mesoraco eventually began to shine like Cincinnati knew he would. The former Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year would make his big league debut in September of 2011, but unlike some who are surprised, it was more anti-climatic when he got the official call up.
“I was on the 40-man roster in 2011, and there were no other catchers not with the big league team who could possibly be called up. I got called into my manager’s office, and he told me I would be going up. It was not a surprise call up like some experience, but it was still one of the best moments of my career.”
The Punxsutawney native went on to play for the Reds until 2018, and in 2014, he received one of the highest honors by being selected as an All-Star in the National League. It was his best major league season as he hit .273 with 25 home runs, 80 RBI’s, and 25 doubles. He led all catchers in home runs and slugging percentage in this breakout season.
Unfortunately, Mesoraco’s next few seasons were mostly taken from him by injury, but he did not give up and kept battling to try to get back to playing the game he loves each time.
In 2018, his life changed as he was traded to the New York Mets and ended up being a catcher for the 2018 Cy Young Award winner in the National League, Jacob deGrom. When talking about his time in the Big Apple, Mesoraco said, “I loved being in New York. The Mets needed an everyday catcher, and being able to catch for that pitching staff was one of the biggest honors of my career. I loved the fans in New York City and wish my time there could have been even longer.”
In the spring of 2019, Mesoraco decided that it was time for him to walk away from baseball as a player. He had accomplished nearly everything he had hoped to do, but baseball would not go far from his mind. He and his family moved to the Pittsburgh area and built a home that would allow him to be close to home while also residing in a large market, as well. Around a year after his retirement, Mesoraco decided it was time to get back into the game he loved.
This time, his involvement with the game is from a different scope. Mesoraco is now a volunteer assistant coach for the University of Pittsburgh baseball program and primarily works with the program’s catchers. He also hopes to work with various high school prospects to help them develop as baseball players.
It is the perfect job as he can now share his knowledge with the next generation of athletes while also staying close to his family.
“This is the best opportunity I could ask for at the moment in terms of coaching baseball,” said the former All-Star catcher. “I am really enjoying my experience coaching for Pitt so far and hope I can continue to help them for a long time.”
While Mesoraco is helping the next generation of players, he mentioned one key person in particular who was instrumental in helping him reach the highest level in baseball. His father, Doug, was a coach at Punxsutawney for many years and a former college player for the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Doug was also instrumental in forming a junior legion team in Punxsutawney and a key mentor not only to Devin but many former athletes for the Chucks.
“My father was the biggest reason I became a baseball player. He allowed me to be the batboy for the team growing up, and I was always with him around the game. He laid the framework for me and helped me become the best player I could be.”
While he was still playing, the former big-league backstop mentioned a few players he thought were the toughest to face as a hitter and to gameplan for when it was their turn to hit. Mesoraco said Zach Greinke was an extremely tough pitcher to go up against, while Andrew McCutchen was a tough hitter to gameplan for because of his quick wrists and opposite-field power.
The Punxsy native has accomplished a great deal in the game of baseball already, and the former first-round pick is just 32 years of age. Already, he has played in so many ball games and seen so much baseball that his knowledge will unquestionably help Pitt baseball in addition to any young players he works with. Living in Pittsburgh provides him a chance to be close to home while also living in a big city at the same time.
Devin Mesoraco is an inspiration to young people around our area of what can be accomplished with hard work and dedication to a craft.