Anyone who watches baseball or softball knows that the position that most often comes at a premium with a shortage of quality players is the catcher.
It’s hard enough to find someone who wants to crouch behind a player wielding a metal weapon – in this case it’s called a bat – and try to catch a ball flying at speeds of 70 miles per hour. But it’s even harder to find a player who can hit well too, and along with that, and arguably most importantly, have a very close relationship with the pitching staff.
Wisconsin senior Whitney Massey has checked off all of those prerequisites, and according to pitching coach Tracie Adix, Massey’s major strength as catcher comes in one of the most important areas.
“Comfort, I think,” said Adix of what Massey brings to the position. “I just think the pitchers are in a much different groove with her back behind the plate. … I just think they’ve built a comfort level with Whitney behind the plate that really helps them just get into a tempo that they need to have during the game.”
But that comfort level Massey has developed with the pitching staff – which includes Cassandra Darrah, Meghan McIntosh and Taylor Paige-Stewart – hasn’t always been there, mainly because Massey hasn’t always been behind the dish. When she came to Wisconsin, Massey was originally recruited as an outfielder, although she played primarily catcher in high school, and eventually made the transition to second base after she began her career with the Badgers.
Massey had been the backstop for the Badgers sporadically over the course of the three previous seasons, but it wasn’t until the fall season this year that head coach Yvette Healy and her assistants really thought about her as a permanent option.
At a recent practice, Healy discussed what brought on the decision to move Massey from second base to catcher.
“Whitney caught for us a little in the fall, and she caught two no-hitters, and we said, ‘It’s worth giving her another look.’ She’s not flashy and she doesn’t jump off the page as a catcher, but there’s something about her way of catching and working with the pitchers and putting them at ease that really has gone the distance. And we just thought we’d see in the fall,” Healy said. “And to catch three more no-hitters this spring, it’s pretty amazing.”
The fact Massey has caught three no-hitters this season is special in itself, but what makes it more special is that the last time any Wisconsin pitcher threw a no-hitter before this season was all the way back in 2001.
Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that Massey has caught the three no-hitters, but Healy certainly doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think it can be a fluke. You’d like to say maybe one in the fall, well maybe it’s just coincidence. But you look at that, and I think catchers get overlooked. In the Major Leagues, there’s a fraternity of guys who’ve caught no-hitters. They talk about that as being a big badge of honor, and I think she takes it really seriously and she takes a lot of pride in it,” Healy said.
Even though Massey has just started catching on a regular basis, it is not something that is completely foreign to her. She started out catching at a young age, and along the way has caught some premiere talent, including one of the best players to set foot within the pitching circle in Monica Abbott.
As Massey explained, she holds a fairly extensive record behind the plate and catching Abbott – who has played at the college, professional and Olympic levels and is the NCAA all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, shutouts, innings pitches, games started and games pitched – certainly has added to her experience a great deal.
“I started off catching when I was seven, so I’ve been catching for over 10 years. It wasn’t until I [verbally committed] here that I switched positions – I was recruited as outfield here,” Massey said. “But it’s nice to just come back and catch. I catch Monica Abbott when I go home, so she helps me a lot.”
Healy referred to her catcher as “small” and “quiet” behind the plate, but although she may be quiet behind the plate, she carries a big stick when she steps up to the dish. With her 15 doubles on the season, Massey surpassed the Wisconsin record of 32 in a career, and currently sits with 47 to her credit. And with a home run against Ohio State Sunday, Massey leads the Badgers in home runs this season with nine, not to mention she is also ninth in career batting average at .304.
Still, the coaches and Massey know there is certainly room for improvement as with any player, but with how she has performed so far this season, don’t expect to see Massey anywhere but behind the plate anytime soon.
“Outfield was fun just because you could dive for a bunch of things and throw runners out at home. And second, I get mentally tired after second base. I feel like I’m thinking on every single play. With catching it just comes natural,” Massey said.