TWO OF A KIND
Millersville (Pa.) University hadn’t sent a player to the majors since the 1970s. Now, in Tim Mayza and Chas McCormick, it has a pair
By Jerry Crasnick
In the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2022 World Series, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto launched a drive to right center field that had “game changer’’ written all over it. But as the anticipation built and the crowd noise swelled, Astros outfielder Chas McCormick sprinted to the Citizens Bank Park wall, snatched the ball out of the air, hit the chain link fence and crash-landed on the warning track. Houston closer Ryan Pressly raised his hands in the air in disbelief, and one out later the Astros were celebrating a 3-2 victory.
McCormick’s instincts and effort came as no surprise to his friend and offseason workout buddy Tim Mayza. “Chas has always been a daredevil,’’ said Mayza, a reliever with the Blue Jays. “I think his body is just accustomed to making those hard-nosed plays.’’
Long before McCormick became a wall-crashing October phenomenon, he was busy chipping away at stereotypes. Overlooked by major Division I programs, he enrolled at Millersville University, a Division II powerhouse in Lancaster County, Pa. Over the next four years, he set numerous school records and played in a national Division II championship game. The Astros selected him in the 21st round of the 2017 June amateur draft and gave him a $1,000 bonus as a senior sign.
McCormick followed a path established by Mayza, who went 11-3 with a 1.55 ERA as a junior at Millersville before signing with Toronto for a $100,000 bonus as a 12th round pick in 2013. Like so many Millersville players through the years, McCormick and Mayza were fueled and sustained by the encouragement of their coach, Jon Shehan, who told them they always needed to keep working “because you never know who’s watching.’’
“Baseball is a sport where your size really doesn’t matter. Obviously, coaches and scouts are into the big size and big hitters and big swings. But you know what? If you're an athlete and you get dirty on that field and play hard and you can help a team win, a team is going to find you eventually and you’ll get your opportunities. And you can play for a lifetime.’’
On the list of blueblood college programs, Arizona State, USC, Texas, Stanford, Arizona and UCLA have all produced more than 100 future big leaguers. But for every Longhorn, Trojan or Sun Devil making his mark, there’s a corresponding Millersville Marauder who is making history rather than perpetuating it.
Before Mayza and McCormick arrived on the scene, only two players in the history of the Millersville program had reached the majors. Jim Weaver was a pitcher with the 1967-68 Angels, and Jim Todd pitched for the White Sox, Mariners and Athletics for six years in the late 1970s. But the school has produced 10 MLB draft picks since Shehan, a Millersville grad and former minor league catcher in the Braves’ organization, took over as coach 15 years ago.
“Baseball is a game of development,’’ Shehan said. “There’s no real timeline for when a kid is gonna take off or the fastball velocity is going to jump or the bat-to-ball skills will turn into power. The SEC and ACC schools need to get kids who are pretty polished coming in, but we try to be creative on what a guy could become in three or four years. We've had a lot of success with high school kids that have gotten better in our system.’’
Millersville is in good company in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Tom Brookens, Jon Mabry, Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Adams and Pete Vuckovich, a Clarion University product and the 1982 National League Cy Young Award winner, are among the conference alumni with major league resumes. The list of active big leaguers with PSAC pedigrees includes Seattle’s Matt Festa (East Stroudsburg), Miami’s Joey Wendle (West Chester) and the Yankees’ Lou Trivino (Slippery Rock).
“The conference has turned out great baseball players for years as a whole,’’ Mayza said. “There’s an understanding that when you go there, there’s a chance. It’s about being seen and performing. I hope we’re examples that you don’t have to go to the big D-I schools to get drafted or get professional looks. You can go to a D-II and be just fine.’’
Mayza logged an aggregate 7.27 ERA in his first two professional seasons and was close to being released by Toronto when he began charting a new course in 2015. He made his MLB debut two years later and has averaged 64 appearances and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings since 2019. He has emerged as a staple in the Toronto pen at age 31.
“I had really struggled my first two years, and it was kind of a wakeup call,’’ Mayza said. “I had to get myself together and find a way to succeed. It was kind of a sink-or-swim moment. I found out a lot about myself, knowing my back was against the wall and I could be out of the game.’’
McCormick, 28, grew up in West Chester, Pa., as the youngest of four boys (his identical twin brother, Jason, is nine minutes older). He started on his high school team as a freshman and became the first player in Henderson High history to amass 100 hits in baseball and score 1,000 points in basketball. But with the exception of some nibbles from Old Dominion and a couple of Pennsylvania D-I schools, he was overlooked by college recruiters.
“I played in a lot of tournaments in high school or summer ball and I would have two triples or three doubles, and after the game the Division I scout wouldn't come up to me. He would come up to the pitcher that was a bigger dude, even though he didn't necessarily have that good of a game,’’ McCormick said. “My dad was always like, ‘Man, they're just missing something.’ I definitely got a lot of motivation going through that in high school.’’
McCormick hit 14 homers in 2021 and 2022 and has developed into much more than the scrappy, competitive overachiever the Astros envisioned. In recent years, his friendship with Mayza has evolved. Mayza played with McCormick’s older brother Ryan at Millersville, but left school for pro ball just as Chas was arriving on campus. They didn’t begin to establish a bond until a few years ago, when they started working out together in the offseason.
The old school ties persist. McCormick graduated from Millersville with a social work degree in 2017. Mayza received his bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies from Millersville and added a master’s in sports administration from Ohio University in 2021. They have a regular text chain with Shehan, their old coach and mentor, and embrace their status as role models for the next wave of Millersville Marauders with professional aspirations.
“Both those guys come back and visit with the team, and a couple of guys work out with Tim and Chas during the offseason,’’ Shehan said. “So it’s kind of like having big brothers who have been there and done that. They've been unbelievable ambassadors and kind of big brother figures to the guys on the team.’’
While Mayza has induced two groundouts from McCormick in their only face-to-face meetings in the majors, he admits to a touch of professional jealousy.
“Chas has played in a couple of World Series, and that’s what you dream of as a player,’’ Mayza said. “Even having a little piece of him in the World Series and seeing him succeed and make those plays is something special. I’m sure everyone from Millersville is proud of him.’’
McCormick, who cheered for Jimmy Rollins and the Phillies’ 2008 World Championship team as a teenager, received the ultimate reward when the Astros handed out World Series rings on Opening Day. Rather than put away his ring for safekeeping, he keeps it in his locker for inspiration.
“It’s massive, it’s beautiful and it’s bright,’’ McCormick said. “I love looking at it. My parents were like, ‘Do you want us to take it home with us and put it in a safe?’ And I told them, ‘No, I like looking at it every other day in my locker.’ It’s pretty awesome.’’
The ring, with all its intricacies, is both a tribute to McCormick’s professional journey and a testament to the notion that good players come from everywhere. As Millersville’s coach is so fond of saying, you never know who’s watching.