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Enjoying a Master-ful turnaround

Posted: March 30, 2008 1:03 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
If Friday's 30-0 victory over La Sierra University was any indication, The Master's College baseball program has made a 180 degree turn from last season, a campaign that ended far below the .500 mark.

"There have been several big differences this year," said head coach Monte Brooks, in his 11th year at TMC. "First, we went out and got two full-time coaches, Chris Bando and Zane Jenson. They have added tremendously to this program."

Bando, the younger brother of Sal Bando (who played third base for the 1972-74 World Champion Oakland Athletics), played in the Major Leagues from 1981-91, mostly with the Cleveland Indians. He's also the father of the Mustangs' first baseman Michael Bando, as well as an ordained minister.

Jenson was a top hitter for the Mustangs several years ago and has now returned to improve the hitting of the club. Judging by their 21-7 record, both men are doing their jobs.

"It's a great blessing to me to have these men here," Brooks added. "It takes a load of me to know they are helping the kids out. And, they're doing a great job, too."

Another mainspring in the turnabout has been the active recruiting of quality transfer players. For instance Bando, who came from a junior college in Phoenix, is one of the team's leading hitters, going 5-5 against La Sierra with four doubles and four RBI.

"I wasn't here last year," he said, "but I heard about what happened. This year, everyone tells me things are different. The team dynamic is great, the chemistry is solid and there's a much better attitude. In junior college, there was a lot of selfish players, guys looking to get noticed to further their own careers. It's not like that here; it's a totally different attitude."

Couple this infusion with some talent, hungry freshman and key veteran returners, who have worked had during the off-season, and the wheels of change have kept rolling for this local institution.

But Brooks attributes another reason for the squad's newfound success, and that answer lies in the school's name. "All of this is simply to glorify God," he said. "That's what we are doing in life, what we do in school and what we do on the field. If it wasn't for Him, none of this would mean anything."

If nothing else, the juxtaposition of sport and faith can either be a source of unending inspiration, or extreme frustration. Brooks prefers the former explanation. "You might have noticed that, unlike most baseball games at this level, there's no profanity from the bench or the stands. This doesn't mean we're not focused or passionate about the game, it's just that we react a bit differently.

To Brooks, an outburst in the heat of the moment during tense struggle is forgivable; after all, he maintains, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

"As a parochial school, we are under an intense microscope," he added. "Our guys take their example from myself and our coaches. If we show a lack of character, they might do the same thing. That's why we are always mindful of our behavior.

"When these principals are taught, it's easier for them to go out and concentrate on their game skills. That's why I'm very impressed with the results now compared to last September. Not only the growth in talent and skills, but the growth of character, which, ultimately, means more than the score of a game."

So far, it seems to be very successful, but it's more than just wins and losses.

The team has a very talented pitching staff, with the lowest ERA in the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC), led by Tim Woodson and Tyler Bersano, among others; but needs to work on its clutch hitting (only about .240 with runners in scoring position), despite the lofty numbers exhibited in the LSU contest.

Power hitting has been a problem, but the big bats of Bando, Joseph Zeller, Caleb Mintz and Steve Shaver are coming around nicely. Another important aspect is the leadoff work of Ben Ives, who has really become TMC's catalyst over the past few weeks.

"What I really like about this group is that they are extremely humble and teachable," Brooks said. "They are not satisfied with just going out and just playing, like the character of Eric Liddle (in Chariot's Of Fire), they want to use the talents they have and win for God. God gave them special skills, and they want to glorify Him for that.

"It's a pursuit of excellence, but with honor," he continued. "Our goal every year is to win the GSAC and advance to the NAIA World Series, but we want to do it with honor; if we cannot do it the right way, it's not worth doing."

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