Turns out Colin Masseur and his father Don were ahead of the curve when it came to recognizing the rising fireballer of a pitcher in the South Kingstown baseball program.
In a story that has the potential to someday emerge as a legendary tale, Masseur was a high school freshman when the family purchased a pitching machine.
“We thought we may need it,” said Masseur.
By the conclusion of his junior year, Ben Brutti was consistently touching 90 miles per hour with his fastball. The expectation was that the powerful righthander would reach the upper 90s as a senior for the Rebels.
In the D1 baseball playoffs, @SKHSRI_Rebels lead Lincoln 4-0 in the third inning.
Ben Brutti has struck out seven of the first nine batters through three perfect innings pic.twitter.com/5c03Vv1bIw
— William Geoghegan (@RhodyWill) May 31, 2022
With Masseur projected to serve as South Kingstown’s primary catcher for the 2022 season, the time had finally come to test the limits of what turned out to be a wise investment. Any means necessary in relation to becoming better accustomed to handling pure heat was going to be paramount.
“Last summer, we cranked [the pitching machine] up all the way,” explained Masseur on a recent afternoon while sitting next to Brutti in the visiting dugout at Old Mountain Field.
How do you catch a pitch mix that for Brutti is complemented by a slider and changeup? For Masseur, it’s baseball’s answer to the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” You practice and practice some more with the hope of gaining the confidence of a college scholarship pitcher (Brutti) who has been on the radar of Major League Baseball’s scouting community.
Starts by Brutti this spring have been can’t-miss events with individuals armed with the necessary scouting tools of the trade standing behind the backstop and chronicling every pitch of a prospect who has signed with the University of South Florida. He’s been the most visible symbol of South Kingstown’s state title hopes – someone who has handled life inside the proverbial fishbowl just fine.
Along for this impressive ride of blazing heat has been Masseur, a fellow SK senior who’s served as the glue that binds this particular pitcher-catcher battery. He played against Brutti in Little League before becoming his teammate in middle school. This spring, the pair set out to forge a bond that would allow Brutti to showcase his repertoire to the benefit of those holding radar guns.
I am excited to announce my commitment to the University of South Florida. Thank you to my family, coaches, and teammates who have helped along the way!@USFBaseball @hopspitching @HopsAP @NEBscottp @NorthEast_BBall @SKHSRI_Rebels pic.twitter.com/ZoHxpUKXgw
— ben brutti (@BenBrutti) August 20, 2021
From catching Brutti’s bullpen sessions to learning the spin of his ball, Masseur made it a point to lay out all the important groundwork during the fall and winter months leading up the 2022 season. There was synergy to be built that no pitching machine could replicate no matter how high the dial was turned.
“It’s about trusting that he’s going to make a good catch,” said Brutti.
There were offseason visits to Hop’s Athletic Performance in Coventry where Brutti demonstrated his consistency hitting the glove and Masseur received a crash course on the importance of staying even keeled.
“It started out where it was something that would get my heart racing,” said Masseur.
The Arms were ⚡at the #Super60
— Prep Baseball Report (@prepbaseball) February 7, 2022
A couple of conversations with the folks at Hop’s helped put Masseur’s mind at ease – controlling the heart rate because that’s going make seeing the ball a lot easier. What appeared to be a daunting task was minimized as the weeks and months went by.
“Knowing that it’s his job to get the ball to the glove made my job a whole lot easier for me,” said Masseur. “I think I needed those workouts as much as Ben. I wanted him to know that I’m the guy who can catch you. All the work we put in was to build that trust. Now, I can trust him to get the ball to within an inch of the glove every time.”
Brutti echoed his catcher’s sentiment – albeit with a pitcher’s twist.
“The more you do something, the better you get at it. Doing it over and over again, we were both getting comfortable each time to the point where I wouldn’t want someone else catching me,” said Brutti. “I trusted him 100 percent once Opening Day hit.”
As for the different type of circus that has come to high school ballfields around the state this spring, Masseur says it’s been impressive to watch a dialed-in Brutti amidst the presence of numerous MLB scouts.
Ben Brutti was superb Monday for @SKHSRI_Rebels against Portsmouth — two singles allowed, 17 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over Division I-B contender Portsmouth.
There’s a reason all those pro scouts keep appearing. South Florida commit is the real deal. https://t.co/OsSo6dPv9H
— Bill Koch (@BillKoch25) May 10, 2022
“It’s pretty surreal to think they’re at that game for somebody that I’m trying to help get to that level. It’s amazing to see what Ben can actually do even with them in the stands. He turns it on and there’s just pure intensity as if they’re not even there. It’s him and I,” said Masseur. “It’s also awesome to think that there’s a chance that someday I’ll turn on the TV and I’ll be able to say, ‘I caught him.’ I have nothing but confidence that it will happen.”
For Brutti, there’s a level of appreciation that stems from the willingness on Masseur’s part to get on the same page.
“I respected that he worked really hard to try and make me as good as possible. He knew it was a big season for the team and for me personally,” said Brutti about the player who was a unanimous choice as captain. “It’s pretty cool to do this with someone I grew up with.”
From the vantage point of South Kingstown manager Keith Vellone, what Masseur has done this season in accepting the challenge of catching Brutti belongs in a class of its own.
“I joke to Ben that they’re not here to see you. They’re here to see the catcher catch the fastball,” said Vellone. “Ben would not look as good without Colin behind the plate. He’s done it with ease and I’ve been impressed and admire that kid for how he’s done it.”