Prep Baseball: Jennings signs with Methodist

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 8, 2012

By Mike London
SPENCER — In a game last week against Salisbury, North Rowan senior Mason Jennings started at first base, earned the win with three relief innings on the mound and finished the game at shortstop.
Jennings never got to play his best position — center field — but he’s been a Swiss army knife for coach Aaron Rimer all season. North graduated a ton of talent from last year’s YVC co-champions, but Jennings’ versatility has helped the Cavaliers (7-7) stay in the chase for another playoff berth.
“Mason can play anywhere on the field,” North second baseman Josh Mock said. “He’s got a good head, a strong arm, and he plays with his heart.”
Jennings should be able to channel all his energy into being an outfielder in college. He signed with Methodist, a Division III school in Fayetteville.
Methodist doesn’t give athletic scholarships, but it can finds lot of academic scholarship money for good athletes who also are exceptional students.
Jennings qualifies on both counts.
He’s a year-round athlete. He competed in cross country and played a big role in North winning the YVC swimming championship.
Academically, he’s No. 1 in North’s senior class, an even bigger achievement than his team-best batting average of .394 and .533 on-base percentage.
“I’ve been taking the honors and AP classes since I was a freshman,” Jennings said. “It’s been a lot of extra work, and there’s been a lot of late-night homework after baseball games and long road trips, but it’s been worth it.”
Jennings has started the past three seasons. In 2010, he batted .293 as a sophomore left fielder. Then he hit .338 and scored 22 runs as the junior center fielder for a 22-7 team.
North had such a tough lineup in 2011 that Jennings usually batted ninth, but he’s now been elevated to the No. 3 hole.
“Mason has always been one heck of defensive outfielder,” Rimer said. “But he’s come a long way in a short time offensively and is standing out now. He’s been a .500 guy for us as a senior. He’s been consistent. Every game, he’s like 1-for-2 with a steal and an RBI.”
Jennings, who has three doubles and two triples, lacks the power of a prototype No. 3 hitter, but he gives Rimer opportunities to manufacture runs in a variety of ways.
“Once, I gave him the bunt sign with two men on, and most No. 3 hitters wouldn’t like that,” Rimer said with a grin.“But he got the bunt down. Laid it down perfectly.”
Jennings is also 10-for-10 on stolen bases.
“My role has changed,” Jennings said. “I’ve gone from a role player to be more of a key player. Last year, my job was to get on base. Now I’ve got to drive guys in.”
Jennings played American Legion ball early last summer, and his highlight was a three-run homer at Newman Park against Rocky Mount.
He probably would’ve made the final 18-man roster if not for a shoulder injury. The ailment was diagnosed as a torn labrum. Surgery wasn’t required, and Jennings recovered with a combination of rest and physical therapy. He feels fine now and can pitch if needed. He was 2-0 last in 2011 and is 2-1 this year.
Jennings’ academics would allow him to go anywhere, but loves baseball and wanted to find a place where he also could contribute athletically. He believes he’s found the right fit in Methodist.
“I went to a showcase camp and the Methodist coaches saw me there, and we started e-mailing,” Jennings said.
The attributes that attracted Methodist were his speed (6.8 in the 60) and the fact that he’s a left-handed hitter. Once Methodist got a look at his academic transcript, assistant coach Spencer Martin started recruiting him avidly.
The weekend Jennings visited Methodist (March 25) coincided with head coach Tom Austin’s 1,000th career win. Austin has averaged 32 wins per season since 1980.
After watching Methodist play in Greensboro — against Guilford — Jennings was ready to sign.
“It was nice down there,” said Jennings, who would like to be a lawyer, banker or sports agent down the road. “They’ve been very successful, and it’s not much further away (21/2 hours) than some of the teams we’ve been playing in the YVC.”