Encinitas Little League keeps winning and hopefully baseball’s gods will keep repaying Brian Mazone.
ELL has a heck of an All-Star team, one that advanced to Friday’s Western Regional semifinal in San Bernardino.
It also has a whale of a pitching coach in Mazone, someone who nearly got as far as the major leagues.
In fact Mazone reached the bigs with Philadelphia, as a left-hander with command and courage to throw off-speed pitches for strikes.
Mazone’s pro baseball journey illustrates the mantra of this ELL squad: work hard, keep battling and never give up.
“That is what I preach to the team,’’ Mazone said. “And that there are things you can’t control: what happens sometimes on the field and the weather.’’
Ah, the weather and Mazone’s association with it is among baseball’s biggest haymakers.
Mazone, a former San Dieguito High and University of San Diego standout, toiled in the minor leagues from 1998-2010. He ricochets across the globe, and in countless leagues, pitching for a living and seeking his break.
He got it late in 2006, when John Russell, Mazone’s Triple-A manager at the Phillies’ Lehigh Valley, called. Mazone was at dinner with his family when Russell said the Phillies needed a starter the next night.
With streams cascading down Mazone’s face, his wife, Amber, thought someone had passed away.
“I said, ‘No, we’re going to Philadelphia,’’ Mazone said.
So were dark clouds.
Mazone reached Citizens Bank Park the following afternoon as the Phillies’ scheduled starting pitcher. But that morning it began to sprinkle and you sure baseball is such a grand game?
“‘I said, “Oh boy, this is not happening,’’’ Mazone said. “I went to the clubhouse and got my uniform, but it kept raining. At about 5:30 or 6 o’clock, they called the game.’’
The following day Mazone was summoned, but not to pitch. He was optioned back to Triple-A, and despite playing four more seasons, that was the closest he came to climbing a major-league mound.
“I’m not going to lie it was heartbreaking,’’ Mazone said. “Was it a once-in-a-lifetime dream that almost came true? Yes.
“But there were two ways to look at it: get ticked off and start throwing chairs against the wall or tell yourself they called you up for a reason and that was because you were good enough. So keep plugging away and you’ll get another chance again.’’
Despite being a 2008 Triple-A All-Star, the opportunity never came. What did was a perspective of how baseball — and life — delivers the good and bad.
“This game can beat you up mentally more than anything I’ve been part of,’’ Mazone said. “Playing baseball for that many years and going through all the different things I went through, the ups and downs, the mountains and molehills, that built me into who I am today.’’
Today has Mazone in steamy San Bernardino, three years after ELL All-Star manager Chaz Gagne approached him. Gagne asked if Mazone could help with his 9-10 year-old All-Star team, the one that morphed into this year’s powerhouse.
Mazone agreed to assist and Gagne has since been trying to return the favor.
“I could never pay him back for what he has done,’’ Gagne said.
It’s for what Mazone couldn’t do — stay away.
“I thought I would show up at a couple of practices here and there,’’ said Mazone, who works in the medical supply business. “All of a sudden one thing led to another.
“It’s been awesome to see their development in three years, to have watched them basically mature on and off the field. It just became a vested interested in all these kids. I have two boys at home but with these 14 players, I feel like I have 16 now.’’
Branden and Blake, his sons, are sharing Pops with their older baseball buddies during this magical summer.
“This hopefully is giving them an experience they’ll take with them the rest of their lives,’’ Mazone said. “And it’ll give all the other ELL kids something to shoot for.’’
Mazone’s game was always about aim. His lessons remain on target, even if his career had soul-searching twists.
“I continued to be amazed that there is zero bitterness with him,’’ Gagne said. “Instead he looks at it as a gift to try and pass on to the kids. If there is an opportunity to help a kid, he is going to take it.’’
Contact staff writer Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports