By Dennis Garcia
One of the most successful pitchers in Asheboro Copperheads history came from Drury University.
Trevor Richards, who is currently on the roster of the Tampa Bay Rays, had a stellar campaign for Coach Keith Ritsche and the Copperheads back in 2014. Now Drury’s Mason Meeks and Michael Barnes are hoping to follow in Richards’ footsteps.
Meeks, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, and Barnes, a 6-4 left-hander, should give the Copperheads strong performances out of the bullpen this summer with the possibility of earning some starts along the way.
“Dating back to my first season in 2014, we’ve had several all-star quality players from Drury University,” Ritsche said, mentioning Richards and Ryan Colombo. “Drury coach Scott Nasby and I have had a great relationship over the years and we look forward to him sending us some of his best players each season. I count on his guys each year because with them being Division II guys, they come into the CPL looking to prove they can compete against some of the most talented players in the country. I expect Mason and Michael to be no different.”
Meeks said he doesn’t care about strikeouts, but he sure racks them up at an impressive rate. In fact, he enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign at Drury. In eight appearances, including one start, he went 1-1 with a 1.99 earned run average. From Lake Dallas, Texas, he struck out 23 batters in 22 2/3 innings while walking only two. Opposing hitters registered just a .193 batting average against him.
“I am aggressive with the strike zone, I want to get us back on offense as soon as possible. I couldn’t care less if I get strikeouts,” said Meeks, who was a finalist for Drury’s Freshman/Newcomer of the Year Award after last season. “I want to get outs and get us back on offense.”
Meeks was a THSBCA all-star pitcher in 2018. He earned all-state and all-area honors and was named the 2018 14-5A Pitcher of the Year while at Lake Dallas High School. He helped Lake Dallas to a regional final in 2016 and a bi-district final in 2018.
After his impressive first year with the Panthers, Meeks was signed to play in Alberta, Canada in the Western Canadian League with the Medicine Hat Mavericks last summer. But that league was cancelled due to the pandemic and he stayed in Texas and worked out.
He then went into Drury’s fall season.
“The fall went well, we had a bunch of intrasquad games,” Meeks said. “I felt I performed pretty good.
The fall is to work on things that you aren’t as good at naturally. I kept that in mind. I felt I improved on things I needed to improve on.”
And what about his first summer baseball experience?
“Summer ball is similar to spring for me, it’s a competitive time,” Meeks said. “It’s a second postseason and you’re trying to compete and win as much as possible.”
Barnes has won everywhere he’s played. The junior from Springfield, Mo., helped Kickapoo High School to a third-place finish at states as well as a pair of district championships.
While at Fort Scott Community College, which was ranked in the top 20 in both of his seasons there, Barnes started and came out of the bullpen. In his final season, he pitched 33 2/3 innings with 29 strikeouts and a 3.48 ERA.
Last year with the Panthers, he was 2-0 in 12 2/3innings of work.He struck out 15.
“It was awful last year having to cancel, especially since we just started our conference season,” Barnes said of the pandemic. “But getting that extra year back is going to be really beneficial for me and a lot of other student-athletes at Drury. It’s another year to develop.”
After two years at a community college, Barnes said he wanted to go to a college where he could contribute. Staying close to home was another factor in heading to Drury, which has used him out of the bullpen.
“There’s a big mental difference between being a starter and a reliever,” Barnes said. “As a starter, every position you are put in is because of you. In relief, the guy before you may have left a couple of runners on bases and you want to help his ERA. You have to be clutch. I like it because I am confident enough in myself to be put in any situation. Put me in with the bases loaded, fine. I’m going to work to get out of it.”
Barnes has plenty of summer baseball experience as well, playing two seasons in the Show Me League in Missouri and one in Colorado. He said he is looking forward to the challenge of playing against some of the top competition in the country,
“This is a good opportunity for me,” Barnes said. “There is a lot of talent in Division II, players who may have slipped through. This is an opportunity for me to play against great players.”
Ritsche said both pitchers should play key roles this summer for the Copperheads.
“They have been relied upon pretty heavily for Drury so far in their careers and we are looking forward to them giving us quality depth on the mound,” Ritsche said. “Both will be great additions to the bullpen, but could be asked to make a spot start if the situation presents itself. What I like most about them is that they both throw a lot of strikes and they make the hitter have to put the ball in play to beat you. We need a staff full of those types of guys if we want to compete for a league championship.”
Now Meeks and Barnes hope to take a big step toward their professional dream and join Richards and Sterling Sharp, who was on this year’s opening roster for the Miami Marlins, as the only players from Drury to wear a MLB uniform.