They are longtime pals who ply their trade behind a mask.
Max Stassi and Andrew Susac have crouched behind a plate, encased in catcher’s gear, since the days a bat stood a bit taller.
Except this winter.
Stassi, from Yuba City High School, and Susac, from Jesuit, have met regularly at a mutual friend’s home near American River Drive, fine-tuning skills in a palatial back yard lined with towering trees that serve as shade and makeshift foul poles. They stretch ; they talk baseball, life and goals ; and then they tear into batting practice in a cage.
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Now the real fun starts. Stassi and Susac head to spring training next week to continue their dream-come-true journeys. Susac is back with the Giants, still glowing about his July call-up with his boyhood favorite team and the unreal memories of a World Series triumph. Stassi, a two-time Bee Player of the Year, aims to be a regular with the Houston Astros. He has had painfully mixed reviews of his two brief major-league stints.
For two baseball lifers, Stassi said he and Susac are basking in “the great life.”
Stassi was coached by his father, Jim, growing up, including Sac-Joaquin Section championship seasons at Yuba City with brothers Brock and Jake. Now retired from high school coaching, Jim takes in as many of his sons’ games as he can jam into the spring and summer.
And the thing about baseball fathers, Stassi said, is they’re always there, as reliable as that catcher’s mask.
Jim was there for Stassi’s memorable big-league debut with Houston on Aug. 20, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. . Max went 2 for 3.
The next day, Stassi’s first major-league RBI came with a big price. With his father watching again, Stassi took a Tanner Scheppers 96-mph fastball to the face with the bases loaded in the eighth, sending him to the hospital and placing him on the disabled list for a month.
After three big-league games in 2013, Stassi played seven in 2014 for the Astros after being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Lessons from Dad continue to shape his career, Stassi said.
“He taught me everything in life, on the field and off the field,” Stassi said. “And he always preached to us that you’ve got to put the work in. That’s the root of everything. Very thankful for everything he taught me.”
Susac’s father, Nick, is a big man with a big personality who embraced big goals. He has marveled at his son’s baseball drive since the days a loud “ping” reverberated off the walls of their Roseville home in the middle of the night.
“It was Andrew hitting off the T, always trying to get better,” Nick Susac said.
“The work ethic only intensifies now,” Andrew said. “I add new things every year – how far to push my body.”
Said Stassi: “The key is hard work and pride. Know where you come from, always stay humble. There’s always going to be someone bigger and better out there, so you’ve got to always outwork the other guy.”
Susac made his major-league debut last summer, family in tow.
“It was a crazy night, something you never forget,” Susac said. “We (the Fresno Grizzlies) were playing in El Paso, and I was in my hotel room. I got a call at 12 or 1 (a.m.) and, ‘Hey, you’re coming out (to San Francisco).’ My parents were in Tahoe, so I had to call and ruin their vacation.”
More charmed living: Susac is engaged to his Oregon State sweetheart, Maggie Doremus, a former softball player with the Beavers. Though he once joked Doremus “snores like a bear” in a survey of relationship highs and lows, Susac said he knows he met a keeper. Doremus is known to shag fly balls for her fiancé during workouts.
“Date nights have been soft-toss workouts with a baseball,” Susac said. “It’s been such a great ride. I got engaged, won the World Series with a tremendous team. Some say it’s down hill after that.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.