Randy Mazey

RANDY MAZEY

In a lifetime full of change, the one constant in Randy Mazey’s life has been baseball.

From his childhood in southeastern Indiana County where he played in the backyard, to the Little League field in Armagh, to high school ball at United, to AAABA in Johnstown, to minor leagues and now to a distinguished career as a college coach, baseball has been just as much a part of Mazey’s life as the left arm he used to pitch with.

Yet, at 55, Mazey is emerging from the most difficult period of his life. Baseball, which has given him so much, nearly took away someone he couldn’t dream of living without. But now, thanks to great medical care — and possibly a miracle — his family is whole, and he has found himself able to help people in ways he couldn’t have predicted.

“I’ve been put into a world I never really knew existed before,” he said.

MAZEY WILL BE inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 15 for his career as a baseball player and coach. There isn’t enough space here to detail all of his career, but the highlights reveal a man who excelled at a sport and then began helping others do the same.

He was raised in Robindale, but his family was forced to move when the Johnstown Flood of 1977 literally wiped the town away. The Mazeys resettled in Cramer, and Randy and his brother, Brian, spent every waking minute of their childhood playing every sport possible.

“It was a great time to be a kid,” Mazey said. “We didn’t have all the distractions like kids today have.”

Mazey was a star in Little League for the Cramer team and then for Highway Hardware in Johnstown’s Junior Legion ranks. He was one of the top players in the Appalachian Conference as a pitcher and outfielder for United High School and spent his summers with Wheeler Cadillac Pontiac in Johnstown’s AAABA league.

On every team he played, Mazey turned heads with his hitting and his pitching. In his 21-game senior season at United, Mazey went 10-1 on the mound with a 0.63 ERA and 110 strikeouts, and at the plate he batted .576 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs.

After being recruited by almost every top college program in the country, Mazey signed with Clemson. Soon after, he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 1984 amateur draft, leaving him with a tough decision to make.

“I wasn’t prepared for the world of pro baseball,” Mazey said. “It wasn’t the right time. I now know that going to college was the best decision I ever made.”

Mazey was a star at Clemson, making the All-ACC team three times, with two of them being first-team selections. In four seasons, he hit .331, ripped 20 home runs and drove in 121 runs.

THE DRAFT came around again, and in 1988 the Cleveland Indians picked Mazey in the 28th round. He was assigned to Burlington, of the Appalachian (rookie) League, where he hit only .217 in 39 games.

In 1989, he was sent to the Miami Miracle, of the Class A Florida State League, and things did not improve. Mazey was batting .218 when he was released on Mother’s Day.

With years to reflect on it, Mazey understands why his pro career didn’t last long.

“When I signed with the Indians, I said that I had just achieved my goal,” he said. “I said I wanted to be a professional baseball player, and I was. But what I should have said was I want to be a major league baseball player. My biggest regret is not working harder at baseball so I could get to the major leagues.”

Mazey went back to Clemson and worked as an assistant coach for three years, the start of a career that now spans three decades. After holding jobs at six Division I schools, Mazey was named the head coach at West Virginia in 2013.

His tenure in Morgantown has been nothing short of successful. In 2017, he guided WVU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996 and was named the regional and national coach of the year. His 2019 team hosted the NCAA regional tournament for the first time in 64 years, and he won the Big 12 Coach of the Year award.

Mazey’s 263 victories at West Virginia place him fourth on the program’s all-time wins list.

EVERYTHING STOPPED on March 9. That’s when baseball, the thing Mazey had kept his eye on for most of his life, became secondary. Oddly enough, it happened because of baseball.

Mazey’s 14-year-old son Weston — nicknamed “Wammer” — was playing second base during practice when he collided with the center fielder while the two tried to track down a popup. Wammer was knocked unconscious and had to be taken to a local hospital, where what was thought of as a likely concussion rapidly turned into a life-threatening brain injury.

Wammer fell into a coma and was admitted to the intensive care unit, breathing only with the help of a ventilator. The doctors couldn’t make any guarantees, and Randy and his wife, Amanda, were helpless with grief.

“We did a lot of second-guessing that day,” Mazey said, “but ultimately you have to write it off as a freak accident. So many things had to line up for him to get injured like that.”

The Mazeys held out hope that Wammer would pull through, but the extent of his injuries wasn’t fully known, and life moved minute-to-minute instead of day-to-day.

Then Wammer opened his eyes.

ON MARCH 11, less than 48 hours after the collision, Wammer recognized the faces around him. He made rapid progress, and four days later he was moved out of the ICU.

A week later, Wammer was flown to Atlanta to the Shepherd Rehabilitation Center, one of the top facilities in the nation for this kind of care. He was walking, talking and asking when he would be able to play ball again.

Randy and Amanda never left their son’s side. In fact, they recorded much of Wammer’s rehabilitation on video and shared it with loved ones who could see the miracle for themselves. Less than a month after the near-fatal accident, Wammer was taking batting practice and fielding grounders.

He was on his way home, released from the rehabilitation hospital, on May 19.

“Watching people learn how to walk again definitely changes you as a person,” Mazey said. “I tell my players all the time, ‘Don’t tell me it’s hard to get up and go to class because I’ve seen hard. I’ve seen people try to get out of a wheelchair and try to walk. That’s hard. You don’t really have problems like that.’”

FIFTEEN SECONDS into the video, it’s apparent something is up.

Wammer Mazey is at the plate, making his return to baseball on June 26 for his Flood City team against Beaver Valley in an under-14 travel baseball showcase tournament in Pittsburgh. As Wammer is about to dig in, the Beaver Valley catcher calls timeout, removes his mask and extends his right hand, congratulating Wammer on his comeback.

One by one, the other eight players in the field, as well as the coach, approach Wammer and shake his hand, a gesture not just of sportsmanship, but of compassion. Randy was near the dugout, filming the whole thing.

“I knew the day was coming when he would play again,” Randy said. “It was an emotional at-bat, but for those kids to do what they did made it so special. That was an unbelievable gesture.”

Mazey posted the video on Twitter and it began to spread. Five weeks later, millions of people around the world have seen it and have become aware of Wammer’s journey.

THE MAZEYS have found a way to help other families facing similar circumstances. While Wammer was still in the hospital, one of Randy’s colleagues, Wake Forest coach Tom Walter, asked how he or anyone could help as Wammer worked his way back.

Mazey was fortunate that he didn’t need to accept donations to help cover Wammer’s medical bills. But meeting other families at the Shepherd Center and hearing their stories, he knew others could use a lending hand.

“The expenses are out of control for these families,” he said. “People have had to sell their homes and quit their jobs to be with their children. We’ve met a lot of these families, and watching them struggle to get by, I knew we had to do something.”

That’s how teamwammer.com was born. It’s a website to raise money to defray the costs of physical rehabilitation for families who need help. The initial goal was to raise $100,000 in the first 100 days. Team Wammer reached that mark in a little more than a week, and the total is still climbing.

“The more we get into it, the more I get excited about the opportunity to help people,” Mazey said.

AT 55, Mazey knows what it takes to be successful, and he knows how easily things can go awry. He has a job he loves, players who support him and a family he adores. And he owes it all to baseball.

But on March 9, Mazey got thrown a curveball. While others might have buckled at the knees and froze, Mazey did what you do with a breaking ball: You adjust.

Wammer is on the mend and there’s no reason to think the injury was anything other than a setback. And many families are soon going to be getting a helping hand, thanks to baseball and good people who are able to lend their support.

At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Mazey will be honored for being one of the best baseball players the county has ever seen. He is proud of his career, and he is humbled by the honor.

But he knows it’s not that important. He can look at his son and know that bad days do come, but they don’t last.

“I have learned something from this,” Mazey said. “No matter what happens to you in life, you can find a positive in it.”