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Mussina keeps a low profile, but he is a man of action

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 17th and final story in a 17-part series looking at Mike Mussina’s journey from Montoursville to the National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Nearly everyone around here knows about Mike Mussina the player. Unless they have lived in a cave since January, they also know that the Montoursville legend is a baseball legend who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this afternoon in Cooperstown.

But they know little about Mussina the person.

They do not know about how he tried helping a community heal following the Flight 800 crash in July of 1996 that killed 21 Montoursville residents, including 16 high school students. They do not know that he wrote all 21 victims’ names on the inside of his Baltimore Orioles hat as a way to honor them. They do not know that a year later, Mussina and former Major Leaguer Tom O’Malley helped raise more than $100,000 for Montoursville student Jay Harner who was paralyzed in a freak accident. They do not know about all the money he has donated to various charities, Montoursville schools, athletic teams, athletic fields and the community in general.

They do not know about all the memorabilia he donates, all the autographs he signs, all the time he gives others. They do not know that he gave his former Montoursville baseball coach Carter Giles a game-worn jersey from his 20-win season in 2008. The stories go on and on, but one will never hear Mussina tell them.

Mussina carries himself off the field the way he did on it. He is low profile. He does no self promotion. He is just a man of action.

“People don’t give him enough credit for what he’s done for all of Montoursville sports and all the charity work and all the donations he makes. People forget that,” O’Malley said. “He has done a heck of a lot. He’s quiet about it, but he deserves a lot of credit. He’s very generous and donates a lot of his time and money. That’s what I would like to get across because a lot of people don’t appreciate that part of him.”

Those who know him best do. That is why so many are happy that this day has come.

Mussina has never left Montoursville. He returned every offseason and, at the height of his success, was helping coach the Montoursville football and basketball teams. When he could have traveled around Baltimore or New York in a stretch limo, Mussina was riding in cold school buses during the dead of winter.

When Mussina retired following his 20-win season with the Yankees in 2008, he returned to Montoursville for good. He immediately immersed himself in the community. Mussina began coaching various youth sports and became Montoursville’s boys basketball coach in 2013. There he has led a remarkable turnaround and Montoursville has gone from also-ran to winning the program’s first district championship since 1985. The Warriors also have reached two straight state tournaments and made four straight playoff appearances.

“He doesn’t have to do anything anymore and he still wants to give back,” lifelong friend and former Montoursville teammate Ed Rogers said. “It shows his character.”

Mussina could have kept playing following that 20-win season in 2008. He was sitting at 270 career wins and a return might have boosted his Hall of Fame chances had he put together another strong season, pulled closer to 300 wins and won a 2009 World Series.

As satisfying as reaching those achievements might have been, spending time with his sons Brycen and Peyton was more important and he has been there every step of the way through their athletic journeys. Brycen is now the starting quarterback at Shippensburg, coming off a 3,000-yard season, while Peyton has helped Montoursville win two straight district titles in baseball and reach states in basketball.

Brycen and Peyton play those sports because they want to. Mussina has never pressured them. He has never asked them to be anything but themselves and he is rightfully one proud dad.

Mussina has been away from the Majors long enough that many of Brycen’s and Peyton’s friends know him first as their dad and not a baseball legend. Mussina does not wear his accomplishments as a badge of honor. Everywhere else, Mussina is first known for his baseball greatness. Here, he is just Mike.

“He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s just like one of the boys. You never would know he was a Hall of Famer or a Stanford graduate,” Loyalsock boys basketball coach Ron Insinger said. “He’s really down to Earth. I love his company. I truly enjoy Mike Mussina.”

So do many in this community. And that is without them even knowing all the good he does behind the scenes. He does not do good because he wants the fanfare. Mussina does what is right because that is who he is. He is just Mike.

This is Mussina’s day in the sun. He is now a baseball immortal and his legacy will live on forever in Cooperstown. Just remember, as good as Mussina was on the field he has been even better off it.

“He’s a class act,” Mussina’s Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. “If you know Mike Mussina, you are happy for him.”

Chris Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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