Christian Massey, who graduated recently from Crater High, plugged a hole in the infield for the Grants Pass Nuggets when he moved to second base from center field this summer. - Jamie Lusch

Role Reversal

Like a properly executed double play, the news broke to Christian Massey fast and unflinching.

Massey, who lives in Central Point but plays full time for the Grants Pass Nuggets, was the final recipient of a wild telephone relay early last month.

The center fielder's summer baseball team needed him to move from the outfield to the infield, and they needed him to do it fast. Brandon Drury, a star shortstop for the Nuggets, signed with the Atlanta Braves, leaving an enormous gap. There were only a few days to spare before the American Legion AAA squad's first game.

Realizing his dilemma, Grants Pass head coach Mike Reese ran through his roster, struggling to find any outfielders with middle infield experience. Then a thought dawned on him.

"We went through every single name and I called (assistant) coach Travis Osborne two or three times," Reese recalls. "Then I got this 'ah-ha' moment. I remembered that Massey played shortstop when he was younger. I called coach Osborne and said, 'Let's get him on the horn and see how he feels about it.'

"I talked to Christian's dad and he said that it would be a good challenge. (He said) 'Heck yeah, he can do it.'"

Just like that, Massey had been elected.

"I was surprised," says Massey, who in high school ball was a first-team all-state selection his junior year and a second-team pick his senior season in the outfield. "I though my dad was joking around."

The 18-year-old Crater High graduate — who has since been used at both second base and center field — did have a question before consenting.

"He wanted to know if he could play some center field," Reese says. "I said I could throw him some bones as we go, but we are so thin.

"He was a little skeptical at first, but those things have gone by the wayside and he's handled it well. What more can you ask for?"

Reese says Massey's willingness to change would have been good enough. But the leadoff hitter has provided so much more. He leads the team in hits (43), at-bats (103), runs (24), stolen bases (13) and batting average (.417). Massey also has eight doubles, two triples and three home runs.

And Reese says the teenager embodies commitment. Last week, he received a call from a nervous Massey, who was taking a college placement test.

"He called at 4:45 p.m. in a panic because we had a non-league game later," Reese recalls. "It tells a lot about a person when they care that much. He is here every day ready to play and contribute."

Amid the positional shuffling, Hidden Valley standout Dylan Armanino took over at shortstop, the spot that Drury occupied when he wasn't starting on the mound. Meanwhile, Grants Pass' Brock Dean and Hidden Valley's Mike Suthann have both seen time in center field, along with Massey.

At the plate, Massey says he is seeing the ball and reacting to curveballs better than he did last summer during his first season with the Nuggets (8-21, 1-13 Area 4), a group made up mostly of Grants Pass and Hidden Valley students

"I think I am just jumping on the first pitch better," Massey says. "About midway through league season for school ball, I really started to pick it up and that went into the playoffs. It just came to me."

Looking back, the decision to draw Massey inward made perfect sense. His speed makes him a natural fit, and Grants Pass had a logjam of talented outfielders — what they needed desperately was a solid middle infielder, an area Massey is familiar with. He was a shortstop his freshman year at Crater before being moved to center field his sophomore season.

Still, it was a hard call for Reese to make.

"As a coach, asking a kid to make that move is asking a lot," Reese says. "And we threw it all at him at once."

But to keep the best bats in the lineup, both Massey and Reese were willing to do whatever it took.

"He is a good athlete," Reese says. "His learning curve on the field is so high that it didn't take long. Good athletes respond."

Says Massey: "It is different than reading a fly ball. Now, I'm counting hops, focusing on relays, covering bags. The first couple games, it was weird coming back in."

Looking at his future, Massey says he would like to continue playing baseball at the collegiate level. His only stipulation?

"I just want to be on the field," he says.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail

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