State College catcher Tyson Cooper couldn’t really help himself. Last spring, the freshman came home from practice every day raving about his high school teammate, starting pitcher Mason Mellott.
Dad, you have to come see Mason Mellott pitch. He’s good. He’s really good.
After a while, Tyson’s dad relented and came to watch Mellott throw. Turns out his dad — Penn State baseball coach Rob Cooper — liked what he saw.
Mellott, a hard-throwing right-hander with a devastating slider, is set to join the Nittany Lions when he wraps up his senior season this spring at State College. And everyone involved was more than pleased to watch him sign his National Letter of Intent just three miles from his next destination, Penn State’s Medlar Field.
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“I just fell in love with it,” Mellott said before a midweek practice. “This has been my dream school, and I’ve always wanted to play for Penn State.”
Without some pushing, that dream may not have come to fruition.
Tyson Cooper, the Little Lions’ starting catcher, said he knew from his first practice with the team last year that Mellott was something special.
Of course, the first few times Tyson brought up Mellott to his dad, Penn State’s coach threw “OK, OK, sure, sure”-type answers.
“But he kept coming back,” Rob Cooper said with a grin. “At one point, he was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to do your job for you, but you need to check him out.’ ”
Thankfully, the coach trusts his oldest son’s judgment. After finally finding a game that fit schedule-wise, where Mellott was starting and Cooper was free, the Penn State manager watched as the righty pumped high-80s heat and caught a few batters off-guard with his slider and changeup.
Cooper welcomed Mellott, who owned a 1.86 ERA in six appearances last season, to a camp Penn State held this past summer and suggested he set up a visit. Shortly thereafter, the pitcher took a three-hour tour and had several conversations with Cooper and the Penn State assistant coaches.
This wasn’t the first visit Mellott made, and he didn’t think it’d be the last. He met with coaches from George Washington, and was scheduled to visit Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia Military Institute.
But following a brief talk with his parents 30 minutes after his Penn State tour, Mellott didn’t want to wait any longer — he called up Cooper and committed to Penn State right then and there.
For someone who grew up cheering at wrestling matches and tailgating at Nittany Lion football games with his family, it was an easy decision.
“I know there are a lot of people who go to school here that want to get away from family and go to other places,” Mellott said. “That’s the complete opposite for me. I want my family to see my success.”
Mellott’s current coach believes he’ll have quite a bit of success for his family to bask in.
State College manager Troy Allen said Mellott has “the goods” to compete at the college level right now — a fastball that, when the weather warms up, will sit between 89 and 91 miles per hour, balance-shifting off-speed stuff, and a newly introduced, yet already-effective splitter.
“Right now, he’s that dude,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that’ll contribute right away when he gets to Penn State. He’s a strong lifting program away from being a mid-90s pitcher.”
Allen also said Mellott has “that edge that closers have,” which is where he believes Cooper will use the righty at the next level.
Mellott said he ultimately trusts Cooper to use him in the most effective fashion — which is key, in Allen’s eyes. A standout player at George Washington who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1997, Allen has been taught by some of the best, and he recognizes Cooper’s coaching prowess.
“For Mason, it’s a perfect fit,” Allen said. “(Cooper) gets Mason, and that’s a big deal.”
Mellott isn’t the first player Penn State’s plucked from State College, either. Mellott’s former teammate, freshman pitcher Tucker Triebold, is with the Nittany Lions, and so is senior Tim Scholly. Mellott said it’s encouraging to know Triebold will once again be his teammate — and he hopes State College can act as a “branch campus,” sending players to Penn State in the future.
At the very least, the Nittany Lions are still getting an athlete who’s wanted to play for them his whole life. They’re getting a late-bloomer with high velocity upside and control beyond his years.
And if Tyson Cooper ever goes into scouting, they’re getting his first find.
“We’re really, really excited about his future and what he can bring to the table here,” Rob Cooper said. “He’s going to be a good one.”