The degree of devotion, however, depends upon whom you speak to.
"Sometimes I like to pepper the kids with a Nerf football when they're playing dodgeball," says pitcher Dave Shepard, a junior. "Once in a while they——you off," he says, "and you have to pepper 'em."
That reminds us: The Mounties may not be paragons of the baby-sitting ideal—for example, the kids' most popular player is first baseman Tom McCauley, who answers to the nickname Kegger—but they are an ideal small-college baseball team.
"I saw them play at the Division II College World Series in Montgomery [ Ala.] last June," says one NCAA official. " Mansfield sure does enjoy putting dents in fences."
Indeed, the Mounties can pound a baseball. In his nine years as coach, Hillson has never had a team bat below .324. (The 1995 team, which has a record of 33-13, is batting .360.) Last year the Mounties' .371 average was the best in Division II.
"If you can hit," says leadoff batter Pete Peters, "Coach will find a spot for you in the field." Peters's .422 average is third-best on the team.
The Mounties also have an ace on the mound in Shepard. In addition to peppering kids with Nerf balls, Shepard overpowers opposing hitters with a nasty split-fingered pitch and a 94-mph fastball. He played for the Orleans Cardinals in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer and sported a 1.87 ERA as a reliever. He was considered the league's top pro prospect despite the presence of such notables as Tennessee's first baseman, Todd Helton, and Southern Cal's shortstop, Gabe Alvarez.
This past April, Shepard pitched the first game of a doubleheader against Shippensburg, and at least 15 scouts brought radar guns to clock his pitches. Said Atlanta Brave scout Joe Caputo of Shepard, "He's got all the god-given tools plus a mean split-finger. That kid's major league."
Major league? From Mansfield? Actually, over the years several Mansfield players, including Tom Brookens, Joe Shante and Hall of Fame infielder and manager Hughie Jennings, have made it to the majors. Furthermore, Mansfield is the only school in the country to have played in each of the last three Division II College World Series, finishing second in 1992, and fifth in '93 and '94.
"Southern kids used to think Northern kids didn't know how to play baseball because of the weather," says senior catcher John Michael Cook, who hails from Elmira, N.Y. Cook has been to three consecutive College World Series, though his first World Series trip was not to Montgomery, site of the Division II tournament, but to Omaha, where Division I teams play their series. "I was a catcher for Florida State for a year," he says. Indeed, as a freshman on the 1992 Seminole squad, Cook batted .363 in 91 at bats.