Mason Katz reflects on memories with late grandfather, ‘Hippo’ - Sports

Mason Katz reflects on memories with late grandfather, ‘Hippo’

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Posted: Monday, March 25, 2013 5:07 pm | Updated: 3:51 pm, Tue Mar 26, 2013.

The glaring lights hovering ominously above Alex Box Stadium have watched LSU baseball seasons come and go.

They are filled with memories of the magic with which the grounds have become so entangled.

After the past four years, those guardian lights could tell the story of LSU senior first baseman Mason Katz and his journey through life on Skip Bertman Drive. 

Or, the bill of Katz’s baseball cap could tell the stories the lights cannot.

Four sentiments are scrawled above Katz’s face each time he steps from the dugout: a cross, to symbolize his faith and spirituality; “Omaha 2013” to always remind him of the ultimate goal; “One team, one goal,” a motto used by the LSU baseball team; and finally, the name “Hippo.”

Before Katz’s inaugural season in purple and gold, tragedy struck the Katz family when Mason’s grandfather Maurice suddenly passed away from a heart attack. 

Everyone who knew Maurice referred to him as Hippo.

“Unfortunately he passed before he was able to get to see me play here,” Mason said. “He was so proud of me, and he’d go around telling everybody. He was never shy about it. He’d go around telling everybody that his grandson was coming here.”

Mason’s father, Billy, described his late father as Mason’s biggest fan. Maurice never missed a game while his grandson played for Jesuit High School in New Orleans, where Mason competed in a Louisiana High School State Championship.

According to Billy, if Mason hit two home runs, his grandfather would tell people he hit 10. His family described this as the “Hippo factor,” an exaggerated account from a dedicated grandparent.

“After every game, if I hit a home run, he’d be like, ‘I knew you were going to do that,’” Mason joked. “[If he were still alive] he would act like it’s no big deal,  but he’d be super proud and tell me how fun it is being out here watching every day and how it’s a dream come true not only for me, but for him as well.”

Maurice never got to see his grandson don a collegiate uniform like he did for his son who played in the outfield at Tulane, but Mason knows his late grandfather is watching him play from wherever he is. 

Mason said he thinks about his grandfather every time he takes the field.

Billy said he believes his father would have been screaming for LSU coach Paul Mainieri to play his grandson more in his younger seasons and would be saying “I told you so,” now that Mason’s talents have fully bloomed.

While the team engages in a group prayer before each day, Mason takes a moment to talk to his biggest fan.

“I tell him I love him and I wish he could be here in person,” Mason said. “But I know he’s been watching over me for my whole career. … I can’t thank him enough for everything he did while he was here and everything he’s done for me in heaven. The influence he had on me and the support he gave me when I was growing up has driven me every single day.”

According to his father, Mason showed he was athletically gifted from an early age and had the makings of a leader while at Jesuit. 

He participated in everything from hockey to football to golf — a sport his father said could have gotten him to college if not for his dedication to baseball. 

But the future Tiger standout’s first love — much like his father — would always be baseball.

“We were ecstatic [when he got the offer],” Billy said of his son’s signing process with LSU. “It was his dream school. … Knowing [his grandfather], he probably said he signed with the Yankees instead of the Tigers.”

Once in Baton Rouge, Mason had the uphill battle of fighting for playing time on a team fresh off a 2009 national championship win.

Mainieri described Mason as a humble superstar, a hard worker on the field who only wants the best for his school and team.

“That’s the most important leadership of all,” Mainieri said. “He’s somewhat vocal, but he doesn’t have to be vocal to be a leader. He’s just one of those kids everybody loves because he works hard and he’s dedicated to the team.”

The first baseman and his coach said they occasionally engage in what Mainieri called “very frank conversations” about the pulse of the team.

Mason applauded Mainieri for his honest style of coaching even if the things he has to say aren’t what the player wants to hear, and Mason said he’s never short to return the favor to his coach.

Mason attributes his work ethic in part to his grandfather, who he said was so proud of him that it makes him want to work harder each time he steps to the plate.

Mason’s senior season will be filled with lasts, and in a few years he will become a distant memory replaced by the newest group of athletes with their own stories to tell the stadium.

“It’s going to be sad,” Mason said. “I wish I could play here forever, but all good things come to an end, and hopefully my career ends with a win. I’ve had a fantastic career here and I could’ve never imagined playing anywhere else.”

But until the day the walls are brought to ground, the watching lights of Alex Box will store the memories of Mason and his grandfather.

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