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From Mason to Major Leagues

Chris Widger, who played baseball at George Mason from 1990 to 1992, is one of three Patriot players who have made it to the major leagues.

By Jeremy Lasich
Ever since Chris Widger was seven years old, he wanted to play professional baseball. Twenty–two years later, including three at George Mason, he is living his dream as the starting catcher for the Montreal Expos.

It was at George Mason where Widger first got the chance to showcase his talent and make a national name for himself. He considered attending larger schools, such as Florida State University and Louisiana State University, but chose George Mason because of its close proximity to his home in Wilmington, Del., and the chance to be a starter as a freshman.

"I knew I wouldn't get lost if I went to Mason," he says. "I didn't want to be someone's back–up for two or three years. GMU was definitely the right fit for me."

Widger became the second Patriot player to reach the major league level when he made his debut for the Seattle Mariners on June 23, 1995. Pitcher Mike Draper, who beat Widger by two years, spent the 1993 season with the New York Mets before retiring due to injuries. A third George Mason star, outfielder Mike Colangelo, reached the majors on June 14, 1999, and is currently on the Anaheim Angels' disabled list.

Widger played for the Patriots from 1990 to 1992 and promptly scattered his name throughout the record books. He was a two–time All–Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) selection and Most Valuable Player of the 1992 CAA Tournament as he tied a tournament record with nine runs batted in (RBI) in four games. He finished his collegiate career with a .334 batting average and 140 RBI, a team record that was surpassed only this past season.

Widger is also second all–time at Mason with 52 doubles and third all–time with 32 home runs. He was invited to try out for the 1992 Olympic team and was drafted that year by Seattle in the third round, the earliest ever of the 22 Patriot players who have been selected.

"It was a great three years for me. I couldn't have gone anywhere else and had the experience I had at Mason," Widger says. "There are good people at the university and good facilities."

When Widger first came to Mason, he didn't want to play catcher. In high school, he excelled at several different positions, including pitcher, but the Patriot coaching staff convinced him it was his best position and his ticket to playing college and professional ball. Head coach Bill Brown, B.S. '80, was a catcher himself in his playing days, which was instrumental in Widger's development.

"It's not a glamorous position," Widger says. "But Coach Brown helped me a lot. I looked up to him and always took his advice to heart, knowing that he had been a catcher. I knew he had been there."

"Halfway through his freshman year I knew he had a chance to play in the majors," says Brown. "He had the right makeup, and more importantly he had the intangibles: good work ethic and focus. Chris had the chance to play and he just got better and better."

After spending three successful seasons in the minor leagues, Widger made his major league debut in 1995 and has not looked back since. He played a total of 35 games with the Mariners before being traded to Montreal in November 1996. Widger enjoyed his best season in the pros last year, hitting .264 with 14 homeruns and 56 RBI in 124 games. This season, as of July 7, 2000, he is batting .226 with 10 home runs, which is on pace to top his season high of 15 in 1998.

One highlight of Widger's major league career so far is catching the game against the San Diego Padres when all–star Tony Gwynn hit his career milestone of 3,000 hits, a feat only 24 players in the history of the game have achieved. On August 6, 1999, with two outs in the first inning of the game in Montreal, Gwynn hit a line drive single off Dan Smith to reach the milestone. "It was a curve ball, down and in," Widger says. "It couldn't have been more than 8 to 10 inches off the ground. Nine out of ten players would have been out."

In between seasons, Widger lives in New Jersey with his wife and baby. He volunteers as a high school basketball coach and doesn't pick up a baseball until January. "It's important to take a couple of months off from baseball," he says, "and spend quality time with my family."

 

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