What is the most important gift a father can give to his child?
If you answer unconditional love or a top-flight education, you’re right on target. What about providing a supportive and nurturing home life geared toward helping one’s offspring achieve their best? Can’t find fault with that, either.
Yet what if you were fortunate enough to have a father who could deliver on all those fronts and for good measure was a pro athlete? And what if you, his child, stood in a position where chasing after the identical great white whale of athletic prowess was not merely a possibility, but definite?
In Derwin and his son Mason Williams, you’ll find a father-child dynamic paved in wisdom and guile. The former represents the voice of reason, a claim based on a “been there, done that” theory that can’t help but aid the latter in his own ascension through the ranks, which is presently ongoing.
His dad’s presence is an integral part of every move Mason Williams makes as an outfield prospect in the New York Yankees’ farm system. Looking at how his son is quoted in an interview, Derwin Williams can’t help but smile, knowing that his message is getting across.
“Sometimes I’ll say something and wonder if Mason heard me. Then you look at an article and he’ll say something that I said,” acknowledges Derwin Williams, a wide receiver with the New England Patriots from 1984-87. “He did hear me!”
With the calendar showing that it’s the day prior to the 24-hour observance devoted specifically to fatherhood, Derwin Williams explains the prerequisites in raising an up-and-comer. It’s the story of a father who aspires to see his own flesh and blood achieve, a sentiment that falls in line with the desire that all fathers have – that their own kids live in a world that supplants the one they inhabited.
MASON WILLIAMS SPENT his formative years growing up in Pawtucket, attending St. Teresa School and playing Little League for Darlington American. His baseball acumen was so advanced and to illustrate this, Derwin Williams shared a story about the time 11-year-old Mason played in an All-Star game in Bristol, Conn.
The Darlington American squad, with current Pawtucket City Councilman Chris O’Neill serving as the head coach and Derwin in an assistant’s capacity, clung to a 3-2 lead in the last inning. A pitching change was made with Mason brought in from shortstop. The opposition had runners on the corners with one out.
The first batter Mason faced was heavyset. The pitcher got exactly what he and the team desperately needed, a sharp grounder back to the mound that froze the baserunners in their tracks. In most instances, the correct play would be to glance toward third base and make sure the runner is not breaking for the plate before tossing to first.
Mason had another idea. Upon flawlessly fielding his position, he spun around and fired a throw toward second base. The problem was that neither the shortstop nor the second baseman was covering the bag. The ball ended up rolling all the way to the outfield wall with two runs coming around to score in an eventual 4-3 walk-off loss for Darlington American.
Sitting in the car afterwards, Derwin Williams asked his son why he bypassed the sure out at first. “Mason saw that the hitter was on the slow side and wanted to turn the double play that would have ended the game. He was always thinking ahead and so instinctive. Every time we put him into something, he excelled well.”
Like the time Mason played up in age for the South Shore Seadogs, an AAU club based out of Quincy, Mass. According to the father, Mason had few equals on the diamond – that is until the Seadogs traveled to Florida to face a higher caliber of competition that was unlike anything that the youngster and his teammates had come across.
“We would get our butts handed to us because those kids play all year round,” was the picture painted by Derwin Williams.
Derwin doesn’t sugarcoat why he relocated his family – wife Colleen along with Mason and younger brother Kobe – from Pawtucket to Winter Garden, Florida following the completion of the seventh grade at St. Teresa.
“Yes, it was to expose him to better competition,” says 51-year-old Derwin, these days a district manager for JM&A Group. “I looked and I saw that Mason did very well [compared to R.I. preteen ballplayers] and had a shot to get a scholarship. What I didn’t know was if he was a Division I, II or III prospect. He was thin and frail, but he always did well.
“When we moved to Florida, we got to see him play against better competition and he still did very well,” added Derwin, also noting that for age purposes, Mason repeated the seventh grade at his new school in the Sunshine State (Mason will turn 21 on August 21). “We wanted to give him more of an advantage.”
As Mason would discover, the advantages his father laid at his feet would prove quite advantageous.
DERWIN WILLIAMS WAS one of the top playmakers on the Brownwood (Texas) High School football squad. Accolades would seek him out like a magnet – all except one that to this very day still causes some angst. In his senior year, the team MVP award went to someone else, a decision that Derwin simply let roll off his shoulders, but not everyone was as quick to turn the page.
“Some family members came to me in tears,” recalls Derwin. “As a young kid I didn’t understand the situation. I smiled and moved on.”
It wasn’t until years later that Derwin questioned the possibility of power players controlling every single aspect to the point that it can actually prove detrimental to someone else’s chance at achieving success. As Mason Williams progressed deeper into his tenure at Florida’s West Orange High, his father started to notice a trend in the stands, one that troubled him.
There was a precipitous drop-off in the number of college scouts checking out Mason with MLB talent evaluators taking their place.
Fast forward to the first game of the teenager’s senior year in 2010. Mason had just recorded an out and voiced his displeasure while in the dugout. The head coach was not pleased with this sudden outburst and ejected him, not taking into account the 30-40 scouts who were in the stands.
That same day, Derwin Williams found out from a family friend why the college coaches had taken a gigantic step back in pursuing Mason. It was revealed to Derwin that someone within the West Orange program was spreading false rumors about Mason, telling any college recruiter who was interested that “he was a head case and doesn’t hustle.”
Naturally, Derwin was livid. It also caused him to reflect on his own perceived high school injustice when he felt people played favorites. A day after Mason’s abrupt dismissal from the game, Derwin and Colleen Williams sat down with the West Orange head coach.
Emotions ran high over the next few days as Mason’s senior season hung in the balance. By Friday night, Mason asked Derwin to accompany him to the field as he was prepared to clean out his locker. Mason could not stomach too much more of this saga – besides the unflattering remarks to college personnel, whether he would pitch or not also proved to be another major bone of contention – and was fully prepared to sit out his final year of high school baseball.
“I told him to slow down and think about it over the weekend,” was how Derwin chose to stop Mason from jumping off the cliff. “Monday came and he was back on the team after his teammates voted him back on.”
Turning the page, Mason enjoyed the type of senior season for West Orange that reaped a most satisfying reward. In June 2010, the Yankees selected him in the fourth round and eventually provided him with $1.45 million reasons why he should turn pro (Note: Mason had previously committed to the University of South Carolina).
Thanks to processing what his father was preaching, a more mature Mason was starting to grasp the magnitude of the entire package. Once the smoke cleared in a difficult situation, he realized he had just two main concerns – hitting and catching a baseball, two traits that have made him one of the brightest stars in New York’s minor-league system.
DERWIN WILLIAMS WAS drafted in the seventh round of the 1984 NFL draft after playing college football at the University of New Mexico. He received one letter from an agency, and upon the arrival of a representative who had flown down to the school, Derwin quickly signed on the dotted line.
“It was take it or leave it,” Derwin says. “I didn’t know anybody else.”
Contrast that to Mason Williams. All told, eight agencies expressed significant interest in taking him on as a client. In the end, Excel Sports Management, an agency whose client roster includes Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter, wound up being the choice.
“What I wanted for Mason is for him to have the best representation because I didn’t have that luxury,” Derwin Williams said.
The ink on the agency papers had not even dried when Derwin sought to put Mason at ease. “I told him, ‘Go out and perform. Your mother and I will worry about the business aspect.’”
HERE’S WHERE HAVING a father who played at the highest level comes in handy. Football and baseball might be different animals, but both sports adhere to a strict code that stems from not backing down in the slightest. As Derwin tells Mason, you constantly have to remain on top of your game.
“Related to my pro ball, when I was in training camp, all (the wideouts) would do is catch balls off the jugs machine and run routes. Now, training camp is over and I’m on the scout team, yet my patterns have to stay sharp,” Derwin said. “What I saw down in Tampa [spring training home of the Yankees] one time is that there was a station for hitting right-handed pitching and a station for hitting lefties. You hit curveballs and everything else so that you’re timing is still there.
“During the regular season, you may take 18 swings during batting practice, then another 3-5 during the game. You don’t get the reps like you did during preseason camp,” Derwin added. “That’s why I tell Mason to get to the ball field as early as possible because that’s how you stay sharp.”
The idea that Mason Williams is a brand is something that isn’t lost on Derwin. A few suggestions his father has made is for his son to be careful of what he puts on his social media accounts – the Yankees follow Mason on Twitter – and adhering to proper judgment when interacting with all types of fans.
“You may come across someone who’s your biggest fan and the time you spend ends up making that person’s day,” Derwin said. “Then there’s the guy who asks you to autograph a dozen baseballs. I tell Mason that they’re probably going to end up on eBay or Craig’s List. Sign one and if someone asks you to sign multiples, reply ‘Who should I sign them to?’”
BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Williams is picking up where he left off in 2010, when he hit .349 for Class A Short-Seasoned Staten Island. Earlier this week, he was named as an injury replacement for next Tuesday’s South Atlantic All-Star Game in Charleston, S.C., where Mason plays his home games for the Yanks’ Low-A affiliate.
To Derwin Williams, it’s his responsibility to make sure that Mason remains in the moment and stays on an even keel. “If Mason has a good game, I’ll tell him the things he needs to work on because that’s what they do in the pros. They don’t tell you that what you did was good; they tell you what you need to do better.”
As he watches Mason continue his baseball education, Derwin does so with a prideful purpose. He has helped Mason come so far as a person and an athlete that there’s no underscoring the pride the father has in his son. All Derwin has to do is look at where Mason is today to realize how his son has benefited from his tutelage.