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    A Special Day in Baseball -- For Those Who Appreciate Any Sport

    Bill Malchisky  June 28 2015 09:25:57 PM
    I make no grand illusions about being a professional baseball fan (which is short for fanatic), I leave that to my friends like Curious Mitch and Chris Whisonant for example, who love their respective teams. I like the game, listen to radio broadcasts when I can and that is enough for me. Today though, was something of a dream for any child who seeks to play professional sports. That special event occurred in New York City, on Citi Field, with the Mets on Sunday, 28 June 2015. Today, a young Steve Matz, made his MLB (Major League Baseball) debut. Why is that such a special event, as rookies play every year? Regardless of one's favorite sport, any story like this, with such a debut can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys any sport.

    Mr. Matz grew-up on Long Island which makes him a local boy to the New York ball clubs. As a child, he loved the Mets and even dreamed of playing for them one day. From that point in his life, too now commenced a highly improbable path showcasing raw determination to play in the big leagues. Many dream of playing pro sports, few actually accomplish that. The Mets Pitching Prospect Report on Steve Matz provides the full history. To summarize, despite being drafted into the farm league in 2009, Mr. Matz had Tommy John surgery very early in his career and took a full two years to rehabilitate, then had shoulder tendonitis. In his fourth year, he finally pitched a full season, worked quite hard, and sought to prove he could play in the pros. Moving through five different teams in the minor leagues, he eventually settled in Las Vegas where he pitched quite well and "got it together". Ultimately, he got bored as per his coach---remarked by Mets Manager Terry Collins during today's post-game interview---and made the case to the Mets coaching staff, that, "It's time." After hearing that multiple times, the Mets called him up. As per Terry Collins, they had today's date picked months ago.

    Today's game got delayed due to Saturday's game being called for rain in the sixth inning. With a tie score, the game had to be continued, which occurred Sunday. As the Mets typically due, it went to extra innings further delaying Mr. Matz's start. If this is your first professional game, with between 130-150 of your friends and family in attendance, playing for the team you love, at home, for the team your family loves, is surreal for many. But to then play at the level he did, achieving the results he did is an incredible experience, matched by very few professional athletes in any sport.

    First on defense, Mr. Matz pitched for 7-2/3 innings, giving up five hits, two earned runs, three walks and six strike outs. His first pitch made it to the back wall. Nerves of course. The same batter hit him deep and got a solo home run. One batter, one run, no outs. Not a great start. Mr. Matz immediately, showed poise of a veteran player and re-focused his play and got the next batter out and out of the inning as he did in the second. When the Reds got their second solo shot off of Mr. Matz two innings later, he was unhappy of course, but immediately re-focused and never let another run score. Each time a pitch was suboptimal, he made an adjustment on the next pitch. That is mental toughness, especially from a rookie pitcher. Early in the game, I saw him throw to second base for a double play. This is a throw that some pitchers have difficulties making, due to the quickness it requires and not being able to use their wind-up. (A similar play put The Yankees in a position to lose Game 7 of The World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 on bunt to the pitcher and an errant throw to second; so it is hardly trivial, in my estimation.)

    What makes this rookie's debut even more special is his hitting ability. In Mr. Matz's own words, "I love to hit. It's fun for me." Most pitchers are at the bottom of the order, and get a pinch hitter in an important situation (which takes them out of the game). For this reason, the American League allows a DH (designated hitter) to hit for the pitcher. If that was the case today, New Yorkers would never have seen such balanced talent. The unexpected contributions pitchers make on offense, is what keeps the National League truer to the roots of baseball for many fans--it is an interesting discussion none-the-less.

    Mr. Matz came to win and wanted to ensure he helped his chances. In his first MLB at-bat, he got a two RBI (Runs Batted In) two base hit. That was huge and put the Mets in the lead. "We needed that." -- Manager Terry Collins said after the game. In fact on offense, Mr. Matz went three for three (3-3) with four RBIs. That is huge offensive game for any ball player--more so for a pitcher. On both sides of the plate, Steve Matz played excellent baseball.

    The win today, caused the Mets to sweep the Reds, while at home. The outing gave the team a much needed confidence boost, in a way that few authors could dream (The Mets offense has been absent recently). The radio broadcaster for the Mets, Howie Rose thought of the big names over the years who started for the Mets and recalled their debut games. A couple were at home, nothing memorable as he recalled--Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry to name a few. This was a story and debut game for the ages. Although I will never say I saw the game at Citi Field, I did listen to it on the radio and watched a few innings on television. Whether your favorite sport is baseball, football, hockey, soccer, or something else, surely you can respect the achievements of a local kid wanting to play so badly for his/her local team, then finally getting the chance after years of injuries and rehab, and having a debut game that will be talked about for a long time, in-front of over 130 friends and family members, while helping his team sweep their opponents. All combined, makes it all the more special. Games like this are very rare. Mr. Matz also gives a great interview too: cordial, humble, and articulate. Nicely done today, Mr. Matz. Continued success to you.

    Five stories from local press with quotes from his family in the first link

    MLB Game Day box score and stats sheet
    Over a year ago, Steve Matz made headlines due to his quality play
    SNY.tv Exclusive Interview from February 2015
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    © 2010 William Malchisky.