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Smithtown resident Aiden Eddelson, 9, in the booth with SportsNet New York’s broadcasters during the bottom of the third inning. Photo from SportsNet New York

If you asked Smithtown fourth-grader Aidan Eddelson about the New York Mets, he could tell you the batting average of most players on the team. He could tell you where most pitchers like to pitch to outfielder Brandon Nimmo and can tell you which player thinks he’s the best dancer.

“[Shortstop Amed] Rosario’s from the Dominican Republic, he bats right, and he also thinks he’s the best dancer on the Mets,” Aidan said, speaking live from SportsNet New York broadcast booth Sept. 26.

The 9-year-old fan was given the opportunity to be the SportsNet New York’s kidcaster during the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Atlanta Braves versus New York Mets game Sept. 26. The SNY Kidcaster Contest asks young Mets fans to submit a video of them broadcasting a home run made by Nimmo in a previous Mets game. Only a few days after Aidan mailed his submission, he was asked to join the station’s veteran broadcasters Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in their booth. The professionals said they were surprised how knowledgeable young Aidan was about the team.

“I did not know that,” Hernandez said, when he heard Aidan comment on Rosario’s dancing capability.

Aidan was paying attention to the players warming up for their turn at bat.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not.”

— Roie Eddelson

“I actually saw him dancing over there before, and he was dancing when he was getting ready,” the young Mets fan said.

Aidan and his father, Brian, spent several hours in the days before the broadcast researching the team so they could be prepared. While Aidan knew those at bat would be at the bottom of the lineup, he didn’t know who exactly would be standing at the plate.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not,” Aidan’s mother, Roie, said. “To be 9 years old and accomplish that is just something we’ll never forget.”

Everyone in the Eddelson family is a Mets fan, especially with his parents being born in Queens and Brooklyn. That enthusiasm has bled down into Aidan and his 6-year-old brother, Jack.

Aidan, who attends Mount Pleasant Elementary school, watched his first Mets game during the 2015 World Series when the Mets faced the Cincinnati Reds. He has been a dedicated fan ever since, saying he and the rest of his family have done their best to never miss a game.

Despite the family’s lifelong commitment to the team, it will never stop them from complaining about how they perform each season.

“They always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason,” Aidan said. “They were first this year and last year, and then they just went down.”

“[The Mets] always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason.”

— Aidan Eddelson

Nonetheless, Aidan’s mother said she and her family will always believe in their home team. Her husband confirmed it.

“This year, they ended on a high note,” Aidan’s father said.

Aidan said he plays little league hockey, soccer and baseball, where his favorite position is catcher. If he had a choice of career, it would either be a major league sports player or sports broadcaster. Therefore, it was really heartening for Aidan to hear, at the end of the broadcast, the veteran game pundits had only encouraging words for the young superfan.

“You did a fantastic job, you were so well prepared, and you had great notes,” Cohen said. “Ronny might become the general manager, Keith might retire, so there might be a spot in the booth before we know it.”

This post has been amended to reflect the correct spelling of young Eddelson.

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Sports agent Burton Rocks, right, a former Three Village Central School District student, recently negotiated a six-year $26 million contract for St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong. Photo by Scott Rovak

By Anthony Petriello

A Ward Melville High School grad recently scored a home run in the world of sports.

A success story in the making, Burton Rocks, 46, has overcome great adversity to make history in Major League Baseball as a sports agent. Having worked a historic six-year, $26 million deal for St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong in the spring, Burton has now reached the upper echelon of sports agents. DeJong’s contract may be worth more than $51 million due to an option to earn more money in the last two years of the contract, which makes it the largest ever awarded to a first-year player in MLB history.

To garner the tremendous success he has achieved, Rocks has overcome a debilitating illness — life-threatening asthma — which he has suffered with since he was a young child. As a student at Ward Melville High School, Rocks said he missed many days in class due to his constant battle with the most extreme form of asthma. He had a passion for band — having played the clarinet and the saxophone — but was rarely able to play at concerts due to his illness, which continued throughout his school years.

As a middle school student at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Rocks said he felt like an outsider due to his absences and had an issue with bullying when he was present.

“I was the outsider kid with the inhaler,” he said. “But you have to accept what God gives you and move on, and I don’t hold any grudges.”

Rocks said his parents, who still live in the Three Village area, sacrificed a lot for him. His father, world-renowned chemist and author Lawrence Rocks, spent much of his time caring for his son, in and out of the hospital, during his childhood. Rocks said his father always made sure he came back home each night, even when he was away on business.

“My dad used to bring me up food from the coffee shop as a treat when he would come visit me late at night after a business trip,” he said. “My dad might’ve been Dr. Rocks to the world, but to me he was Dad. He was there in the morning every day to wake me up, and at night every night to tuck me in.”

“I was the outsider kid with the inhaler. But you have to accept what God gives you and move on, and I don’t hold any grudges.”

— Burton Rocks

Burton Rocks’ mother, Marlene, a former substitute teacher at Ward Melville, spent just as much, if not more time by his bedside. Rocks said his mother quit her job as a Spanish teacher in New York City to spend more time with him.

When Rocks was able to attend school, he did his best to overcome the difficulty of missing so much class time. He had a special connection with his eighth-grade social studies teacher, Dan Comerford, with whom he still keeps in touch. Comerford worked at Ward Melville as a teacher from 1968–2001 and now lives in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida, where he is the mayor and the police commissioner. Comerford had fond memories of meeting Rocks in the mid-1980s, when he helped the junior high school student overcome a bullying problem.

“Because he wasn’t there a lot, there was a lot of work to be made up,” Comerford said. “My goal always [with Rocks] was to tell him to relax and take it easy. He was and is a worrier, but that’s what makes him a fantastic agent, he’s a detail man. I made it my mission back then to take care of him and make sure he wasn’t being picked on by anyone.”

Even during high school, Rocks said he frequently visited St. Charles Hospital due to his condition, but was still able to complete multiple Advanced Placement classes including AP Chemistry, AP Calculus and AP Spanish. Rocks graduated in 1990 and attended Stony Book University, where he graduated with a degree in history in 1994. Rocks continued his education at Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University and graduated with a juris doctor degree in 1997.

During law school, Rocks said he had the unique opportunity to go on scouting missions with the late Clyde King, who was a close friend of Rocks’ father and was special adviser to George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees. Rocks was given the chance to read through the original handwritten scouting reports from Steinbrenner, information that was and still is undisclosed to the public. Rocks also had the opportunity to have an informal pitching tryout at King’s home in North Carolina in 1995, but while he was a great pitcher on his own accord, King did not feel he was ready for the major leagues due to his health issues.

Burton Rocks as a child with his mother Marlene Rocks, a former Ward Melville substitute teacher. Photo from Burton Rocks

The late Norma King, Clyde’s wife, once spoke about Rocks, as recalled by the sports agent: “Clyde always said ‘When one door closes another door opens.’ Burton is living proof of that expression. He threw for Clyde here [in North Carolina] but his health precluded him from playing professionally. When that door closed, he turned to writing.”

After the realization that his option to play professional baseball would not come to fruition, Rocks focused on his writing. He said he worked with King on his memoir “A King’s Legacy: The Clyde King Story” which was released in 1999. Not long after he graduated college, Rocks worked on his second memoir and co-authored the 2003 New York Times best-selling book “Me and My Dad: A Baseball Memoir” with Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill.

After writing several books, Rocks said he founded the C.L. Rocks Corporation, a sports agency, in 2008. Rocks implemented what he called “the quantified intangibles metric” in his evaluation of MLB players. This metric measured a player’s life experiences and adversities prior to becoming a professional baseball player and took those into account when measuring a player’s value to a team. Rocks looked back at his own adversities as a child and young adult and saw that those life experiences hold value when drafting a player or coach who will be performing in front of millions of people.

“As a kid, you search for answers to feel normal, and this is what I bring to the table,” Rocks said. “That was, for me, a cathartic product of my search. I realized I could apply it to business. I said to myself, ‘Can I find coaches or players that coach or play well because they’ve overcome adversity and know how to channel it into wins?’”

Ward Melville's Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

When Ben Brown was 2 years old he’d break windows throwing baseballs, dreaming of being drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Now, the 6-foot, 6-inch Ward Melville pitcher is living that dream. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round on the third and final day of the MLB Amateur Draft.

He watched and waited as the names rolled by. He wasn’t shocked, but the suspense was killing him.

“When I found out, it was such a relief,” Brown said. “I jumped up really high and I gave my mom a big hug. It’s such an incredible blessing.”

Ward Melville sophomore pitcher Ben Brown hurls a pitch from the mound in the Patriots’ 6-0 game three loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on June 4. Photo by Bill Landon

The stress of waiting was almost too much for his mother. She contemplated going to visit her father to take her mind off the stress.

“I’ve been watching this pot too long,” Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown said as she got ready to walk out the door.

Urged to stay, she decided to pull laundry off the line instead, and sat down with her iPad to watch the draft ticker. Moments later, she heard him scream.

“I heard him screaming before I even saw his name pop up,” she said, laughing. “Luckily I was still here. It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball. He did it, and I never doubted he could.”

Brown amassed a 15-3 record over his career as a Patriot, tied for second on the school’s all-time wins list. He went 7-0 during the regular season in his sophomore year, and after a loss in the playoffs, went 3-0 to start his junior year.

He hadn’t given up a single run, but then an unexpected challenge put his resolve to the test.

Brown’s appendix burst, and he needed emergency surgery. He lost 20 pounds during his setback.

“He was very, very sick,” Wilson-Brown said. “He thought he had struggles before that, and to come out even stronger and more determined, I think that’s why we’re here today.”

During his time away from the mound, the strength Wilson-Brown saw in her son is why she said she knows he has what it takes to climb the ranks and make it to the big leagues.

“It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball.”

—Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown

“Dreams do come true,” she said. “This kid has been holding onto that dream for dear life, all of his life, and someone watching as closely as I could, as a parent — he’s a good boy with a good heart and this is so much-deserved.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci saw it, too.

“It was a long road for him and he had to work hard,” he said. “Everybody roots for Ben. He’s just a good kid and he’s done a good job.”

The sight of scouts is nothing new at Ward Melville, so when they came to see Brown, he relished it.

“I think every game I pitch in is a big game, but with the scouts there it made everything intensified,” he said. “Every little mistake was a big mistake, and I had to be on my best all the time. I really liked that.”

Petrucci said he liked how it lit up the rest of the team.

“Ben’s a gamer,” he said, laughing. “Ben’s a competitor. Would he get excited when the scouts were there? Sure. But I think the people that were most excited about having the scouts there were his teammates, because they love Ben.”

The two-year captain follows in the footsteps of Ward Melville draftees Anthony Kay in 2016 and Steve Matz in 2009. He pitched in front of Matz during a training session with Petrucci in seventh grade, before Matz was called up to pitch for the New York Mets. He was 6 feet tall then.

“I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

— Ben Brown

“They’re two really great people, and it’s really cool to be in the same ranks as Anthony Kay and Steven Matz,” Brown said. “We have a phenomenal program, and it’s no surprise guys are getting drafted. Lou has been through it all and he really guided me through this process.”

Petrucci actually first met Brown when he was in his class at Minnesauke Elementary School. After seeing him go 7-0 in his sophomore season, he knew his pitcher was on his way to a standout high school career. He watched Brown top out at 92 mph his senior season and have a strong showing in front of the Phillies brass two weeks before the draft, and he knew success was only a few picks away.

“We knew it was coming,” he said. “It was a matter of when.”

Now it’s only a matter of time before Brown is in the major leagues, the head coach said. As the youngest player picked by the Phillies — born Sept. 9, 1999 — Petrucci noted Brown could pitch three years in the minor leagues and still be a teenager.

“I think his determination and dedication to baseball is what sets him apart from the average high school pitcher,” Petrucci said. “If he signs and forgoes college, he’ll be in the big leagues in five years. No question in my mind.”

Commack’s Jesse Berardi and Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell were also selected by the Phillies this year. Morrell, the second player to win back-to-back Yasterzemski Awards — given to the best player in Suffolk County — was picked in the 35th round. Morrell trained with Brown at Infiniti Performance in Port Jefferson Station.

Ward Melville’s Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

“Brian and I are really close,” he said. “He’s such a great kid. We actually joked about getting drafted to the same team, and we didn’t think it would happen.”

Brown has committed to play baseball at Siena College in Albany, but after being drafted, he’s more determined than ever.

“It makes me more motivated to become a better baseball player,” he said. “I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

His mother said she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“This is his dream — How do you take that away from a kid?” Wilson-Brown said. “We couldn’t even consider. The joy in this house that day was something I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that moment.”

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contract. If a player opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years. But Petrucci is already dreaming up Matz or Kay versus Brown scenarios.

“They’re making baseball relevant—it’s nice to see Long Island baseball get the recognition it deserves,” Petrucci said. “To see these kids pursue their dreams and have their dreams unfold right before our very eyes, that’s what you want to see. We all work to see kids realize their dreams, and Ben Brown was the next in line.”

Shoreham-Wading River's Brian Morrell was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.

After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a 24-2 record and Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. Last week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, who was recently playing for Chipola College in Florida, was selected by Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.

The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.

“An absolute honor to be drafted by the Phillies today,” Morrell posted on Twitter. “Thank you to all of the people who have supported me over my baseball career.”

The feared slugger batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs while scoring 37 runs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. His first loss didn’t come until the Long Island championship game against Wantagh. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.

Shoreham-Wading River head coach Kevin Willi had his iPad close by at all times once the draft was underway. He cleaned out his coach’s office at the high school, did chores around the house, and finally, his young sensation’s name came across the screen. He gasped.

“This is awesome,” he shouted.

Willi was supposed to be having a birthday dinner with his family, after foregoing a birthday celebration the night before to attend the player awards dinner, but it had to be put off for at least another night. He immediately picked up the phone to call all the coaches he knew.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell is a 6-foot, 1-inch right-handed pitcher who is committed to Notre Dame University. File photo by Bill Landon

“It was a good birthday present,” Willi said of the back-to-back historic days for Shoreham-Wading River and for his 6-foot, 1-inch right-hander. “With each name that was posted I was keeping tabs. It’s exciting for him and it’s exciting for the program.”

Although Willi said it was expected, he added how interesting it was to see how the draft process works with a Notre Dame University-commit like Morrell, who has almost a full scholarship valued at nearly $300,000, according to Willi. Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

After seeing about five scouts at each game, Willi was waiting with anticipation for that special moment for his senior, but he didn’t expect that to be the case for Morrell, since the hurler has always stayed cool under pressure.

“Brian works his tail off, and he does the right thing,” Willi said. “The first couple times the scouts were out, the guys were a little awestruck, but Brian has always been team-first.”

Morrell had one of his biggest showings in a no-hitter against Bayport-Blue Point April 27. At least five scouts were in the stands to see him nail down 15 strikeouts with three walks while tossing the seven scoreless frames. He topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun. A scout who came from Massachusetts and got caught in traffic, according to Willi, only caught the last inning, though he still got to see Morrell comfortably throwing each pitch at 92 mph late in the game.

“It was good for the scouts to be there and see some of his best stuff,” Willi said. “[Being drafted had] been on his mind all season, but he never let it reflect on his performance or how he treated anyone. He didn’t try to throw 100 mph and not care if he wins the game — he never had that attitude. He always did what he needed to do to win the game. He was never selfish. He never tried to impress. He just wanted to win.”

Scouts were also impressed with his body of work.

Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round. Photo from St. John’s University athletics

Jarred Carrier, New York’s scouting director for Prep Baseball Report, dubbed Morrell New York’s Baseball Player of the Year.

“The 2017 high school season yielded many stellar individual performances across all corners of New York, but one player stood above the rest,” he said. “He delivered a statistically dominant season.”

Despite Morrell’s success, the 10-year coach and three-year varsity leader in no way takes credit for what his player has become.

“One of my coaching philosophies is that a player should be coached by many coaches,” Willi said. “One guy doesn’t have all the answers. There’s different strokes for different folks. Everybody had different body types, different talents, different skills in the game, and I think they should be exposed to many coaches. There’s a couple of things I taught Brian that he can take to the next level, and that makes me proud as a coach.”

An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.

“It’s sweet,” Willi said immediately upon hearing the news. “It’s really cool. To have coached six years total of varsity including assistant and head coach, I’ve had three players during that time get drafted that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell shows excitement following his two-run home run during a WIldcats win. Photo by Bill Landon

This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted by the Pirates and Julio Vega by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a leader on the field,” Willi said of Tyler Osik, who played third base for the Wildcats. “He switched to catcher, which is interesting, because he’s followed the run of his father. He’s one of the Shoreham die-hard baseball kids. He loves the game, puts tons of effort into being the best and he did a good job listening to his coaches. I’m really happy to see his success.”

Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft included Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, who was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.

St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season.

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact, but Morrell is already settling in as part of the Fighting Irish.

“To have that kind of recognition, us coaches are proud of any kind of professional looks that we get,” Willi said. “Brian got the opportunities that many kids dream of. It’s a big decision on what path you’re going to take, but I reassured him whatever path he takes, it’s going to be a fun one. If he keeps working hard he’s going to be successful.”

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, Mount Sinai's Michael Donadio among other Suffolk players taken this week

Shoreham-Wading River's Brian Morrell was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round. File photo by Bill Landon
Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell is a 6-foot, 1-inch right-handed pitcher who is committed to Notre Dame University. File photo by Bill Landon

It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.

After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. This week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.

To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.

The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.

Morrell batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.

An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, who was recently playing for Chipola College in Florida, was selected by Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted to the Pirates and Julio Vega to the San Francisco Giants.

Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

The 6-foot, 1-inch pitcher is committed to attend the University of Notre Dame, and was hoping to hear his name called in earlier rounds, according to Shoreham-Wading River’s head coach Kevin Willi, but with the way the draft is set up with signing bonuses, especially in regards to college commits with big scholarships, it can be unpredictable when a player will be picked.

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact. If Morrell opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years.

Ward Melville’s Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

It’s also the second straight year a Shoreham player was drafted. Mike O’Reilly, a 2012 graduate and former Yastrzemski winner, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and is currently pitching for the Peoria Chiefs in Class A. The Phillies also drafted Hauppauge’s Nick Fanti, another Yastrzemski award winner, in 2015.

Ben Brown of Ward Melville was also selected by the Phillies Wednesday. The 6-foot, 6-inch right-handed pitcher was taken in the 33rd round.

Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft include Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.

St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season. Berardi posted a .356/.456/.462 slash line and earned first-team All Big East Conference honors. Three years ago, the 5-foot, 10-inch, 185-pound shortstop was taken out of high school in the 40the round by the Phillies.

Dana Cavalea inside his Inspired training facility on Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Work was too far away for one North Shore native, so he decided to bring his work home.

After interning as a strength and conditioning coach for the New York Yankees during college, Dana Cavalea found himself taking the 4 a.m. train into Manhattan each morning to work at Sports Club/LA in New York City, where Derek Jeter’s trainer told him he could get all celebrity clients.

“I had to take a train out of Ronkonkoma to get to work, and it wasn’t for me,” Cavalea said.

So the Mount Sinai graduate and former ballplayer got down to business, and built one.

In 2014, Cavalea opened ML Strength in Huntington and Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson to try to mimic the success of his first location, which opened in White Plains in 2011, as a training facility that originally catered to professional athletes. It was very exclusive, but Cavalea decided to open the business’s doors once he realized he had a pretty cool concept going.

Photos of Dana Cavalea and the Yankees hang on the walls inside Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Photos of Dana Cavalea and the Yankees hang on the walls inside Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Our proprietary mix, what makes it so special that people can’t really get anywhere else, is I basically looked at what I used to do with [professional] athletes: the sports medicine, athletic training department and physical therapy, and the nutrition and recovery part — and I basically extracted that department, and created a consumer model out of it,” he said. “Someone that is not Derek Jeter can go get that level of care in a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment.”

Cavalea was never judged during his rise in the world of training professional athletes, he said.

While attending the University of South Florida to earn a degree in exercise science, at just 19 years old he found himself working as an assistant for the Yankees during spring training.

“I ended up weaving myself into the fabric of the organization,” Cavalea said.

Once an assistant position opened up, Cavalea was brought on board permanently, and just three months into the season, after a pattern of hamstring injuries for players, the head strength coach was fired and Cavalea was moved up.

“When you injure a professional athlete, you can be disabling a $300 million asset. So I come in and I train my staff the same way, to look at our costumers as if they have that dollar value attached to them, because it will force you to give a high level of care.”

— Dana Cavalea

“You’re in your early 20s and it’s like hanging out with the Rolling Stones,” he said. “My Mick Jagger was Derek Jeter and the backup artists were Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, so it was really cool to have that opportunity to work alongside that caliber of talent at such a young age. It showed that age doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean qualified or not qualified.”

Cavalea held that position from 2007-13, when he was not brought back to the team after management said it wanted to go in a different direction. That’s when he took the opportunity to expand his brand, opening up two new locations within a year of each other. The training location in Huntington, at 310 New York Ave., and Inspired in Port Jefferson, at 156 E. Main Street, which focuses more on rehabilitation, weight loss, strength improvement and pain relief, instead of just catering to training athletes.

“Unfortunately the fitness world can be misleading,” Inspired manager Caroline Silva said in an interview. “The educational part of it is huge. Athletes want to go far but don’t have a good foundation, or so many adults that want to keep active but give up because their knee hurts, so the educational part is huge and that’s how Inspired has inspired me. And Dana wants every little town to have that.”

That’s the bigger picture for Cavalea: To continue to bring on more physical therapy and exercise science professionals, like Silva, who played European handball and danced contemporary and jazz in Brazil, and expand the brand profile coast to coast, so that each town can have its own ML Strength or Inspired.

“We get a lot of athletes from Mount Sinai that come here injured, and it’s fun to be able to help them achieve their goals and create a place that I didn’t have,” Cavalea said of giving back to his community. “I didn’t have this and I needed something like this when I tore my hamstring as a high school athlete. It hindered my play through high school and through college, so if I had something like this, it would’ve truly helped me.”

The experience at Inspired can be described as “full service.”

Clients walk are greeted by name when they enter, put on a table to be stretched, massaged and to receive acupuncture. Next comes strength, conditioning and weight training, followed by more stretching and a visit to the complimentary sauna before leaving. The program is also tailored to the individual. Inspired offers yoga classes, and all training is done with a maximum of 15 people, because Cavalea wants to keep it personal.

Inspired by ML Strength features private personal training and rehabilitation programs tailored to each client. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Inspired by ML Strength features private personal training and rehabilitation programs tailored to each client. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“You lose the why behind what you’re doing,” he said of a larger group setting. “What I did with these guys for so many years was so personal. You had to know everything about them, learn every nuance and issue that they have and when you miss something, that’s when risk creeps up and you can really hurt somebody. When you injure a professional athlete, you can be disabling a $300 million asset. So I come in and I train my staff the same way, to look at our costumers as if they have that dollar value attached to them, because it will force you to give a high level of care.”

Silva said clients are treated like they’re the pros, too.

“We have things that athletes use like the recovery boot, they come and they use and feel like the pros, and get treated like them too,” she said. “It makes them feel special and gives them motivation to keep going.”

Cavalea has helped patients at Inspired regain mobility in their arms, gain strength to walk up and down stairs again, and said just recently he helped a foot-and-ankle doctor regain mobility after a total right knee replacement. He said the doctor just hiked the Alps in Europe for eight consecutive days.

“I always wanted to create a brand that stands for something,” he said. “This has allowed me to train in health, wellness and fitness in a way that all people can benefit from.”

Astros second baseman and catcher is originally from Kings Park

Craig Biggio and wife Patty greet the crowd at an MLB Hall of Fame induction parade. Photo by Clayton Collier

By Clayton Collier

Much like he did during his 20-year playing career, Craig Biggio left it all out on the field Sunday.

However, instead of an orange-and-white Houston Astros jersey and eye black, the former catcher and second baseman was donning a navy blue suit and a touch of perspiration seeping from his forehead on the hazy summer afternoon, with the hair above his ears just beginning to show signs of graying.

Instead of coming to bat before a packed Astrodome or Minute Maid Park, Biggio took to the podium in front of an estimated 45,000 people on the grassy plain behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown to accept his induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.

Grinning ear-to-ear as he began his 17-minute speech, Biggio spoke at length about the place where the journey to his now-Hall of Fame career began, “in a little town, Kings Park, New York.”

A young Craig Biggio tags out a base runner for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall
A young Craig Biggio tags out a base runner for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall

Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who represents the Second Senate District, congratulated Biggio in a statement on his Facebook page saying the longtime Houston Astro is “an inspiration to young local athletes by showing them that they can achieve greatness if they work hard every day.”

Biggio, a member of the 3,000-hit club, said he acquired his work ethic from his parents, Yolanda and Lee. The seven-time All-Star’s voice became shaky as he described them: “two hard-working people who are no longer here. But I know they’re watching.’’

His father was an air-traffic controller who never missed a game. Every day, Biggio said, his father would tie a rope around his waist, then to the backstop while he threw to the young slugger during batting practice to prevent him from lunging at the plate.

“It worked,” Biggio said in his acceptance speech, hours before his plaque was installed in the MLB Hall of Fame. “But I came home every day with rope burns around my waist.”

Biggio said although sports were important, he had a number of commitments that kept him busy.

“Growing up in Kings Park, I had three responsibilities: school, sports and I had a job,” he said. “My job was I had a newspaper route.”

Baseball was not the only sport Biggio thrived in at Kings Park. The now 49-year-old was awarded the Hansen Award, recognizing the best football player in Suffolk County in 1983. Kevin Johnson, the then-assistant football coach at Kings Park, said at the time, he thought Biggio was better at football than he was baseball. Earlier this week at dinner, Johnson said he and then-Kings Park baseball coach John Rottkamp pinned Biggio down to the question of whether he thought his talents were superior in baseball or football.

“He picked the sport with the larger ball,” Johnson said with a laugh. “He thought he was a better football player at the time, too.”

Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz are MLB Hall of Fame inductees. Photo by Clayton Collier
Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz are MLB Hall of Fame inductees. Photo by Clayton Collier

Biggio had received interest from major football programs such as Boston College and Oklahoma State University, among others, but Johnson said the schools were looking at him as a punt and kickoff returner — a rough position on the body for any athlete, let alone a 5-foot, 10-inch, 165-pound high school senior.

“That’s not a safe occupation in football when you’re undersized,” Johnson said. “When we found out what colleges were going to do with him, right away we were a little nervous that he was just going to get so banged up. Then the Seton Hall scholarship fell into place.”

St. John’s head baseball coach Ed Blankmeyer, then an assistant coach at Seton Hall University under Mike Sheppard — and now Blankmeyer’s father-in-law — was responsible for recruiting Biggio to the Pirates. Blankmeyer said it was Biggio’s hard-nosed style of play, in spite of his small stature, that initially struck him.

“He played bigger than his size,” said Blankmeyer, who has amassed 688 wins in his 19 seasons as head coach of the Red Storm. “He had some outstanding skills. He could run like the wind, he could hit, he had outstanding instinct, but whether he played good or bad, you always found something good about Craig Biggio and the way he played the game. He played with an intensity; he played with a big heart. You had to go away liking the guy, that’s what it was. I just loved the way he played.”

Despite the multitude of football offers and a draft selection by the Detroit Tigers out of high school, Blankmeyer signed Biggio.

“Not many coaches can say they’ve had an opportunity to recruit and coach a big league player,” said Blankmeyer when asked about the satisfaction in knowing he signed Biggio. “But a guy who played 20 years with one organization, who played three positions, an All-Star and now a Hall of Famer? Boy I tell you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation.”

A young Craig Biggio rounds the bases for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall
A young Craig Biggio rounds the bases for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall

After Seton Hall’s catcher Tony DeFrancesco was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1984, there was a spot to fill at backstop. Sheppard called upon his star recruit, who had experience at catcher, to move back behind the plate.

“Craig used to call himself the retriever who became a receiver because he used to chase the ball back to the backstop,” Sheppard told WSOU, Seton Hall’s student radio station. “But let me tell you, he was so fast he could chase it to the backstop and still throw the guy out at first base.”

Biggio played on a Seton Hall squad consisting of future major leaguers Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Marteese Robinson. They would capture the Big East regular season title all three years Biggio played for the Pirates and earned an NCAA Regional bid in 1987.

Off the field, Biggio converted to Catholicism and met his future wife, Patty.

“Seton Hall is very special to us,” Patty Biggio said. “It’s where our family began. It’s the roots of our relationship.”

Sheppard’s teams prided themselves on a scrappy style of baseball. Biggio said that it was simply the culture of the athletics program at the time, playing on a field he described as a “dirty, nasty bubble.” A far cry from the current playing grounds of the well-manicured turf of Owen T. Carroll Field. Most of all, Biggio said he remembers a common phrase of coach Sheppard.

“Coach Shep’s motto was, ‘Never lose your hustle,’ which is something I took to my pro career,” he said in his speech.

“He was part of the journey,” Biggio said in his post-induction press conference. “How do you get to the Hall of Fame? You got to have a little bit of talent and a lot of people to help you along the way, and Shep was one of those people.”

Biggio was drafted in the first round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, going on to play the entirety of his two-decade career in an Astros uniform.

Adam Everett, a teammate of Biggio’s from 2001 to 2007, said he learned a great deal from Biggio about how to play the game the right way.

Craig Biggio, right, is all smiles with MLB Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson as he receives his induction plaque. Photo by Clayton Collier
Craig Biggio, right, is all smiles with MLB Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson as he receives his induction plaque. Photo by Clayton Collier

“There’s only one way to play, and that’s hard,” he said. “I owe a lot of my career to him and I really appreciate what he did for me.”

Biggio amassed 3,060 hits, 661 doubles and was hit by a record 285 pitches while playing second base, catcher and outfield at various points in his major league career. He also drew 1,160 walks and stole 414 bases.

What many do not know, however, is Biggio’s extensive charity work, particularly as the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids, an organization supporting children with cancer. Biggio said his interest in helping children battling cancer came when a boy from a family on his paper route came down with leukemia.

“The Sunshine Kids are a big part of my life and one of the reasons I stayed in Houston for 20-plus years and continue to live there today,” he said.

It was because of his work with the Sunshine Kids and others that he was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award, something Johnson said is more indicative of who Biggio truly is, rather than his baseball statistics.

“I think that says more about him as a person than all the facts and figures that he amassed over the years,” Johnson said. “People have a tendency to look at what he did as a baseball player, but the Roberto Clemente award says much, much more about him as a person.”

Though Biggio has lived in Houston for more than 25 years, his impact on Kings Park is still felt.

“It’s great having an alum like Craig Biggio, because we can always refer to him to our current student-athletes as to what is possible and what can happen through hard work,” current athletic director Bill Denniston said.

The first three words of Biggio’s Hall of Fame plaque read “gritty spark plug,” an appropriate description of a player known for giving it his all in every game. In return, the game of baseball has given the local paperboy from Kings Park turned-MLB great an even greater gift, immortality.

“I gave the game everything I had every day,” Biggio said. “In baseball, tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I tried to play every game as if it was going to be my last. I want to thank the game for everything. The game has given me everything: my family, my friends, respect, but most of all memories of a lifetime.”

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Nick Fanti turns down Marist College scholarship after agreeing to terms with Philadelphia Phillies

Nick Fanti hurls a pitch during the Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Alex Petroski

Hauppauge graduate and star left-handed pitcher Nick Fanti, who was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of the 2015 MLB Draft, agreed to terms on a contract with the club this week. He chose to forgo an opportunity to play at Marist College on a baseball scholarship, and will instead begin his minor league career with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, Philadelphia’s rookie-ball affiliate.

Fanti said the decision was very tough on him, but he’s confident he made the right one.

“I really felt at home at Marist and comfortable with the coaches and players that I was going there with, but in the end, I followed my heart and made a decision that I wanted to make,” he said.

Hauppauge head coach Josh Gutes was thrilled with his former player’s decision.

“Since he was a little kid, all he’s wanted to do was play baseball for a living, and now he’s going to get the opportunity to do so,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision at first, because of Nick’s loyalty to Marist, but he had the chance to pursue his dream and he’s going to do everything he can to make that dream come true.”

Fanti had an outstanding senior season for the Eagles. He went 7-1, with a 0.67 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP and 87 strikeouts over 52 innings. He also threw two consecutive no-hitters. Fanti won the 2015 Carl Yastrzemski award as Suffolk County’s best player, and started on the mound for the Suffolk County team in the Grand Slam Challenge, Long Island’s annual Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“I would have probably fainted from excitement,” Fanti said about the thought of his 10-year-old self receiving the news that one day he’d be a professional baseball player. “I can remember being told by teachers to stop writing and drawing about baseball during projects because that’s all I ever thought about, and still think about.”

Fanti grew up in a family of lifelong New York Yankees fans, though his Dad, Nick Fanti Sr., said in an interview in June, following draft day, that wearing a Phillies uniform one day wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Fanti Sr. said. “He’s going to make it anywhere he goes.”

The Phillies organization declined requests for comment, pending Fanti’s signing becoming official this week.

Fanti said on Twitter Monday night that he was “ready for this challenge” of taking on professional competition, which is obviously a step up from the high school competition that he’s used to, and the college competition that he bypassed.

Being selected in the MLB Draft, especially in the 31st round or later is far from a guarantee that an opportunity will present itself for a young player in the Big Leagues. However, New York Mets legends Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez were both selected far later in their respective drafts than Fanti. Left-handed pitcher Kenny Rogers had stints with both the Mets and Yankees, and he was selected in the 39th round.

Some other notable 31st round picks include pitchers Scott Erickson [1990] and Pedro Feliciano [1995], who both played for the Mets and Yankees in their careers. Erickson went in the 31st round in his fourth time being in the MLB draft. Sean Gillmartin, a southpaw currently on the Mets’ roster, was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft, although he was again drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft.

A few Major League all-stars also got their start in the Gulf Coast League over the last decade. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen each played full seasons in the GCL.

After the Grand Slam Challenge game in June, before he had made his decision, Fanti said how different it would be playing alongside strangers as opposed to his teammates from Hauppauge, who became his best friends. Fanti will have no trouble making friends in the Phillies organization if he pitches for them anywhere near the way he did in high school.

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Ward Melville graduate makes noise, gets in record books in first start with New York Mets last Sunday

Steven Matz smacks a double past outfielder Billy Hamilton in his first MLB at-bat. Photo by Clayton Collier

Steven Matz was a hit in more ways than one.

Before even throwing his first warm-up pitch — just half an hour into the fan shop being opened at Citi Field — every piece of memorabilia with the 24-year-old southpaw’s name on it was sold out.

“He came out of the bullpen and got a standing ovation — who gets that?” Matz’s Ward Melville High School head coach Lou Petrucci said. “New York has 100 guys that have gotten the hype, and how great is it that Steven Matz lived up to it? And he didn’t just live up to it, he exceeded it — and that’s what’s so great about this.”

But it may not have seemed that way from the start.

The first pitch Matz threw, a 96-mph fastball to the Cincinnati Reds’ Brandon Phillips, was wild, as it nicked catcher Johnny Monell’s glove and traveled to the warning track behind the plate.

Steven Matz hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Clayton Collier
Steven Matz hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Clayton Collier

In that same at-bat, Phillips hit a game-opening home run, and all Long Island fans could do was hold their breath and hope the local star, who had only made his Triple-A debut just one year ago, could turn things around. And he did.

Matz had finished his season 7-4 with a 2.19 ERA and 94 strikeouts over 90.1 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas, and he wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff.

After shaking off the opening at-bat jitters, the side was retired, and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.

“A lot of people would have just cracked under the pressure, but that just ignites Steven’s fire,” former MLB pitcher Frank Viola, who pitched for the Mets from 1989-91, said in an interview with Seton Hall University’s radio station WSOU. “He’s more than just a baseball player — that’s secondary. He’s just a wonderful person, terrific kid; you root for people like that. The world needs more people like Steven Matz.”

The left-handed pitcher limited Cincinnati to two runs in the Mets 7-2 victory. The Reds’ second was another solo home run, this time off the bat of Todd Frazier. But Matz struck out both Phillips and Frazier in their next at-bats, and ended his 7.2 innings with a 2.35 ERA on five hits while striking out six and walking three.

What may have been even more impressive though, was his historic debut at the plate.

Everyone knew Matz could hit — he finished AAA with a .304 batting average, but no one could predict he would go 3-for-3. Just six innings in, the 999th player in Mets history found his way into the team record book by being the first player at any position on the team to have four RBIs in his MLB debut.

“It’s like a movie script,” Matz’s father, Ron of Stony Brook, said. “Aside from the home run in the first inning, where everyone was a little nervous, it was amazing the way he could shake it off and continue doing what he does. He’s always been a good hitter, but I never realized that at the major league level he’d be the star. He was a one-man show.”

Steven Matz has always had his own piece of fame since senior year of high school.

In the Three Village community, he had a sandwich named after him at the Se-Port Deli in East Setauket after being drafted by the Mets in 2009. But now, everyone across the Island has heard the 24-year-old’s name after he was called up to The Show last Thursday, making his official debut Sunday afternoon.

Steven Matz winds up. Photo by Clayton Collier
Steven Matz winds up. Photo by Clayton Collier

“I first got the phone call from Steve and he just said ‘Dad, I’m going to the big leagues,’” Ron Matz said. “I got pretty emotional. To see what he’s been through over the years, with the Tommy John surgery and all of that stuff and him battling back and doing what he did to finally get to the point where he is, it was a pretty proud moment.”

The father recalls his son’s younger years in the sport, and cannot believe how far he’s come to get to where he is today, although admitting he thinks it’s strange to see his name on everyone else’s back.

“Steve used to always come out with one of his older brother Jonathan’s uniforms on that would hang down past his feet,” Ron Matz said. “He was out there playing with the 5-year-olds when he was 2, and I always knew he had something special, and now everyone was rushing to the store once we heard there was a Matz jersey available. The line was out the door with people buying these things. His memorabilia was sold out within the first half hour.”

And everyone knew he had what it took to play in the big leagues.

“I’ve been coaching Steven since he was 9 years old, and when he was about 10, I told his father ‘Your son’s going to pitch in the big leagues one day,’” former MLB left-handed pitcher Neal Heaton said. “He thought I was full of it.”

But Petrucci saw it, too.

“He’s a complete baseball player, a complete athlete, terrific listener and he is extremely focused, and that’s what makes it so easy for him,” he said. “This kid is a product of all of the people who have touched him throughout the Three Village community: coaches, players, family members. How do you not root for this kid?”

Matz joined a young Mets rotation with the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and the injured Zack Wheeler, which Mets manager Terry Collins said is a staff to be reckoned with.

“I think it sends a message to our fan base that the future is now,” he said in a press conference following Sunday’s game. “We’ve been talking about down the road, next year, next year; the future is now. They’re here, they’re going to pitch, and it’s going to be exciting to see them grow from start to start.”

Matz was also the first Mets pitcher with at least three hits and four RBIs since Dwight “Doc” Gooden in 1985, and Doc thought the way the southpaw handled himself on the mound after the opening pitch said a lot about his character.

“Giving up a home run to that first guy, it probably didn’t bother him as much as it would some other guys because of what he’s been through to get to that point,” he said. “That can go a long way in showing his character and mound presence when it comes to pitching against tough teams and big games come September.”

Matz’s former high school coach said he sees the pitcher going far.

“Every level Steve has gone up he’s only continued to get better because he’s more determined than ever and he’s dedicated to being the best pitcher that he can be,” Petrucci said. “Is he going to go 3-for-3? I don’t think so. But is he going to get his share of base hits? You bet he is. Will he win some games? Oh, you bet he is. The bigger the stakes for Steven Matz the higher he rises up to the occasion. This is more than just the beginning. This is the start of something special.”

Clayton Collier contributed reporting.

Three Village’s Ron Matz and Hauppauge’s Nick Fanti Sr. are recognized for the impact they had on their sons’ careers

Lori, Steven and Ron Matz on the Ward Meville baseball field. Photo from Ron Matz

By Alex Petroski

Being drafted by a Major League Baseball team is a massive accomplishment.

The journey from tee-ball to the big leagues is one that weeds out just about everyone along the way, but the select few who actually make their way into a professional lineup all have a common denominator: a strong support system. Though they’ll never take the credit away from their hardworking sons, Nick Fanti Sr. and Ron Matz deserve some recognition ahead of Father’s Day.

Nick Fanti Sr. and Nick Fanti Jr. pose for a photo together. Photo from Nick Fanti Sr.
Nick Fanti Sr. and Nick Fanti Jr. pose for a photo together. Photo from Nick Fanti Sr.

Nick Fanti Jr. played baseball for Hauppauge High School. He was selected in the 31st round by the Philadelphia Phillies in the  2015 MLB Draft last week.

“I don’t know the words,” Fanti Sr. said in a phone interview about his son being selected by Philadelphia.

Pride was the word Fanti Sr. settled on after some deliberation.

“It brings tears to your eyes, even now thinking about it,” he said.

Fanti Sr. gained experience in being a supportive dad of his athletic children over the course of his four daughters playing careers, all of which are older than Fanti Jr.

“You realize there’s nothing you can do. … I enjoy just watching and possibly talking to him afterwards,” Fanti Sr. said about how hands-on he is as he juggles his role as a dad, coach and fan of a talented son. “You hope you’ve given them all the tools.”

With Father’s Day quickly approaching, Fanti Jr., who went 7-1 with a 0.67 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 52 innings, knows how much having a supportive dad over the years means when you’re trying to follow your dream of making it in the big leagues.

“He was never hard on me about the results of the game like most parents,” Fanti Jr. said about his dad. “He is most concerned with if I respect the game — running on and off the field, and having a good attitude. When he does critique how I played, I listen because he’s been through it.”

Fanti Sr. said he knew his son was special at an early age.

“When he was 10 or 12 he said to me, ‘Dad, Mickey Mantle’s soul went into my glove,’” Fanti Sr. said. “That was his idol.”

Their talented son now wearing a Phillies uniform does not faze the Fantis, who are lifelong Yankee fans.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Fanti Sr. said. “He’s going to make it anywhere he goes.”

His son has to decide if he wants to report to the Phillies or play college ball at Marist College. Fanti Sr. said that he’ll offer his son guidance, but it’s ultimately his decision.

Fanti Sr. was hesitant to take any credit for his son’s success, though he did mention some people that helped along the way, but he does credit his wife Laura with preparing her son a five-course breakfast everyday.

“It’s not only myself, but all the people that I surrounded him with growing up,” Fanti Sr. said, listing Long Island baseball stalwarts Neil Heaton, Matt Guiliano and Sal Agostinelli among others.

Lori, Steven and Ron Matz on the Ward Meville baseball field. Photo from Ron Matz
Lori, Steven and Ron Matz on the Ward Meville baseball field. Photo from Ron Matz

Steven Matz was one of the others that Fanti Sr. listed as having a huge impact on his son’s high school career. He called Steven Matz one of the best kids you could ever meet and said that Ron Matz, his father, reached out to congratulate him when Fanti Jr. was given the Carl Yastrzemski Award, which is awarded to the player of the year in Suffolk County. Both Steven Matz and Fanti Jr. were recipients in their senior seasons.

Steven Matz was selected by the New York Mets in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft after graduating from Ward Melville. He is presumably just weeks away from making his debut in Flushing with the big league club with 2.3081 ERA, 1.149 WHIP and 81 strikeouts over 78.1 innings with Triple-A Las Vegas this season.

“He always had a chance to be good,” Ron Matz said of his son and his chances of going pro one day. “We probably didn’t even think about it until really his junior year [of high school].”

Just like Fanti Sr., Ron Matz was quick to dismiss the thought that his son’s success is in any way a credit to him and his wife Lori, rather than his son’s hard work and dedication — although he did admit it wasn’t always easy satisfying his son’s desire to play the game.

“Any time he wanted to have a catch or go to the field, take batting practice or pitch, I couldn’t say no,” Ron Matz said. “Before my foot hit the ground it was ‘Dad can we go?’ I was tired from working 11-hour days, but I couldn’t say no.”

Steven Matz has been a household name for Mets fans for a few years now, and living in Stony Brook, Ron Matz said it’s hard to avoid hearing or reading about his son.

“It’s very, very exciting,” he said. “It’s a little nerve wracking. It’s out there, so being a New York guy, and Steven’s a New York Met, it’s hard to avoid it.”

Ron Matz said that he’s very calm when he gets to watch his son in person but added that it’s much harder trying to follow his son’s games when he’s not there. Steven Matz has been playing for the Mets’ various minor league affiliates in Port St. Lucie, Binghamton and Las Vegas since he signed with the Mets organization in 2009.

Steven Matz suffered a torn ligament in his elbow in 2010 that required Tommy John surgery, which involves a lengthy and strenuous rehab process, but after recovering he’s come back stronger than ever to prove he has what it takes to move into the Mets’ rotation.

Both fathers had a hard time hiding how proud they both are of their sons. Although Ron Matz and Fanti Sr. both deflected questions about their impact on their sons’ careers, they were always strong support systems for their sons.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” Ron Matz said about the day his son finally dons a Mets uniform. “With all the setbacks and bumps and valleys, it was a trying time seeing what he went through, to continue to work hard — it will be nice to see him finally achieve his dream.”

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