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New York Mets

This week marks 50 years since the Miracle Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series.

Mets great Ed Kranepool stopped by the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook and met with the Stony Brook University baseball team. The World Series champion gave the team some advice for the upcoming season as they undergo fall training.

“This is the time to work on your fundamentals,” Kranepool said. “If you’re a pinch hitter like I was the last couple of years of my career, get up there and be aggressive. Try to get a hit. We all wish you guys good luck this season.”

Afterward, the team and Kranepool watched a replay of Game 3 of the ’69 World Series. A pivotal game in the series, where the Mets legend blasted a homerun to help his team to victory.

A number of Mets fans showed up for a chance to get their memorabilia signed by Kranepool.

Linda Miller and her father Pete Grandazza came to get their old programs and scorecards signed.

Miller said one of the reasons they came was because back in 1975 the whole Mets team signed autographs for her brother Michael and another child, who were very sick, at a hotel in Philadelphia.

“Bob Murphy, [the Mets announcer at the time] saw these two boys in wheelchairs and asked if there was anything he could do,” she said. “He got all the players to come over and gave them autographs, Ed Kranepool was one of them.”

More than 100 family members and friends showed up at Citi Field to hear Jordan Amato sing the national anthem. Photo from the Amato family.

For one high school senior, the school year has started on the right note.

Jordan Amato’s view of Citi Field on the day she sang the national anthem at the ballpark. Photo from the Amato family

South Setauket resident Jordan Amato, 17, performed the national anthem at Citi Field Sept. 8. While it was the second time she sang at the stadium — the first was the summer of 2018 — this time around she had a special guest with her.

In addition to the more than 100 friends and family members in attendance was Ryan Starace, who was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Long Island chapter’s Boy of the Year in 2019. Amato and her family invited Ryan and his family to join them at the game after she helped to raise $36,000 for the nonprofit in the 2018-19 school year. Amato was the co-president of the multigenerational fundraising team 3vforacure in raising funds for the LLS Students of the Year campaign.

Sara Lipsky, executive director of the Long Island chapter of LLS, said Amato went above and beyond aiding the nonprofit’s mission of finding cures and supporting patients and their families.

“Raising $36,000 is a feat in itself,” Lipsky said. “Add school and extracurricular activities make it even more remarkable. Now, she continues to carry that passion forward by creating a very special day for a very special boy.”

Amato said even though she usually doesn’t suffer from performance anxiety, the second time around singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Citi Field was nerve-racking. It wasn’t just because of the throng of people hearing her sing, but because there were problems with the sound system, and she only heard the reverb while singing.

“It was kind of terrifying,” she said.

Her father, Steve Amato, thought she did a wonderful job.

“Not because she is my daughter, but she truly has a great voice and her rendition of the national anthem is excellent,” he said.

Overall the Citi Field experiences have been surreal for the family. Her mother, Jacque Amato, said the family has attended many games at the stadium, but it was a different experience walking up from the underground area to the field.

The opportunity to sing at the stadium came about when Amato sang at her grandmother’s funeral Mass. The husband of one of her father’s cousins works at Citi Field, and after hearing her sing he suggested she send in an audition tape.

The singer’s mother said her daughter sang a cappella that day in the church.

Jordan Amato, middle back row, and her family on the big day when she sang the national anthem at the Mets ballpark. Photo from the Amato family

“When Jordan got up there to sing, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” the mother said.

The singer’s father said to prepare for singing the national anthem at a venue like Citi Field, in addition to her singing lessons, his daughter sang at a Stony Brook University game, entered the Long Island Ducks Anthem Idol — where she won — and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Long Island’s Got Talent. She also won a talent contest where the prize was singing a solo at Carnegie Hall.

Her parents said singing is something that came naturally to her, and when she was in fifth grade, they were surprised when she told them she was going to be singing in a talent show with one of her friends. Before that, they had never even heard her even hum.

Jordan Amato said one day she noticed she could sing well and figured, why not try it?

“I was pretty shy as a kid, so it was kind of unusual for me to be comfortable with singing in front of people, but I found it more comfortable than talking in front of people,” she said.

Last year in addition to balancing her fundraising efforts and singing, the now senior had a 102 unweighted average. Her mother said it’s no surprise she has accomplished so much.

“She has laser focus,” the mother said. “When she wants something, she just puts everything in the basket, and she’s just 100 miles an hour in one direction. She’s very goal oriented. She’s the most organized kid I ever met.”

Jordan Amato is hoping for another successful academic year, and while she’s planning to study singing in college, she said she will most likely go to medical school to become an ear, nose and throat doctor specializing in throat surgeries after shadowing her friends’ parents who are laryngologists last summer. She said the profession is interesting not only due to the doctor helping to heal patients but also training singers to regain their singing voices.

When it comes to trying out something new, Amato had advice for young people.

“Try it out,” she said. “If it doesn’t fit you, it’s not for you.”

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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.

Firemen salute the American flag during the East Northport Fire Department's 9/11 memorial on Sunday, Sept. 11. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Rich Acritelli

It was 15 years ago this week, Sept. 11, 2001, that Americans were putting their children on school buses and going about their daily routines when our nation was attacked. Terrorists boarded and later commandeered passenger planes that were fully loaded with fuel and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The terrorists that took over Flight 93 originally planned to strike the Capital building or the White House, but cries of “Let’s roll” rang out, and the passengers fought back against the perpetrators.

While Mike Piazza of the New York Mets was an exceptional baseball player, he also served as a leader for his team and the community, and even helped with a humanitarian drive that was based out of Shea Stadium to aid the recovery workers. He spoke about that day during his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in July.

“To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul.”

— Mike Piazza

“Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that forever changed our lives. To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul,” the transplanted New Yorker, who was born in Philadelphia, said. “But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and, eventually, healing. Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run on the first game back on Sept. 21 to push us ahead of the rival Braves. But the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders, who knew they were going to die, but went forward anyway.”

The New York Yankees, who were in pursuit of another World Series title, visited firehouses, and players had tears in their eyes moments before they played in games.

Today, Americans are watching a hotly contested election. It was 15 years ago that many citizens put aside their political beliefs to be unified against a common enemy. Rescue crews traveled from all over the nation to head toward the remains of the World Trade Center, yellow ribbons were tied on trees across the United States and the undeniable will of our people was quickly demonstrated to the world. While it seems like yesterday that we watched these horrific events occur, there are current high school students that may have lost a parent that day. It is these boys and girls who were so young that they do not easily recollect their loved ones that were amongst the almost three thousand Americans killed tragically. This is not just another historic day to briefly remember — it is still with our citizens on a daily basis. Our children have lived under the heightened security at our airports, infrastructure centers like Pennsylvania Station and the George Washington Bridge, and during major sporting events. During every home game since 9/11, the New York Yankees invite veterans and rescue workers to be honored, as both teams line up to listen to “God Bless America.”

Our North Shore communities were a considerable distance from the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. But unflinchingly, local rescue and support workers from these towns traveled every day and spent hours away from their families to be at ground zero. May we never forget the sacrifices of members of these numerous agencies that are currently suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. It should also be remembered that while our North Shore towns are miles from the city, these communities and schools lost residents and graduates as a result of these acts of terrorism. Thank you to all our rescue workers and military branches that continue to protect the security and values of the United States, at home and abroad.

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man walks into a doctor’s office and can only say two things: teepee and wigwam.

The doctor considers the curious case and decides he’s “too tents.”

While you may have heard the homophone joke, you may also know that the New York Yankees are in a similar position: dealing with two tenses.

They are stuck between trying to do what they can to win now and making trades and decisions that may help them for the future. While this is a baseball-specific problem for the Yankees, it’s an eminently relatable problem.

Should we go for it in the present, hoping to win, win, win now, or should we allow ourselves the opportunity to rebuild and move toward a better future by adding some education, by moving to a new house, getting a new job, or starting or ending a relationship?

We generally live in the present, because that’s what is wanted by our ids — the impulse-driven parts of our psyches. We’re hungry, we want food. We’re tired, we want sleep. We’re sick of hearing politicians who starred in reality shows turning the process into a reality show, we change the channel.

These Yankees, with their high-priced talent, glitz and glamor, and the endless celebration of their own history, have mastered the art of staring in the mirror and liking what they see. The team could easily change its name to “The Narcissi.”

Anyway, can, should, will the Yankees pull the trigger on a host of deals that may replenish a farm system, sacrificing the all-important present for a future that may not produce a better team than the mediocrity they’ve demonstrated?

I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t rely on the position of the stars, the moon or the tides to make decisions for my favorite team or for my life. Early this week the flamethrowing rent-a-closer on a one-year deal with the Yankees, Aroldis Chapman, was traded to the Chicago Cubs for a four-player package headed by stud shortstop prospect, Gleyber Torres.

How much further they can, or should, go in swapping assets, repositioning the team or realigning their strategy is a favorite game of the endless sports pontificators in the New York area, who always seem to know so much better than everyone else until a player or a team proves them wrong.

From my perspective, the Yankees aren’t a contending team. They are, as the old saying goes, exactly what their record indicates. Early this week, they were a .500 team, which means they win as many games as they lose. In the incredibly competitive American League East, where talented teams like the Red Sox overcome their own pitching flaws with sensational hitting, a win-one, lose-one Yankees team isn’t inspiring confidence.

Of course, the fun of life — and all these games — are the many unpredictable parts. Would anyone have expected the Mets to become a World Series team last year? There are no guarantees, which is what makes any present sacrifice a leap of faith.

We, the fans and the team, might not get something better by making a change.

From my armchair, however, I would plant a “for sale” sign in front of this team with a declining A-Rod, a shadow-of-himself Mark Teixeira and a smoke-and-mirrors starting pitching staff. No one is going to buy Teixeira or A-Rod, but the scales seem to be leaning toward an investment in the future. Now, if the never-give-up Yankees can change course on a faltering season, maybe we can consider moves that might help us win in the future.

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Steven Matz winds up. Photo by Clayton Collier

Steven Matz became the first member of the Mets’ young rotation to take the mound in a Florida Grapefruit League game Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

The former Ward Melville star breezed through the first two innings before allowing a run in the third.

He walked two during his three-
inning stint and struck out the side in the second on only 12 pitches.

Matz was battling against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who walked three in two scoreless innings, gave up two hits and struck out two.

The Mets chose to delay their rotation a week in an effort to make sure each pitcher was strong for their first spring-training start, which will be a scheduled three innings this year rather than the typical two. As a result, the Mets hope to be sharper at an earlier date, and Matz looked that way, with a responsive curveball and a fastball in the mid-90s.

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Steven Matz talks with Stony Brook Children’s patient Rachel Dennis. Photo from Greg Filiano

Three Village baseball star Steven Matz of the New York Mets brought holiday cheer and big smiles to the faces of dozens of Long Island’s youngest Mets fans: pediatric patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Steven Matz poses with Stony Brook Children’s patients Nicholas Reinoso, left, and Anmol Jaswal, both displaying their Mets-themed colored drawings, which Matz autographed. Photo from Greg Filiano
Steven Matz poses with Stony Brook Children’s patients Nicholas Reinoso, left, and Anmol Jaswal, both displaying their Mets-themed colored drawings, which Matz autographed. Photo from Greg Filiano

The Mets pitcher spent time talking to the children and encouraged them to keep getting better and to finish all their treatments. Patients like Nicholas Reinoso, 9, of Bellport, shared artwork with Matz – colored drawings of Mr. Met and other Mets-themed images.

“It’s great to see these kids at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and take time to learn about them,” said Matz. “That’s what it is all about this time of year.”

He signed their drawings and chatted with patients in the pediatric floor playroom and in some of their hospital rooms in the acute care and intensive care units.

“It was cool to meet him,” said Anmol Jaswal, 21, of Blue Point, a college student who attends Long Island University.

Zachary Cottrell gets a bedside visit from Steven Matz at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Greg Filiano
Zachary Cottrell gets a bedside visit from Steven Matz at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Greg Filiano

Decked out in her tennis sweat suit, Anmol mentioned to Matz that it was her birthday the day before and talked about her tennis game and hopes to play for Long Island University. He wished her a happy birthday and said he would root for her.

Matz also visited the hematology and oncology clinic at the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, signing autographs and visiting with children undergoing chemotherapy.

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Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Yogi Berra may have grown up playing baseball in Missouri, but when he was a catcher for the Yankees he was Mr. New York.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The legend died a few weeks ago at 90 years old, but he will be remembered by Long Island baseball fans for years to come.

Born in 1925, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra grew up in the Italian section of St. Louis, the son of immigrants who worked many hours to make ends meet for their family. As a kid, Berra discovered his love for baseball and would play at every opportunity, though his equipment was not always very advanced — coming from a poor family, he used old magazines as shin guards.

The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis produced outstanding ball players such as catcher Joe Garagiola, who played against Berra. However, the legend did not get to the major league right away.

Berra’s grades were poor and education was considered a luxury during the Great Depression, so he went to work in a coal mine. But Berra was meant to play baseball — he lost his job because of his habit of leaving work early to play the game with his friends. His parents did not understand or like baseball, but their son excelled and became one of the best players from their neighborhood. In 1942, the New York Yankees brought him into their dugout.

At 17 years old, Berra was away from home for the first time. His career began slowly, and he committed 16 errors in his first season as a catcher, although his hitting was consistent. Times were tough for the young man — he made $90 a month, before taxes were deducted, and there was little leftover after covering his living expenses. There were times Berra was close to starving. At one point, his manager loaned him money to buy cheeseburgers and adoring fans made Italian heroes for him to eat. He sold men’s suits in the winters to get by.

“What you have to remember about Yogi is that all he ever wanted was to be a baseball player.”
— Jerry Coleman, hall of fame broadcaster

Soon into his career, America’s priorities changed. With World War II raging, Uncle Sam started to draft baseball players into the military. Berra joined the U.S. Navy and was in the middle of the action in Europe on one of the most important days for the Allied war effort: June 6, 1944. On D-Day, Berra was on a rocket boat that fired armaments against the German fortifications at Normandy.

That August, the catcher aided landing troops during the amphibious invasion of southern France through Operation Dragoon. After fighting on D-Day, Berra said he was scared to death during those landings, because he realized the Germans could have killed his entire crew due to their proximity to the beaches. Despite his fear, he fought valiantly and went back behind home plate with a Purple Heart.

By 1946, with the war behind him, Berra returned to the ball park. He was one of the toughest and most talented players in the league, a three-time MVP who hit 305 homeruns and earned 10 World Series rings. Don Larsen, who in the 1956 World Series threw a perfect game to Berra, believed the catcher was the best pitch caller in baseball.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The all-star was at the center of many historic plays, including when Jackie Robinson famously stole home during the 1955 World Series. Berra, who was catching for pitcher Whitey Ford, attempted to tag out Robinson, but the umpire deemed the runner safe — a call Berra did not agree with.

Once he hung up his catcher’s gear in the 1960s, Berra became a coach and manager for the Yankees, the Mets and later the Houston Astros, among other business ventures.

For a man who did not earn an education past the eighth-grade level, Berra accomplished much during his lifetime, included being known for his creative sayings, commonly known as “Yogi-isms,” such as his famous quotes, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He was an American and athletic icon who represented the grit and character of his unique nation.

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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.

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Steve Matz with proud parents Ron and Lori, all flashing million dollar smiles, shortly after signing with the New York Mets last year. File photo

by Daniel Dunaief

Like other Ward Melville High School students who graduated last year, Steve Matz left his home in Stony Brook and took the next step in his life. Living in a hotel in Florida, Matz has changed locales, but hasn’t altered his intense focus on a skill that helped the 6 foot, 2 inch stand out on Long Island.

One of the newest members of the New York Mets, Matz, a lifelong Mets fan, is living within easy walking distance of minor league fields where promising players come to soak up guidance from wizened coaches, hone their already-prolific skills, and prepare for the intense competition to join their major league team.

So far so good for Matz, who knows he has a long climb to the mound at Citi Field, but who is already thrilled to be taking the first few steps toward that goal.

“Compared to Ward Melville, this blows it away,” Matz said of his first few weeks at the Mets minor league complex. “The grass and the mound are perfect.”

A left-handed pitcher whose fastball has been clocked at 95 miles per hour, Matz is working to improve his other pitches, including a curveball and changeup.

“The curveball [is a pitch that I] still have to work on,” Matz offered. “It’s a learning curve. I used to throw in the bullpen to keep my arm loose: now, I throw to work on things.”

For Steve’s parents Lori and Ron Matz, this is an especially big year. Not only is Steve living away from home with the Mets, but their older son Jon is also attending school away from Long Island.

Lori Matz said it was tough to “lose a little bit of that control with both of them gone. That’s what we raised them for, to be independent, well-rounded adults.”

At the beginning of spring training, Steve offered to make the 19-hour drive down to Port St. Lucie by himself in his new Ford truck he purchased with his signing bonus, but his parents would have no part of that. After they drove to Florida together, Steve’s parents felt encouraged by the discipline and structure in the minor league system. Some of the rules include fines for being out after curfew.

“It’s almost a little more regimented than on a college campus,” Lori Matz said.

Steve’s passion for baseball started when he was young.

“When Steve was 2 years old, I started having a catch with him,” Ron Matz said. The elder Matz could tell even then that his middle child — Steve has a 14-year-old sister Jill — had talent. “He had a natural form. You can’t teach that.”

Ron Matz coached his son Steve until he was about 13 years old. When Steve was around 10, he pitched a no-hitter. When he got in the car after the game, he was annoyed.

“I said, ‘Steve, you just finished a no-hitter, what’s the matter?” Ron recalled.

His son’s response? “I struck out once.”

Steve’s skills and interest grew in tandem. Ron Matz said that he’d have to drag his son out of bed on a Saturday morning if he had to take an SAT prep course, but if he had a practice or a game, “he’d be sitting in the den, waiting for me before I got up.”

Steve’s parents said his average grade at Ward Melville was around 90. He was motivated to maintain good grades so that he could keep the door open for school or professional baseball.

When their son was drafted first by the Mets last year, it was especially exciting to Ron and Lori, lifelong Mets fans who were high school sweethearts. Indeed, Lori Matz spoke by phone to The Village Times Herald minutes before a rain-delayed Mets game began. Lori said for the last year she has worn her late mother’s wedding ring on her pinky. Her mother, who passed away six years ago, was “a huge Mets fan and a huge Steve fan. I almost feel like, for him to be picked out of the thirty teams, she had a hand in it.”

For Steve’s parents, the journey to the minor leagues has already provided a wealth of new baseball experiences. On the day Steve signed his contract, the Mets brought him to Citi Field. He and his parents were escorted to owner Fred Wilpon’s office.

“We took this beautiful elevator to Wilpon’s suite,” Ron Matz said. “Fred comes up to us and says, ‘I want you to meet a friend of mine. Meet Sandy Koufax. Our legs were shaking. I was like, ‘hey, this isn’t happening.’”

Last year’s winner of the Carl Yastrzemski award — an annual honor given to the best high school baseball player in Suffolk County — Steve Matz is dedicating himself to the pursuit of his baseball dream. Steve is in good company as a Yastrzemski award winner: Boomer Esiason, the former quarterback for the Bengals and Jets and current sports broadcaster, received the same honor.

“Waking up every day and playing ball, going to the field with your buddies, that’s just awesome,” Steve declared. “There are so many good players around you, it definitely makes you want to work harder and really get better.”