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Pitcher

Gavin Buda hurls a pitch during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge all-star baseball game. File photo by Bill Landon

Gavin Buda’s first word was “ball.”

“True story,” the Harborfields dual-sport standout athlete said. “I’ve been playing sports as far back as I can remember.”

Harborfields wide receiver Gavin Buda waits for the ball to drop along the sideline during the Empire Challenge football game. File photo by Bill Landon

Baseball was his first love, he said, signing up for every team he could play on. He played for the varsity team from freshman through senior year of high school, also competing on high-level travel teams and tournaments in other states.

“It just seemed my path was set to play baseball in college,” he said.

But during his sophomore year, he decided to try out for the junior varsity football team with some of his friends. The team went undefeated, and the wide receiver was hooked.

“There was a feeling I got playing football that I never felt playing baseball,” he said. “This bond that is created between teammates that only happens in football. The knowing that you have each other’s backs — that feeling made me think if I work hard enough, this is the sport I’d like to play beyond high school.”

He never gave up on either sport, spending three days training for football and the other three for baseball. He said winters were intense, spending time indoors at batting cages while also gearing up for the fall football season, working with trainers like Jay Fulco, Mike Bouranis, Mike Feldman, James Brady and Jay Fiedler.

Buda this month became the first Suffolk County athlete to play in both the Rawlings Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game, with Wantagh’s Ryan Sliwak achieved the feat in 2011. Buda said he had no idea the history he’d made at the time he was selected.

Gavin Buda makes a catch between two Rocky Point football players during Harborfields’ homecoming spoiling win. File photo by Bill Landon

“From a young age you could tell the kid was super athletic — he stood out among his peers, and from there, he put in a ton of hard work to really hone that and continue to stay ahead of the pack,” said Harborfields baseball coach Casey Sturm, who coached Buda since he was in seventh grade. “He was a special player, and what really stood out at the end of his tenure wasn’t even so much what he did at the plate but his defense in the outfield and ability to pitch were huge.”

In Suffolk County’s 5-4 loss to Nassau June 8 at St. Joseph’s College, Buda tossed a baseball for what might be the last time. The pitcher and outfielder took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.

“To end my high school baseball career being selected to play alongside players that were drafted to the MLB or heading off to colleges like Vanderbilt to play baseball is just awesome,” Buda said, although he joked if he let up a homerun he might not have been as happy. “To get on the mound and face those guys one last time was a great way to go out, and luckily, I did pretty good.”

A week later, he’d put down his glove and bat to strap on some football equipment.

In the Empire Challenge game, he made a 30-yard reception during a play he wasn’t even slated to be a part of. Knowing Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh, he said during the call in the huddle he told Walsh he could beat out the kid that was guarding him deep. Walsh trusted him, and Buda delivered. A step ahead of the defender, he said there was no way he was letting the ball drop.

Gavin Buda rips the ball deep into the outfield during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Bill Landon

His two-year head coach Rocco Colucci said for him personally the moment was fitting. Being a teacher at Northport he’d coached Walsh on the junior varsity level.

“This is why I coach football,” he said. “To see these guys grow and excel.”

He said too it was a privilege to watch Buda excel the way he did.

“Right off the bat I knew he was going to be a playmaker,” Colucci said. “His hard work showed. He was always looking to get better. He was very coachable — anything I told him to do, he’d do it. And because of that, [when other teams] put their best defensive players on him,  he’d still make the catch. He likes that type of best-on-best competitiveness in football, and there’s a lot of areas in football where he excels.”

Buda will be taking his talents to Hobart and William Smith Colleges to join the football team, but said he’ll never forget where he came from.

“Harborfields is a great school, but for some reason we are always under the radar in athletics — it’s a smaller school so I guess that’s why,” he said, adding that while other top athletes chose St. Anthony’s or Chaminade, he never questioned becoming a Tornado. “There were some great players that came through Harborfields before me, and there’ll be more after me. I just hope that I did my part to help put Harborfields sports on the map. The experience these last two weeks of playing in both all-star games is something I will carry with me forever.”

This version was updated June 20 at 12:43 a.m. to indicate that Gavin Buda is the first Suffolk County athlete to be chosen for both all-star games, not Long Island. 

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Chris Buehler hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Just call on Joseph Rosselli to get the job done.

Tom Hudzik lays down the bunt while Joseph Rosselli races across home plate for a 2-0 lead. Photo by Bill Landon

Ahead 1-0, the race was on for the Ward Melville senior who was attempting a move that hadn’t been successfully completed since 2006. With a big leap off third, he rushed toward home following a successful Tom Hudzik bunt for a suicide squeeze that put the Patriots up 2-0 en route to a 4-2 win over Brentwood May 1.

“Coach Lou [Petrucci] brought us in and told us he wanted to attempt it,” Rosselli said. “The batter’s got to make contact with the ball because if he doesn’t, I’m out 100 times out of 100, so the pressure was on Tom Hudzik, and he came up big for us today.”

As the Brentwood catcher chased down the dribbler, Rosselli snuck across the plate, and although Hudzik was tagged out, his job was done.

Brentwood responded in the top of the second when Cooper Maselli blasted a home run over left center to make it a one-run game. A shot to center field that caused a collision placed the tying run at first, but starting left-handed pitcher Chris Buehler fanned the next two batters to extinguish the threat.

“I had my stuff, but I was leaving some pitches up,” Buehler said. “I got them down and then I felt I could go the distance. They had their ace throwing hard, good pitches — good curves, so we just had to get a couple of runs.”

James Curcio dives to make a catch in center field. Photo by Bill Landon

Petrucci had all the confidence in his starter.

“He’s a competitor and an outstanding young man,” the head coach said. “He’s not fazed by these big situations.”

Even after Brentwood made it a new game with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth, and Maselli threatened to make matters worse for Ward Melville with a shot to deep center that after some debate wound up a ground-rule double with no outs, Buehler made sure Maselli never made it further than third. Then, his Patriots worked to get those runs he was talking about.

“Chris Buehler struck out three good hitters,” Petrucci said. “He concentrated. He’s been a great force for us this year — he’s 4-0 so far — he’s our Monday guy.”

After a base hit by junior Trevor Cronin, sophomore Max Nielson smacked a ground-rule double of his own. With two outs, a walk was drawn to load the bases, and Rosselli moved into the batter’s box. The senior waited for his pitch, and jumped on a fastball. He sent it deep to right field for a two-run double and a 4-2 lead.

Brentwood made three running errors over the next two innings, and Ward Melville’s defense made its opponent pay each time to preserve the lead.

“Once we give our dominant pitching staff a lead, it’s almost always a solidified [win],” Rosselli said. “So once we got that 4-2 lead, everyone settled down a little We put our faith in our pitchers, and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”

Vinny Pepitone grabs the ball before tagging out the runner. Photo by Bill Landon

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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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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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Daniel Zamora hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo from SBU

Stony Brook baseball sophomore pitchers Ryley MacEachern and Daniel Zamora were each selected on the final day of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Ryley MacEachern pitches in a game earlier this season. Photo from SBU
Ryley MacEachern pitches in a game earlier this season. Photo from SBU

MacEachern, a right-hander, was taken by the Miami Marlins in the 33rd round as the 986th player selected. Zamora, a lefty, was picked by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th round with the 1,207th overall selection.

MacEachern pitched in 13 games with nine starts for the Seawolves in 2015. He posted a 2-2 record with a 5.83 ERA in 41.2 innings of work.

Zamora, a first team America East Conference selection, appeared in 15 games with 13 starts. He was 7-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 81 innings. The sophomore also struck out 80 batters.

Both MacEachern and Zamora would have two years of eligibility left with Stony Brook if they do not sign with their respective MLB organizations.

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