The Toronto Blue Jays are getting much more than a 29-year-old lefty pitcher from the New York Mets.
In a trade in which the American League East team sent pitchers Josh Winckowski, Sean Reid-Foley and Yennsy Diaz to the Mets, the Blue Jays are adding Steven Matz, a hometown hero, who has stayed in touch with his roots, as well as a three-time nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.
A graduate of Ward Melville High School, Matz continued to inspire his former coaches and students, remaining humble and approachable despite the glitz and glare of a baseball career that included a memorable start in the 2015 World Series against the Kansas City Royals.
“Every year, [Matz] will come back” to Ward Melville High School, said baseball coach Lou Petrucci. “He’s very accessible. If you ask him to do something, he does it.”
One day, Petrucci said of his former pitcher, Matz did bus duty at W. S. Mount Elementary School.
“He signs autographs and takes pictures with all the kids,” Petrucci said. “If he goes to Murphy [Junior High School], he signs autographs for hours.”
In 2015, in addition to making his pitching debut on the field for the Mets, Matz started Tru32, a charitable foundation designed to help first responders and those who serve in the NYPD, FDNY and US military. Matz wore the number 32 as a member of the Mets.
In April of last year, Matz donated $32,000 to first responders and hospitals in New York City in the midst of the spring surge in cases. Matz donated $12,000 to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and $10,000 to the New York Fire Department and Police Departments.
Through Tru32, Matz has provided 32 tickets during the season to first responders.
Matz also helped families caring for children who need medical attention through Angela’s House.
Tru32 hosts a bowling fundraiser called “Strikes for Steven,” that raises money for scholarships for the children of first responders who died in the line of duty.
Picked by his hometown team in the 2009 draft, Matz made his Major League Baseball debut June 28, 2015, against the Cincinnati Reds. He won the game 7-2, contributing three hits, including a two-run double.
Petrucci appreciated the storybook nature of Matz’s debut.
“He was playing in New York, in front of all his friends,” Petrucci said. “It was an unbelievable thing for Three Village.”
Petrucci expected that Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who contributed to the Tru32 scholarships, would be disappointed that he is no longer teammates with his close friend. When Matz married Taylor Cain in Alabama, deGrom celebrated at his two-day wedding. Mets left fielder Brandon Nimmo also attended the nuptials.
Petrucci said Cain, who is in a country band with her two brothers called the Cain Trio, can also hit a baseball.
When the Mets were scouting Matz, then general manager Omar Minaya noticed that Matz’s baseball skills weren’t confined to the pitcher’s mound.
“Lou, this kid can hit,” Petrucci recalls Minaya saying. “Of course, he can,” Petrucci thought. “He’s a baseball player.”
During six seasons with the Mets, Matz compiled a 31-41 record and had a 4.35 earned run average.
Matz battled through several injuries before and during his time with the Mets, each time returning to the sport he loved.
“He works hard every day,” Petrucci said. “He wants to compete.”
One of Petrucci’s favorite items from Matz’s career is the World Series ticket from 2015, when Matz pitched into the sixth inning, allowing seven hits and only two runs while exiting a game without a decision that the Mets wound up losing, 5-3.
The Ward Melville baseball coach knew that Matz had considerable talent when he saw him practicing at All Pro Sports Academy in Bellport.
“Steven, you’re going to get drafted,” Petrucci recalled telling his young pitcher. “He had unbelievable stuff.”
Petrucci called his friend Ed Blankmeyer, who coached St. John’s baseball for 23 years and is now the coach of the Brooklyn Cyclones, to talk about Matz.
Blankmeyer told Petrucci, “just don’t mess it up.” Petrucci said that was the “best advice he ever gave me.”
The high school coach said his former player taught him about the game of baseball and about “being humble. How many coaches” send players to the big leagues?
In addition to Matz, Ben Brown, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and has played for three seasons in the minor leagues, and Anthony Kay, who is a pitcher on the Blue Jays, attended Ward Melville.
While they are both currently on the Blue Jays, Matz and Kay, who is four years younger than his new teammate, share a high school distinction.
After Matz pitched the last game of his senior year, freshman Kay toed the rubber in the first game of the next season for Ward Melville.
“They’re going to pitch back-to-back [for Toronto] one day,” Petrucci said. “I hope to go watch it.”
Petrucci appreciates that his former players have the opportunity to live out the childhood dream of so many on Long Island, carrying their hopes and aspirations north of the border.
Echoing Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris from the movie, “The Rookie,” Petrucci said, “He gets to play baseball every day. Whatever professional you know … who wouldn’t want to trade places with him?”