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Nick Fanti

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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.

Hauppauge’s Nick Fanti winds up to hurl a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

The best high school baseball players that Long Island has to offer were all on the same field Monday night at Farmingdale State College for the Grand Slam Challenge presented by Blue Chip Prospects, where the Nassau County All-Stars beat the Suffolk County All-Stars, 3-1.

Smithtown East’s Dom Savino warms up before taking to the mound. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Dom Savino warms up before taking to the mound. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Joe Flynn of Ward Melville said about the experience after the game. “To come out here with all the best players on the Island, to get to compete against each other one last time before we all head off to college — it was really just a lot of fun seeing some of the talent that’s out there that we didn’t get to see this year.”

Billy Bianco of North Shore and Nassau County took home the MVP award, thanks in large part to his two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the sixth inning off of Smithtown East’s Dom Savino. Bianco’s clean single up the middle drove in Chaminade’s Beau O’Connell and Division’s Anthony Papa, and gave Nassau the lead for good.

Nick Fanti, Hauppauge’s star left-hander and winner of the Carl Yastrzemski Award given to Suffolk’s best player, got the start on the mound for Suffolk County. He pitched a scoreless first inning, helped out by a smooth 6-4-3 double play started by Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese. The double play erased an error by Flynn at third base and got Fanti through the first, unscathed.

“It’s awesome,” Fanti said after the game about playing in the Grand Slam Challenge. “It’s a huge honor, especially to start the game off and just be around all these great players. It was a really cool experience.”

Fanti was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of this year’s MLB Draft. He will decide between beginning his professional career in the minor leagues and playing ball at Marist College.

Ward Melville's Joe Flynn tosses the ball to first for the out. Photo by Alex Petroski
Ward Melville’s Joe Flynn tosses the ball to first for the out. Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk staked Fanti to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Lagravinese roped a one-out single into center field, and then went from first to third on a slow roller to the hot corner by Flynn. The throw, trying to catch Lagravinese taking the extra base, was wild, which allowed him to score the game’s opening run.

Nassau tied the game in the bottom of the fifth after a lead-off triple into the gap in right center field by Papa, and a sacrifice fly by Wheatley’s Andrew Hastings, which drove Papa home. Suffolk tried to mount a comeback in the top of the seventh after Nassau pitcher Hasan Deljanin of Clarke walked the bases loaded with two outs. Deljanin struck out Mike Demarest of East Islip to end the threat, and Suffolk didn’t get another base runner after that.

Monday night was the final time that Fanti will throw to his Hauppauge battery-mate P.J. Contreras, who started behind the plate for Suffolk.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” Contreras said about his four-year high school career.

The fact that the game was an exhibition only slightly softened the defeat for Lagravinese.

“Both teams work hard so it’s a tough game to play in, but we showed out and Nassau had their day today and took it over,” he said.

Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski

Lagravinese and Savino, teammates at Smithtown East, will both play at the University at Albany next fall.
“It really hasn’t settled in yet,” Savino said of completing his last high school game. “Even when we lost in the playoffs I never really felt like it was over. Even now, after this, I don’t feel like it’s over.”

Flynn, winner of the 2015 Paul Gibson Award, which is given annually to Suffolk’s best pitcher, put his electric stuff on display when he took the hill for Suffolk in the eighth. He pitched himself into and out of trouble, getting MacArthur’s Brian Perez to pop out to first base with two outs and the bases loaded.

“It feels like yesterday that I was a freshman playing my first scrimmage at Smithtown East,” Flynn said of his time playing on the Patriots team. “It [has] gone by way too fast, but it was a great four years.”

Flynn will play baseball at Princeton University starting this fall.

The end of the evening seemed bittersweet for many of the players. Fanti lamented about the fact that strangers would replace his Hauppauge teammates-turned-best friends in the fall, and Lagravinese looked forward to his next journey at Albany. Both teams exited the field to standing applause from their friends and families who packed the Farmingdale State bleachers.

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.”