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Steven Matz

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

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?”

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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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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.”