PHILADELPHIA -- As Jorge Soler walked off the field after injuring his hamstring in the third inning of the Cubs' 6-4 win on Monday night, fans at Citizens Bank Park began to cheer. But it wasn't out of malice -- a local product was entering the game.Matt Szczur grew up
PHILADELPHIA -- As Jorge Soler walked off the field after injuring his hamstring in the third inning of the Cubs' 6-4 win on Monday night, fans at Citizens Bank Park began to cheer. But it wasn't out of malice -- a local product was entering the game.
Matt Szczur grew up in Cape May, New Jersey, a small resort town in South Jersey about an hour and a half outside of Philadelphia. When he jogged to first base to pinch-run for Soler, it was the first time he'd seen the field in front of his hometown fans.
"It's good to be out on the field, kind of being an away guy but feeling like a home-field advantage," Szczur said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who also grew up driving distance from Philadelphia, heaped praise on his fellow local for the role he's played on baseball's best team thus far.
"He's at the point now where he really feels he belongs in the Major Leagues," Maddon, from Hazleton, Pa., said. "He's starting to bring his game here that he had brought in the Minor Leagues. He gives us a lot of energy. He's very versatile in the outfield. He's got power, he can run the bases, steal a bag. He's a really nice piece to have and he's a great teammate -- the guys love him."
Although he didn't get a hit, Szczur did reach base and drove in a run after taking over for Soler. He had a smattering of friends and family in attendance to see him get his first action in front of his hometown crowd. For Tuesday's game, though, Szczur rented out a suite with 15 on the guest list.
Growing up, Szczur visited Veterans Stadium for Phillies and Eagles games. His family would make the trek to what was then the CoreStates Center and later the First Union Center, currently the Wells Fargo Center, for Flyers and Sixers games.
Once he was ready for college, Szczur attended Villanova University, where he played both baseball and football. As a football player, Szczur in 2009 helped lead Villanova to its first football championship. In his final baseball season, Szczur led the Wildcats in nearly every hitting category, batting .443.
"I feel like Villanova pulls a lot of weight around here," Szczur said of the warm welcome from the crowd. "It's kind of surreal. … I've got a lot of support out here."
Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.