Fall League runs in the family for Phillies prospect

Scottsdale's Matt Kroon takes the diamond in the desert 30 years after his father, Marc

November 4th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Marc Kroon played professional baseball for nearly two decades. He reached the big leagues with the Padres, Reds and Rockies. He racked up 177 saves in Japan, setting a then-record for hardest pitch thrown at 102 mph. But his most famous strikeout might have come back in 1994, when he suited up for the Sun Cities Solar Sox in 1994, the third year of the Arizona Fall League's existence.

That fateful fall, Kroon was a 21-year-old flamethrower with a bright baseball future, one that eventually took a long and winding path. But whatever he accomplished throughout his career, he'll always remember whiffing baseball newcomer Michael Jordan, then somewhat sheepishly asking him to sign his sneakers (Jordan did).

Fast forward almost 30 years and Kroon is back in AFL-land again. He's not coaching or scouting; he's here as a dad. His son Matt, a Phillies prospect, has been spending the fall playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Photo of Michael Jordan and Marc Kroon when the two played in the Arizona Fall League.

The elder Kroon moved from the Bronx to Arizona in high school and eventually made his home here. Matt, now 26, went to baseball powerhouse Horizon High School in Scottsdale, which produced big leaguers like Tommy Joseph and AFL legend Brandon Wood. He's had his own circuitous path in baseball, going from Oregon to Central Arizona College to Oklahoma State before signing with the Phillies as an 18th-round pick in 2018. He's topped 100 games in a season just once, in 2019, with a variety of injuries slowing his progress considerably, to the point where he figured using the AFL as a stepping stone had passed him by.

"I learned about the Fall League, I always paid attention to the Fall League," said Kroon, 26, who is coming off his best pro season, posting a .925 OPS over 97 games, mostly with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. "When I came into the Minor Leagues with the Phillies in 2018, the Arizona Fall League was definitely something I wanted to do. When I had gotten to 25, 26 years old and I hadn't gone, it kind of left my mind, left my thought process. I had kind of transitioned to 'What do I need to do to get to the big leagues?' I put the Arizona Fall League step out of my plan.

"I never really thought with how old I had gotten at this point in my career that I'd be a part of it, but I'm very thankful to be."

So is Marc, now 50. All of the Phillies' affiliates are on the East Coast, and he's traveled to watch the middle of his three children (Matt has an older brother, MJ, who is 28, and a younger sister, Madison, who is 16) play. And he's watched a ton of games on MiLB.TV. He wouldn't get a ton of in-person time with Matt until the offseason when Matt would come back to Scottsdale and live in the guest house behind Kroon's home. Now he has his son home every day AND gets to go the ballpark regularly to watch him in action.

"For me, it's amazing," Marc said. "I get to drive down the street here. And like last night was pretty special at the ball game because my mom got a chance to go and take a picture with him after the game. She doesn't get to go in person very often, but she watches every game. For him to be able to play in front of his friends and family, that's a good feeling. So it's just nice to be able to just watch my son play live and not on the computer."

Matt sees both sides of the playing at home coin, though it's clear the pros outweigh the cons.

"It's nice because I know how much energy and how much support that I get from my family out on this side of the country, how they're with me and no matter if I'm in the box in Reading, Pennsylvania, or whether I'm in the box here in Scottsdale, I know that I have their support.

"But at the same time, it's added pressure, it's wanting to do that much better for them. That sometimes gets you in a little bit of a little bit of a funk. But other than that, I'm enjoying my time, I'm enjoying the opportunity to play in front of them."

Matt had already learned a great deal about the game, and mostly not the on-the-field aspects, from his dad. Some of it's simply by example, seeing what his father went through, and where he went to, in order to play the game.

"I think it gave me a true reality check that this game isn't a walk in the park," Matt said. "Just because you're talented, just because you have God-given abilities, doesn't mean you're just going to end up on the big stage. You have to put in the work."

"There isn't much I can help him with as far as technique or form," Marc said. "We have conversations about the mental part of the game and we have been since he was a young man. That's my way of trying to help him stay positive, stay focused. He does a great job of doing it."

Those almost daily conversations run the gamut, from nuts and bolts baseball talk -- two players talking shop is how Matt characterized it -- to deeper discussions about life. It's clear they're navigating the father-son, former player-current player dynamic quite deftly.

When Marc talks about Matt, or his other two children for that matter, he approaches it not as a former player at all. He leads with him as parent, and he was fighting back tears when talking about all three of his kids.

"That's what my children mean to me," Marc said. "I'm proud of him. And he's going make it. I know he's going to make it. It's a tough game.

"But like I told him, I don't care if you play in the big leagues, and I would give up all these jerseys today for my son to get at least one day in the big leagues. I'm going to love him regardless. At the end of the day, I'm dad first and that's what I try to pride myself on."

"Through this whole baseball journey, my dad's been my best friend," Matt, equally emotional, said. "He's been the guy that I've turned to when I've been in tough corners. He's the first person that I want to call when something good happens."

That's not to say the competitors in each of them never come out. Marc has never gone full tilt from a mound against his son, but when asked who would win a matchup, in-his-prime Marc vs. current-day Matt, both puffed their chests out a bit.

"As long as I don't miss the first two fastballs," said Matt, claiming hypothetical victory. "If I get to the splitter, it's probably over. But if I get one of those two fastballs, I'd probably win."

"I'd say that I'd punch you out. I'll strike you out on three pitches," Marc responded. "But the reality of it is that because I threw hard in my prime and his strength is right-center field, he's going to have a chance."