World Series start a dream come true for Matz
Long Island native's journey reaches Game 4 assignment at Citi Field
NEW YORK -- A 24-year-old will wake up Saturday on Long Island in his boyhood bedroom. He will have breakfast with his dad, a service manager at a car dealership, and his mom, a secretary at a nearby high school. In the early afternoon, he will drive the 50 or so miles from Stony Brook, N.Y., to Citi Field.
Then Steven Matz will do what thousands of other kids from Long Island can only dream about. He will start Game 4 of the World Series for the New York Mets (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time on FOX), looking to even the Series after his team's 9-3 victory over the Royals on Friday.
"This is the dream," said Matz, scheduled to work opposite Royals veteran Chris Young. "This is what you write up in your backyard when you're playing Wiffle ball."
But for Matz, this is real.
"I always thought about it," he said. "I didn't know it was actually going to come to truth or whatever. It's actually amazing. It's a pretty big blessing being here, especially my first year being a part of this team."
Matz was 13 or 14 years old when veteran scout Larry Izzo laid eyes on him. Izzo has been in the business for 35 years and was the first scout to write a report on another Long Islander who eventually made it to the Majors. Craig Biggio went all the way to the Hall of Fame.
In Matz, Izzo saw a fluid delivery and a good arm, a quiet kid who seemed more mature than his teammates. Scouting for the Expos at the time, Izzo gave his business card to Matz's father, Ron, and urged the family to stay in touch. By the time Matz was nearing Draft eligibility, Izzo had been hired by the Mets.
"Every once in a while, you hit the jackpot on a kid," Izzo said. "I won the lottery with Steve. He's probably a better person than he is a ballplayer, and we know he's a good ballplayer."
Matz did not pitch much in high school because of a spurt that literally caused growing pains. So he played first base for 10th and most of 11th grade before returning to the mound with more bulk and better zip on his fastball. Ron Matz thought his son had a chance to play some college baseball and might even be good enough to get some scholarship money.
Steven Matz beat those expectations. By his senior year, said Ward Melville High School coach Lou Petrucci, Matz was reaching 92-93 mph on the radar gun. More scouts took note.
"The thing that set him apart from other players, he was a great listener," Petrucci said. "Though I never really had to talk to him. He was never late. He was the kind of kid who would give his teammates a ride home and never accept gas money. He was the kind of kid you want to be your son."
Izzo and other Mets officials considered Matz first-round talent, and apparently so did Matz, who made it known to teams that he was seeking a significant bonus. Since the Mets did not have a first-round selection in 2009, Izzo expected Matz to be off the board by the 72nd overall pick.
But he dropped because of those signability concerns, and the Mets had their man. When he walked into the cafeteria at school the next day, Petrucci said, fellow students gave Matz a standing ovation.
"He's the most lovable kid in the world," Petrucci said.
But this is not a story without adversity. Matz and the Mets did not agree on a signing bonus until minutes before the deadline in 2009, delaying his professional debut. In the fall instructional league, he felt pain in his elbow and was shut down. When the issue persisted the following spring, it was the worst-case scenario; Matz required reconstructive Tommy John surgery and a grueling rehabilitation.
In the end, surgery cost Matz both 2010 and 2011, his return delayed by multiple bouts of renewed discomfort. In the spring of 2012, still hurting and unsure whether the case was scar tissue or another ligament tear, Matz was advised by Dr. James Andrews to try one more aggressive mound session. Matz felt a pop -- but a good one this time, the scar tissue finally breaking free. Then he heard a pop, the sound of a 97 mph fastball hitting the catcher's glove.
Free of pain, Matz moved quickly. Rookie ball in 2012, Class A in 2013, Double-A by the end of 2014 and Triple-A Las Vegas to begin 2015. In late June, Matz won his Major League debut at Citi Field, his family celebrating in a suite, but he had to be shut down again after two starts because of a muscle injury behind his left shoulder.
Matz didn't make it back to the Majors until September.
"That's the story here," said Petrucci, the high school coach. "It's not just the local kid, the kid from Long Island, pitching for the Mets. It's the guy fighting through Tommy John surgery and the rest. The story is that through the adversity, this kid didn't quit."
Saturday's start will be Matz's ninth in a Major League uniform and his third in this postseason.
In section 114 at Citi Field, parents Ron and Lori Matz will be nervously watching.
"It's been pretty exciting," Ron Matz said Friday as his son assembled with the rest of the team along the foul line to be introduced before Game 3. "Just a couple of months ago, we were seeing him in Vegas, and now, Game 4 of the World Series. It's just crazy.
"He's been fine. Steve is pretty low-key. He doesn't show much emotion. I know he's been running crazy with all the travel and adjusting to everything, being in the big leagues. But he's been fine."
Logistics were no problem after the Series shifted back to New York. Matz just headed home to Mom.
"It's awesome," he said. "I did that pretty much ever since I came back from getting hurt. We're on off hours, so there's not much traffic. It's not too terrible. It's been pretty awesome to be able to do that."
Later, the magnitude of this magical ride might set in.
"While everything is going on, you really don't sit and think about it," Ron Matz said. "You just enjoy the ride and hope he stays healthy and does his thing."