Mets southpaw reflects on first 100 MLB starts
When Steven Matz was an 8-year-old, he already knew who his Suffolk County baseball rival was: Marcus Stroman. The future MLB starters squared off in a little league battle, with Matz taking the mound.
“I remember he was the big name in our league,” Matz, who is wrapping up his fifth year as a starting pitcher for the New York Mets, said. “We were playing in the 9-year-old division, and we had to play him. I was pitching against him and he hit a grand slam off me. He says he doesn’t remember, but I sure do. He was the big dog back then.”
Stroman went to Patchogue-Medford High School, while Matz was the star of Ward Melville High School’s baseball squad. However, the dynamic duo played with the Paveco Storm travel team throughout their middle and high school years.
Until early August, they had gone several years without playing on the same team. But that changed when the New York Mets made a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays to acquire Stroman, reuniting the Long Islanders at last.
“To be reunited with him at this level of the game is not only cool, but it’s rare,” Matz said.
The two battled each other in an unforgettable 2009 Suffolk League duel, with Matz striking out 12 batters in a one-hitter, while his future Mets teammate had 14 K’s in a three-hitter. Matz’s Ward Melville team won, 1-0.
Now, Matz just made his 100th MLB start, with Stroman nearing No. 150.
Though Matz and his wife Taylor no longer reside on Long Island during the offseason, the Stony Brook-born pitcher is always thinking of the impact he can make on New York.
“I’m pretty happy with where I’m at,” Matz said. “I’m doing different stuff every day to make myself better. As far as doing stuff differently, I need to keep improving. My main goal is to get better every time I go out there.”
Away from the field, Matz spends his time working on his charity, Tru 32, which he created in 2016. Inspired by the Mets’ 2015 playoff run, winning the National League pennant race to play in the World Series, Matz knew it was time to give back.
“My agent sat me down and we wanted to get some initiatives going, specifically, community outreach,” Matz explained. “I was talking to him and he saw my heart is with first responders. He said, ‘Let’s get this thing started.’”
So as Matz began his first full MLB season, the Tru 32 program began. Thirty-two first responders head to Citi Field for a Mets game, and they have a chance to not only get an autograph from their local hero, but chat with him as well.
“The biggest thing is just showing my excitement, appreciation and honor towards them and what they do,” he said. “They are the true heroes of our community. It’s very surreal that they would be excited to want to see me.”
When deciding how he could give back to the community, Matz knew exactly what to do. He was just 10 years old when the terror attacks of 9/11 occurred.
As Matz worked his way to the top level of baseball, he quickly grasped how important the sport is to New York’s bravest.
“It was seeing what happened, seeing what those guys had to do, seeing what they sacrificed and what their families had to sacrifice as special people,” Matz said of the years after 9/11.
This year, Matz had the honor of a lifetime. He was the man to step onto the mound on Sept. 11. Uniform No. 32 would be pitching in front of an emotional crowd.
During the pregame ceremonies, Matz admittedly had some jitters, which is rare for someone in his fifth year of professional baseball. But this was a special evening, one he will never forget.
“It was difficult as far as emotions while pitching,” Matz said. “I have to try to keep those things separate. It’s such a special day in New York. After that first inning, I definitely calmed down a bit.”
And Matz certainly calmed down, pitching a gem against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The southpaw threw six shutout innings, including seven strikeouts, one of his best outings of the year.
“I was honored that I got to pitch for the Mets on that day,” he said. “It’s an honor and it’s really special.”
While the hometown hero isn’t guaranteed to return with the orange and blue next year, Matz is determined to end the year on a high note. He was a key member of the Mets’ 2015 playoff run, but he’s eager to pitch in the postseason once again.
“2015 was something I got thrown into,” he explained. “It was my first year with only six starts, then boom, I’m in the playoffs. To go through the full grind of the season and then make the playoffs would be really special.”
As Matz looks to remain a vital piece of the future of the Mets, he believes 82-year-old pitching coach Phil Regan is one of his keys to further success.
“He’s really familiar with me and my mechanics because I had him in the minor leagues,” Matz said. “The main thing is he’s working on little adjustments here and there. His positivity, because he’s been in the game for so long, goes a long way for us.”
All that matters for Matz, though, is making a difference.
“I have to go out and keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I need to execute one pitch at a time and that’s it. I want to better myself in all areas. I want to be a better pitcher and a better person every day.”