As a producer of digital sports cards, Chris Vaccaro always roots for milestone moments to occur in baseball so he can turn history into memorabilia. During Steven Matz's debut, though, Vaccaro was rooting a little harder than usual.
Before landing his current position as editor-in-chief and director of app production for Topps Digital, Vaccaro was a sportswriter on Long Island, covering high school baseball for local magazines and newspapers. He still remembers watching Matz pitch in an All-Star Game during his senior season in 2009.
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"I have photos of him that I took that day," Vaccaro said. "For me, it's surreal because I was at plenty of his high school games when he was at Ward Melville."
Before the final out was recorded in Matz's sparkling debut June 28 -- he threw 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball and went 3-for-3 with four RBIs, a record for a pitcher's first game -- the Topps Digital team had sprung into action, working to churn out two digital baseball cards that featured headlines from his performances on the mound and at the plate.
The cards were made available through Topps' "BUNT" app, available for iOS and Android devices in the App Store and Google Play, respectively.
"We have a team of producers at Topps that is ready to react immediately to those major moments," said Vaccaro, a Sachem alum who resides in Lake Grove. "In the case of Steven Matz, we were able to release cards very quickly after his debut, and it just so happened that he not only had a great outing on the mound, but he had a historical performance at the plate. So right away, we were able to release two different cards, one that honored the way he pitched, and also the way he hit.
"To have seen this kid play in high school, and now to see him play for the Mets and have the opportunity to do something like releasing a historic card of his . . . That was pretty special for me."
The limited amount of digital cards were available just hours after the game and sold out shortly thereafter, Vaccaro said.
"Something special has to happen in baseball for us to release these types of cards," Vaccaro said. " . . . Whether it's a perfect game, a no-hitter or a debut like Matz's, our fans get excited, and we react. Of course, Long Islanders and New Yorkers and Mets fans were thrilled within our BUNT community."
Matz's stellar debut also prompted OYO Sports, the first building-block toy based off MLB players, to develop a Matz figurine that will ship next week. Suggested retail is $12.99.
Shari Fabiani, senior vice president of product and marketing for OYO Sports, said in an email: "The story of a local NY hometown sports hero such as Matz, drafted to a local team, is truly special."