We interviewed Mets pitcher Steven Matz, who grew up in Stony Brook, in the clubhouse at Citi Field recently. He is a star player and one of our favorites. Let’s go, Mets!
How old were you when you started playing baseball?
My brother was three years older than me, so he started when he was 6. So I was always tagging along with him when I was 3 and just running around the field. And then I didn’t start officially until I was 6 years old with a team.
What is your favorite place to pitch in?
I would say San Francisco, outside of Citi Field, of course. San Francisco because it’s just beautiful out there. It’s a big park. So it’s tough for guys to hit home runs, and that was the stadium where I got my most strikeouts. So right now I think San Francisco is my favorite to pitch in.
If you weren’t a professional baseball player, what would you do?
I think that I would be maybe a fireman or a police officer or something like that.
If you could play ball with one player from the past, who would you pick?
When I was growing up, Vladimir Guerrero was my favorite player, so I will say Vladimir Guerrero. His son is in the major leagues now with the Blue Jays.
Where is the best place to get pizza on Long Island?
Little Vincent’s in Islip.
Where were you and how did you react when you first realized that you would be famous?
I was in Manhattan and as I was walking through the hotel where I was staying at, people recognized me, and I was like, wow, I’ve never been recognized outside of my hometown, Stony Brook. So that was the first time, right after my debut.
What is your favorite sport other than baseball?
I like football. I love to watch football.
Why did you pick uniform No. 32?
When I was in high school I was No. 23. And then when I got called up here, I guess maybe someone had 23. They flipped it around and gave me 32. It chose me, I guess you can say.
Being from Long Island, did you find it hard to compete with kids from warmer places?
Yeah. I think it was harder because you only get a certain amount of months that we can actually be outside. So a lot of time it’s snowing, so you really got to try extra hard to make your mark and get seen by the scouts. So it’s definitely a challenge.
How has being a famous baseball player changed your life?
I think something that I really try to do is always be the same person. So whether I become really famous or if the game ends for me now, I always try to be the same person. I never try to be bigger than who I grew up as. So I always try to be the same.
Are there any rules you would like to change?
I don’t like the DH [designated hitter]. I like to hit. I think it’s fun. Hitting’s fun so I want it to always be no DH in the National League.
What is your favorite hobby?
I really enjoy fishing.
Where was your pitching debut? And how does it feel the first time stepping on the Major League fields?
My pitching debut was right out there four years ago. And I was really nervous when I first got out there. My first pitch, I threw it right over the catcher’s head — didn’t even make it to the catcher. Right over his head, straight to the backstop, because I was so nervous. But then I settled in.
Being that lacrosse is such a popular sport on Long Island, did you ever think of switching sports?
No, I never did. A lot of my best friends in high school played lacrosse. But for some reason I just loved baseball ever since I was 3.
How long does it take to learn to throw curveballs?
I’m still trying to learn to throw a curveball. So I think that you can learn it right now, but over time, it takes a long time to really master that, because it’s a hard pitch to learn. You’ve got to do it. The more I do it the more comfortable you feel with it. But I think you can learn it right now. You should be able to throw it right now. You can learn it quick, but to master it, it takes a long time.
What is your favorite pitch to throw?
My favorite pitch is a fastball. It’s a great feeling when you just throw a fastball and the guy swings and misses. You throw it right by him.
Is there anything you would like to improve on as a player?
I think everything. My biggest thing is I want to throw later in the games, so instead of coming out in the fifth or sixth inning, I want to try to make it later in the games, the eighth, even throwing a complete game.
Are you a Sound or an ocean guy?
I’m a Long Island Sound, yeah, definitely. I live on the North Shore. So I’m with you guys — you’re from Great Neck, right? On the Sound. That’s what I like.
What message do you want to get across from athletes?
I think that when you’re young you should try, just like you said, to play a lot of different sports and stay active and try to be the best all-around athlete as you can be. Not just specializing in baseball or soccer but just be well-rounded. And then it keeps you active all-year round, too.
Here’s the list. Jets or Giants? Rangers or Islanders? And Knicks or Nets?
Let’s go with Giants, Islanders, and I don’t have a preference. I guess I’ve got to go with Knicks. Because I don’t even know anybody on the Nets.
Do you ever get nervous before going on the mound?
Yeah. I’m a little bit more comfortable now … [because] as soon as you start playing, then it [the nervousness] all goes away. And then you’re just competing like you normally would. But the anticipation does make you nervous a little bit.
What is your favorite part about being a pitcher?
My favorite part about being a pitcher is that on the day you pitch, you’re always in the action, so there’s not a lot of standing around. And then on the days you don’t pitch, you get to be in a good routine, and you get to work out and stuff. So I like that.
What are the biggest challenges when overcoming an injury?
Just the patience. You want to just try to rush and be back with the team as quickly as you can. Sometimes, all the time, you’ve got to be patient and let it fully heal and get the whole process to come back. Instead of trying to rush it back and not being fully ready. So having patience is really tough.
How did it feel to pitch in the World Series?
It was fun. It is one of my greatest memories to now — being out there on that field in front of the whole country watching me pitch was an amazing feeling. So I’ll never forget that.
Thomas Hughes' fifth-grade class, Lakeville Elementary School, Great Neck