There’s not much room left on Matt Soren’s passport.
In the last five years, the 28-year-old Roslyn native and former Long Island Ducks righthander has played baseball in Australia, South Africa and, this summer, with the Israeli national team. Now, Soren said he’s looking to give back to the communities that embraced him.
Over the last few months, Soren has orchestrated a fundraising drive, collecting baseball equipment to send back to the areas around Cape Town, South Africa, where he played for two years. He’s accrued hundreds of pieces, from bats to balls and gloves, calling the experience both rewarding and a little surprising.
“I wasn’t expecting this much,” said Soren, who spent one season in the Philadelphia Phillies organization after being drafted in the 19th round and pitched in 12 games for the 2015 Ducks “You kind of fall in and out of love with the game, but then you get the experience of seeing it through another prism or another person’s perspective. Then it’s ‘Oh, wow, this is bigger than where we are.’”
After pitching collegiately at Delaware, Soren spent 2013 in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn League. He played independent baseball from 2014-2015 and competed internationally until 2016, but said the grind of those leagues was difficult so, this spring, he started looking for new options.
He reached out to Team Israel after reading about other pros who had obtained their citizenship to play for the squad and became a citizen himself in April. Since then, Soren has been to Israel, Bulgaria and Lithuania with the team.
“I love being in a competitive environment again, being able to show off my stuff, show that I can still throw with the best of them,” Soren said.
Although his career hasn’t been traditional, Soren said his experiences, particularly on the international circuit, have helped open his eyes to the opportunities in front of him.
They might be a little outside the box, but sometimes those are the best pitches to throw.
“Obviously the main goal when you get drafted out of college is to play in the big leagues,” Soren said. “Everybody has their different paths in life. I saw early on, once I really got to play abroad, especially in South Africa, there was a bigger purpose.”
For Soren, that purpose means helping others as much and as often as possible. He said he’s seen the game grow everywhere he’s been, whether that’s villages in Israel, which he and his teammates visited, or around the horn of Africa.
“When I lived abroad, you see how much of a factor America is, really, on everyone else,” Soren said. “It’s pop culture, music, movies, sports, and when you have a thing that connects as much as baseball, these kids are like, ‘America, that’s the land of opportunity. This is the sport of the land of opportunity.’”
As with most of his endeavors, Soren, who also coaches the Pro Diamond Select travel team on Long Island, has made the fundraising drive an international effort.
Adelphi baseball assistant and fellow Pro Diamond Select coach Zach Goldstein worked with Soren on the Long Island drive, while former teammate Jaz Shergill started his own drive in Toronto. Miles October, who owns the company Play Sport4Life and brought Soren to Cape Town in 2015, is paying for the shipments to South Africa.
“We want to be good people and show support for all the people that are trying to play baseball and trying to be in sports,” Goldstein said. “Matt’s a great role model and it’s cool to do this with him.”
Soren said he still hopes to pitch in the majors, but added that the last few months have been lifechanging. He’ll be back on the road in September, when Israel competes in the A Pool tournament of the European Championships, and said he's still acceptingt donations at Cove Sports Academy in Glen Cove, working to eventually expand the equipment drive to more countries.
“These kids, it’s going to change their lives, it really will,” Soren said. “I’ve seen it firsthand, when I just brought them one of my gloves. This is enough to field leagues, which makes it well worth it.”