Hero worship has returned to the Three Village area with the Mets’ signing of former Ward Melville High School star pitcher Anthony Kay, who is following in the footsteps of fellow Ward Melville graduate Steven Matz in more ways than one.
The lefthanded Kay, who pitched three seasons for the University of Connecticut, has joined Matz in having a sandwich named after him, and it has started something of a food fight in the neighborhood as eateries compete to meat the Mets.
Even before Kay was drafted 31st overall in last month’s MLB Draft, Bagel Express on Route 25A in East Setauket was introducing the K-Zone, which melds chicken cutlet, buffalo chicken, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato and buffalo sauce on a toasted garlic hero.
Bagel Express owner David Prestia said Ward Melville’s Lou Petrucci, who coached both pitchers in high school, helped design the K-Zone. Kay said he is “honored’’ by the hero but hasn’t tried it yet. “I’ve eaten it four times for him,’’ Petrucci said.
Meanwhile, just a short drive down the road, Wisam Dakwar — owner of Se-Port Deli and creator of the Matz sandwich and other Mets-themed heroes — has a beef with Bagel Express, saying a former employee at Se-Port brought his idea to Prestia. “He is trying to copy what I do around here,’’ Dakwar said. “Everybody wants to come to Se-Port.’’
Dakwar also vowed to come up with a sandwich named after Kay to join the rotation of Matz and Jacob deGrom. Dakwar said the Daniel Murphy sandwich is being phased out; the former Met has been piling it on his old team as a member of the rival Nationals.
Kay, 21, isn’t taking sides in the sandwich wars. His immediate thoughts are on beginning his pro career and getting to Citi Field. “Hopefully as soon as possible,’’ Kay said. “We haven’t really discussed how long it’s going to take me with them. Hopefully, I can get there as quick as possible. If I have success pitching, then I’ll move up quickly.’’
Kay originally was drafted as a high school senior by the Mets in the 29th round in 2013 but his father, Bob, said the bonus money to turn pro was not enough for his son to forgo college. “We thought $500,000 was reasonable,’’ he said.
The offer was for less than half that amount.
Kay’s bonus this time was $1.1 million, roughly $872,000 under the amount slotted for his position in the draft. Mets director of amateur scouting Tommy Tanous said that was no reflection on Kay’s ability or reports that he had been overworked in college. “If we were worried about him physically, we would not have signed him,’’ he said.
Asked to compare Kay with Matz, Tanous said: “They’re different types of pitchers. Matz was a little more physically mature in high school at 17 years old. Anthony really loves to pitch with his fastball. He was one of the few college pitchers I scouted that really wants to pitch with his fastball, wants to come inside on hitters, and it sets up his advanced changeup.’’
Kay has not yet received his minor-league assignment.
“The year that they get drafted, you take it easy on them,’’ Tanous said. “They’ve already had a significant workload, they’ve been pitching since January in the gym and then their season starts in February, so they start before the major-leaguers do. You want to be a little more careful with them.’’
Tanous has no doubt that Kay will be a big-leaguer. “Yes, absolutely, that’s the whole idea,’’ he said. “He’s a good kid, a great makeup kid. He’s got a three-pitch mix with his fastball, curveball and really good changeup and really solid mechanics. I think you’ll be seeing him hopefully sooner than later. He should get off to a good start for us.’’
Kay’s family lives in the Strathmore section of Stony Brook, very close to the Matz family. Matz moved to Long Island City, partly because of autograph-seekers showing up at his door. Kay hasn’t experienced that yet.
“If you get yourself in that situation, it’s kind of a good problem that you have if people want your autograph,’’ Kay said. “You’re definitely doing something right. So I think it’s definitely a good problem to have. I don’t think I would be mad about it.’’