Steven Matz is a hero.
Even before the lefthander makes his major-league debut at Citi Field on Sunday, the former Ward Melville High School star had a sandwich named for him at a popular gathering place of his fans and neighbors in Suffolk County's Three Village area.
"The Matz" is a specialty sandwich at SE-Port Deli in East Setauket. The ingredients: chicken cutlet, melted jack and cheddar cheeses, crispy bacon, lettuce and tomato topped with pepper house dressing on a toasted garlic hero. It's what Matz ordered long before the sandwich was given his name.
The anticipation for Matz's major-league arrival has been palpable, so close that one can, uh, taste it, especially at the deli where Matz and his high school teammates often gathered. "We are big-time excited,'' deli worker Jeffrey Fernandez said. "He's a good friend of ours.''
Matz -- who will oppose a relative veteran in Reds righthander Josh Smith, who made his major-league debut last Tuesday against the Pirates -- is only 24, but his friends, family and admirers feel as if they've been waiting forever for his arrival in the big leagues.
For Ron Matz, it's a dream come true. The man who used to drive Steven to Yankees and Mets games will be at Citi Field on Sunday, this time to watch his son play.
"I don't even know if I'll have tickets to get in,'' he joked.
Steven Matz, who went 7-4 with a 2.19 ERA for Triple-A Las Vegas, has been waiting for this moment as long as he can remember.
"It was always my dream. It never really came to light until going into my senior year,'' he said Thursday by phone. "That's what I wanted to do my entire life. I'm real excited, really excited. That's all I can say.''
Speculation about his promotion to The Show had been high during the week, and the Mets made it official on Friday after notifying Matz on Thursday.
"We wanted him to be up in the big leagues [six] years ago when he first got drafted,'' said Ward Melville baseball coach Lou Petrucci, who is overjoyed that Matz finally has made the big leagues. "It's going to be one of the most exciting days of my baseball life because one of the players that we've seen and we've watched, he's a top prospect. One in a million kids gets a shot at getting drafted.''
GREET THE MATZ
Ron Matz is a service manager for a Jeep dealership in West Islip. He doesn't expect to miss any of his son's starts at home. "An hour away,'' he said. "The people there have been great. They let me leave to watch him when he was at [Double-A] Binghamton.''
Steven's mom is Lori Matz, an administrative employee at Comsewogue High School.
Older brother Jonathon, 27, is working on a master's degree in graphic design at Syracuse University and sister Jillian, 19, is studying environmental science at the University of Delaware. All collectively or individually have spent late nights watching or listening when Steven pitched for Las Vegas.
And now he is about to pitch at Citi Field. And the family is sure he'll do fine.
Steven "keeps everything internal,'' his dad said. "He's not the kind of guy to walk with his chest up. But I think deep down inside he realizes he's earned this and he's ready.''
It all started for Matz in the Three Village Little League, where even as an 8-year-old he seemed to separate himself from the other youngsters.
"Of course we're all young kids playing ball, we all want to be part of the big leagues one day,'' childhood friend Bryan Ellison said. "Even me being two years older than him in Little League, we knew that he was the one who probably had a shot. He had what it took. We know if it was anybody, it was probably him.''
Mike Pignataro coached Matz from age 8 until 14. "If he could play 24/7, he would,'' the Farmingdale optometrist said. "Not only was the kid talented, he was just a good kid. Never had that 'I'm better than you' attitude even though he was 95 percent better than the kids out there.''
Ellison pitched with Matz -- who won the 2009 Yastrzemski Award as Suffolk's top player -- at Ward Melville and has been vicariously along for the ride ever since. "I'm texting him 'Hey, man, go kill 'em out there for all of us,' '' he said. "It means the world to all of us. From Ward Melville, we had very few of us make it anywhere.''
The school also boasts famous graduates in "The King of Queens'' comedian Kevin James and former pro wrestler Mick Foley.
Mike Yasso also was in the rotation with Matz at Ward Melville. "Someone you used to play with and share the same field with, it's crazy to see him on the big stage,'' Yasso said.
Yasso recalled Matz, who now is 6-2, as being about three inches shorter than the 6-foot Yasso when they began their freshman year and two inches taller by the end of the baseball season in June. Said Yasso, "The next thing I know, he's in showcases throwing 90 miles an hour and everyone's talking about Steve Matz.''
LET'S MAKE A DEAL
Once his hometown team took Matz with the 72nd pick of the 2009 draft, getting his name on a contract did not go smoothly. He eventually signed a $900,000 deal.
"We were negotiating down to the wire,'' Ron Matz said. "I don't think Steven really knew the amount of money, how much it was.
"Putting it in perspective, one of his cousins got his master's degree as a schoolteacher down south and I'm saying to Steve, 'You don't realize it would take your cousin almost 20 years to make this kind of money.' He looked at me as an 18-year-old kid and said, 'Really?' So I don't think he understood what $900,000 meant as far as it takes people a lifetime to save that. I think he was like, 'All right, that's what I'm doing. We're doing this.' ''
A BUMP ON THE
YELLOW BRICK ROAD
There was a collective gasp from Matz's followers when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery in May 2010. "We went down [to Florida],'' Ron Matz said, "got him settled in almost like getting him to college. Then to get that call. But after going to the doctor and talking about it and hearing about it, it was 'all right, so we lost a year. He's 18 years old. It's good that it happened now, the whole bit.' ''
Steven agreed. "I look at that time as a blessing now,'' he said. "I learned a lot during that time. I was young, I learned a lot about my body and I met a lot of good people along the way. So looking back, I think I came out of that whole situation pretty good.''
And now it's showtime.
"My whole body will probably tingle," Matz said. "It will be pretty amazing. It's something I've been striving for my entire life and it's coming to life now."