Plenty of memories from a young baseball player

Right from the start, you knew Matt Wright was special. He not only had God-given talent to throw a baseball, but he loved the game.

Matt was one of the key players that helped Mifflin County go to its first World Series in 2002. He pitched and played center field.

During the 2002 regular season, I wrote one of the best lines that I have written about player: This 15-year-old looks like Tom Sawyer, but don’t be fooled by his looks. The only thing he wants to do is whitewash your scorebook.

After Mifflin County won the state title in 2002, it was off to Northern New Jersey for the Mid-Atlantic Regional. I decided I didn’t want to drive, so I rode with the Wrights.

Matt and I talked baseball through the four-hour drive. When we arrived in New Milford, N.J., Scott Wright, Matt’s father, jumped out of the car and said, “That Ray and Matt talked about baseball for the last four hours. They never shut up.”

I knew then that he loved the game. Most players enjoy talking to me about the games and baseball, but not for four hours.

That team took the Mifflin County league for a long ride that summer, going to the World Series in Connersville, Ind. What made that team so special was that as 13- and 14-year-olds, the team never made it out of the District 7 tournament.

After Babe Ruth, Matt played American Legion baseball and took his high school – well, the one formed by the merger of his school, West Snyder, and Middleburg – to the state quarterfinals when he was a senior.

I didn’t get to see him play again until his junior year in college, at Shippensburg University. I was doing local college baseball stories and I did one on him when he was pitching on the road in Lock Haven.

After, he got drafted, I did another story that spring on Matt, but I didn’t get to see him pitch again until I went to Lansing, Mich., in August 2010. His mother was in town for that game and she told me that he probably wouldn’t pitch that night because he had pitched the night before.

Then late in the game, I was setting alone and I looked out on the mound and couldn’t beleive what I was seeing. I thought that looks like Matt Wright out there. And it was.

In 2013, I was going to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. While trying to find something on the radio, I ran across a ball game. It turned out to be the Binghamton Mets and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

There I was in the middle of New York state driving and the Mets’ announcer says, “Now enterting the game, Matt Wright.” How many times are you driving on Interstate 80 in New York and the pitcher turns out to be from McClure?

Then came last August, when Matt was on the disabled list and I took off from Belleville to do a story. By the time I got to Manchester, N.H., that same day, Matt was off the disabled list. The game went extra-innings and not only did he pitch, but he was the winning pitcher.

This winter, however, Matt decided to retire from the game. There is a lesson to be learned from his career.

In the movie “Moneyball” there is a line that goes like this: “Someday, somebody is going to tell you, you can’t play this game anymore. It might be at 18 or 40, but someone is going to tell you.”

For most players, the word comes at 18. After high school graduation, if you don’t get picked up by a college or professional team, your youth baseball career is pretty much done.

It seems like at 13 when a player is first introduced to the big field, there whole baseball life is ahead of them. But, in reality there are just a few players that go on to perform at college and an even smaller percentage go beyond that.

The window for most players is six years, from 13 to 18. So this spring and summer, when your out with your son or daughter at a Babe Ruth, junior varsity, American Legion or varsity baseball game and things arn’t going right, sit back and take it all in.

Enjoy the base hits, the errors, the hot dogs and hamburgers, the pitching changes, the sun and the rain.

Matt Wright was one of the lucky ones – he got to extend his baseball career for a couple more years than most players dream about.

But, as Matt would tell you, enjoy every minute of the game. Because before you know it, those years slip by you and all of a sudden you’re in the final inning of the final game of your career.

Ray Wilde is a Sentinel correspondent.