Matt Szczur went from Lower Cape May to Villanova to the Major League Baseball draft. Next step… center field of one of the country’s most famous stadiums?
Interview by JACK WRIGHT
Matt Szczur was a star athlete at Lower Cape May Regional High School. Such a star that when Villanova recruited him, it was for both their baseball AND football teams. He excelled at both sports, but he set his heart on a baseball career and in the 2010 baseball draft, the Chicago Cubs selected Matt in the fifth round, the 160th pick overall. We caught up with him in Florida in late April, where he had just finished a game for the Daytona Cubs, Chicago’s Class A-Advanced affiliate, in the Florida State League.
Where are you now? In a hotel room in Lakeland, Florida.
You just played a game. Who was it against? Lakeland Flying Tigers. They’re affiliated with Detroit Tigers.
How did you do? We lost 6-4, and I went two for four, with a single and a double and two runs scored.
What are your numbers this season so far? I don’t know. We’ve only played about 22 games, and it’s too soon to check that out. I wait until about midway or the end of the season.
Is that typical? There are guys we call stat rats who check their numbers every game, but I try and stay away from that. I can tell how I’m playing. I don’t need to check out the numbers.
Can you usually feel if you’re going to have a good day at the plate, or does it depend entirely on the opposing pitcher? It’s funny. Usually if I have a BP [batting practice], I hit better, and sometimes it will work the opposite way, too. And sometimes you feel great at the plate and you can hit the ball hard, but it if goes right to someone every time, you can still go 0-4. Mentally, I think baseball is one of the hardest games. The good thing is you play the next day and you get the chance to make that up. You don’t have to wait for a week.
What is your ambition this season? I want to excel where I’m at. That’s all I’m concentrating on.
One of the other touted Cubs prosects, along with yourself, is Brett Jackson, who is a center fielder like you. Do you see him as competition for the starting center fielder’s job with the Cubs? I don’t think about that. As long as I worry about myself, I will be fine.
Have you given yourself a target for getting into the big leagues? I hope to be there by the end of next year or the following year.
How did it feel to be linked to the Red Sox as part of the Theo Epstein deal? I didn’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff.
Is that really true? It’s hard NOT to wonder about whether you were going to end up in Boston. I have no control over that, so I didn’t think about it.
Did you do anything crazy with that $1.5 million signing bonus? Not really. I bought an Audi and gave some money to my parents.
What’s the best and worst things about playing in the minor leagues? I love traveling, and we do a lot of that. Traveling around the midwest, Florida. I love it. The worst thing is that you are moving from motel to motel, away from your family and friends.
What are the motels like, and do you have to share a room? They’re pretty basic. They’re not four-star, but they’re not one-star either.
Do you have any superstitions? I actually just started one the other day. A lot of peple try and stay off the foul line, but I’ver started deliberately stepping on it before I run out to center field. At the begining of the season, my luck was brutal, so I started this new thing.
How’s that working out? It’s been pretty good, actually.
When were you last in Cape May? The beginning of February, and I won’t be back until… actually I don’t even know when I will be back. Whenever I finish playing baseball. Our last game without playing in the post-season is September 2.
What do you miss most about here? My family and friends and my girlfriend, Natalie. She lives in North Wildwood.
What about the beach? Not really. In Daytona, my condo is on the beach.
What do you do with what little spare time you have? In the morning, I wake up, and I make myself breakfast. Usually pork roll and eggs. Then I hang out, maybe go to the beach. And then we’re at the baseball field from 1:30 until 11 at night.
How come? We will hit before games and practice. The game is usually three hours long and then the club feeds us really well after the game and then we’ll shower and go home.
What if you don’t get into the major leagues? Would you be prepared to hang around in the minors? I haven’t thought about that yet. If I don’t make it, I wouldn’t be worrying. I have a great family and a great support system.
Do you ever second-guess yourself for choosing baseball over football? No.
Are you allowed to play other sports as part of your contract with the Cubs? No, I can’t do anything.
What about throwing a frisbee? [Laughs] Yeah, I’m allowed to throw a frisbee.
What would you like to do when your career is over? I studied communications at Villanova and I have a degree in liberal arts. I love to draw and paint, and I would like to do something with art. Maybe a grade school teacher involving art.
Do you see yourself settling back in this area, or has Florida got your attention? I haven’t decided yet. I would like to come back home, but we will see where my career takes me.
Are you a big Phillies fan? [Laughs] I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about that.
C’mon now. Okay, I’m a big Phillies and Eagles fan.
What do you make of the Phillies’ hitting problems this year? How well do you think they can do? I don’t follow them, I’m too involved with my own game during the season. When I’m not playing, I like to hang out and not pay attention to that stuff.
That’s probably a good thing. You don’t want to be watching the Phillies right now. [As we went to press, they were second bottom of the NL East.]And what about the Cubs? They’ve been suffering for a long time, and they’ve made a bad start to the season. Do you think they are still in a rebuilding mode? They’ve got a great team and a great coaching staff. They’re moving in the right direction.
When’s your next game? Back in tomorrow against the Lakeland Tigers.
Good luck. Thanks, man