Window of Opportunity: Matt Roland
According to Answers.com, the odds of becoming a professional ball player, in any sport, are 837 to 1. Those represent long odds, no question, except to spirited, young ball players with visions of advancing as far as their abilities will take them. As far as they are concerned, the prospects for achieving their goals depend almost entirely on their individual levels of motivation and commitment to hard work. For Matthew Roland of Springfield, New Jersey, the motivation is there. New Jersey Baseball Magazine™ recently caught up with Matthew and his father, Bob, at the new Frozen Ropes of Union (see Frozen Ropes article on www.njbaseballmag.com).
Matt, presently a sophomore at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, “has played baseball since he was five years-old,” as his Dad explains. While playing for Little League teams in both Springfield and Union, Matt appeared on “every All-Star team.” He played for the Nationals, one of the two LL teams from Union that competed for the right to travel to Williamsport,
Little League World Series at Williamsport
Despite losing to the rival Americans by only one run, Matt learned much about team pride and the integrity of competition. Those values have served him well as he has advanced into scholastic ball. As a freshman at Jonathan Dayton, he played on a young team that held its own in a 9-9 season.
Matt’s perspective on team play comes largely from his increasing versatility on the field. Possessed of a strong arm, his position of choice is shortstop; however, he has assumed more responsibility on the mound over the past couple seasons. As a high school freshman last year he threw 136 pitches in a game before being lifted. Although overuse as a pitcher has produced “some elbow issues” – he says he has not suffered irreparable damage to his arm – he did develop enough soreness that his doctor ordered him to wear a splint for a while. Except for some inflammation that he experiences from time to time, he says he has no recurring problems.
The success he has enjoyed as a pitcher – he likes “striking people out, especially beating the batter with an inside fastball” – has helped him acquire more opportunities to play; which, in turn, bring additional windows of opportunity to get noticed. In this regard, he expresses a world of gratitude to ex-White Sox hurler Mike Bertotti, who “taught me how to pitch.”
Last summer he played at the American Legion level for the first time, followed by 16U fall ball, and an invitation to the two-day Perfect Game Showcase in January '10.
Reporting to Major League Baseball and to 1500 Colleges Nationally
Team needs have pressed Matt into double duty as an outfielder. He modestly admits to not having “experience playing the outfield,” but that has not stopped him from learning to play right field. Team player that he is, he “bought an outfielder’s glove” and made the move to the outfield at the coach’s request. His confidence at making this move is bolstered by the coaching he’s receiving from Anthony Spezaferra, a former All-American outfielder for Rutgers, Matt’s “surrogate brother” and one-on-one trainer for the past eight years.
Contributing to a team effort has not impacted, rather it has enhanced his personal performance on the field. As starting pitcher in last season’s American Legion All-Star Game he gave up no hits and had 4 strikeouts in three innings pitched, and batted in the winning run. That kind of effort has typified Matt’s scholastic baseball career to date.
In fact, his game winning home run in a playoff game versus Chatham in a 2006 Little League game ranks as one of his cherished memories. In another “career” game that he pitched in his freshman year he batted 3-for-3 with 4 RBI, three of those coming on a game-tying HR in the top of the 7th inning. On the mound in that same game he yielded 4 runs and had 9 strikeouts in 7 innings pitched, only to see his team lose in extra frames.
Matt’s aspirations and accomplishments in baseball do not overshadow his efforts academically. His primary areas of focus in school include Math and Science, but he also has an abiding interest in History. He’s presently enrolled in honors classes for Chemistry, History, and Mathematics.
This budding student-athlete has his sights set on someday advancing to a D-1 college program, possibly the University of North Carolina or Rutgers, both known for their educational excellence. It’s not surprising that he would consider even now pursuing his post-secondary education at a university known for its academic rigor. He entertains a passing interest in possibly attending a west coast school, although his Mom has reservations about him traveling that far. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he says matter-of-factly
For the present, Matt remains content to continue excelling in his high school studies and enhancing his skills at the game he loves playing. He has sufficient challenges to keep him busy, with those honors courses he’s taking and on a Dayton baseball team looking to improve from last season’s 2-14 varsity record. If having helped his JV team to a 9-9 mark last season provides any indication, Matt’s varsity future bodes well for team improvement.
Oh yes, with all that on his plate, he also wants to add a sinker to his fastball / changeup / two-seam slider pitching repertoire. Sounds as though Coach Bertotti’s work is not nearly done.
Anthony with Coach Spezaferra
Coach Mike Bertotti
In addition to his Dad, who “always pushes me to achieve to the best of my ability,” Matt remembers the unselfish support he has gotten from Coaches Spezaferra and Bertotti, and the influence he’s received from Coach Bryan Malko at Frozen Ropes (see Frozen Ropes article on www.njbaseballmag.com). Of these, “Coach Malko teaches me about all aspects of the game, how to play it right, how to carry myself, to walk with confidence; that the game requires as much mental preparation as physical.”
New Jersey Baseball Magazine and New Jersey Baseball Online join Matt’s Dad, his trainers, and his coaches in wishing him well in all his academic and baseball pursuits. With all the support he receives, combined with the motivation, aspiration, and preparation that define his on-field efforts, it’s a safe bet that he will take full advantage of his windows of opportunity.