Every Spring for the past several years, I await the rosters to be announced for local collegiate summer baseball leagues. In particular, the New England Collegiate Baseball League who features two teams (The Newport Gulls, Ocean State Waves) that play their home games within 15 miles of my home, making it very convenient to attend games. The purpose – I scan the rosters for Rhode Island born players and put a check mark next to the games when these RI players will be playing for or against the Waves or the Gulls. One player I had check marked this summer was Warwick native, Pilgrim High School 3 sport star and current Bryant University Bulldog Matt Woods, who played for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks.
Via email, I recently caught up with Matt about his incredible Rhode Island athletic and baseball journey from Warwick to Bryant and most recently, his days playing baseball in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. Here is an excerpt from our conversation (Matt’s answers are in bold and italics):
Matt, good afternoon. Thanks again for agreeing to do this and continued success with your baseball journey at Bryant and next summer. Tell me a little bit about your Rhode Island baseball roots – Little League? AAU?
I played Little League at Warwick West Side which is now considered Warwick North. During my middle school years I played for the South County Spartans (I don’t think they are a team anymore).
What was that experience like?
I had so much fun playing baseball. I had grown up around it and looked forward to the games every week. I played three sports so I never got burnt out playing baseball. I was fortunate enough to play for my Little League’s all-star teams. Gave me my first taste of competition outside of my small bubble in Warwick.
If you would like to, name some of your baseball and life mentors who helped you along the way.
My biggest baseball mentor was my grandfather Don Mezzanotte. He played in the San Francisco Giants organization. Was a hall of fame coach for Providence College and won 5 State championships as a coach for Pilgrim High School. He was my #1 fan and my first coach. I owe most, if not all, of my success to him. Idris Liasu who coaches L&M Baseball is another huge mentor for me since I was 12. He taught me how to play the game the right way and guided me through the recruiting process. Matt Hopkins from Hops Athletic Performance is another mentor of mine since the age of 12 as well. He has helped my strength training and hitting aspects of my game evolve.
Did you have a favorite ballpark to play in Rhode Island? Or on one of your travel team tournaments?
Favorite place to play was and always will be Pilgrim High School. The field is named after my grandfather so it is my favorite place to play.
What was your primary position in youth baseball, high school?
My primary position was always Shortstop.
Were you a talented baseball player from the start or did your success come gradually throughout your youth playing days?
My success definitely gradually came throughout my baseball experience. I was never the biggest or the strongest. I had to work very hard to get to where I am today. Nothing was ever given to me it had to be earned because I wasn’t the most physically gifted. I started to make a jump in high school and that is when people started to notice. When I was in elementary school, I wasn’t even close to the best player on the team on my AAU team.
What advice would you give a youth baseball player about working towards being the best all around baseball player they can be?
The best advice I could give would be to play as many sports as possible. Playing other sports allows you to become the most athletic version of yourself. It also keeps the game fun. I see too many kids in middle school already burnt out because all they do is play baseball and they are only 13. It is such a mentally challenging sport that I would recommend playing different sports for as long as possible. I didn’t play baseball year round until my freshman year of college. I played soccer and basketball from ages 4-18 along with baseball. I think that has allowed me to enjoy baseball even more.
How about at the plate? Are you an on-base guy, power hitter, base stealing threat?
Offensively I would describe myself as a table setter. I like to work at bats, spray the ball around the field, get on base for the guys behind me, with the potential for some gap to gap power. My speed is my best weapon. Being able to put pressure on defenses because of my speed is something I take pride in.
What was the 2021 summer baseball league you played in and for what team?
I played in the NECBL for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks.
Do players register for summer leagues like the New England Collegiate Baseball League or are they recruited?
Players are mainly recruited to play in the NECBL. The general managers for the teams usually contact coaches at school. The coaches at school then place us in spots they see best fit.
Can you tell me a little bit about the process of how you were selected?
I had a couple of connections that got me to the Vineyard. Nick Raposo from Johnston who is with the (St. Louis) Cardinals now played for the Sharks when he was in college. He talked to their general manager about me and got the ball rolling. Russ Curran (GM for the sharks) then called H-Bod (Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar) who is our coach at Bryant and inquired about me. I guess I checked all the boxes they wanted and then I got sent a contract that I signed soon after.
How are the games attended in terms of fans? I have seen a few games at the Shark Tank on MV and they are always packed. And I’m sure there are MLB scouts floating around?
We have a great fan turnout at the Shark Tank. During the week there are more fans because the weekends in the Vineyard are crazy and people don’t usually come to the games on Friday and Saturday nights. During the week when there isn’t as much to do there are a lot of fans that come. Scouts are always floating around the games. We are always told “you never know who is going to be watching” so we don’t pay too much attention to who is in the stands because you never know who they are.
What is your average game day/night like on Martha’s Vineyard? What time do you arrive at the ballpark, especially if you are in the starting lineup? What does your routine look like to prepare for the first pitch?
- Average game day at the vineyard:
- Wake up 9 am
- Gym to stretch and light lift 10am
- Early work at the field (light batting practice) 11am
- Grab lunch and maybe a quick nap 12-2
- BP (batting practice) at 4pm
- Game 7pm
- Dinner 10:30pm
- Bed midnight
How do the MV Sharks navigate through all that travel? Ferries, bus rides, etc.
The travel is very tough when you live on the Vineyard. You have to give a little to get a little. There are worse spots to be then living in the Vineyard so I just look at it that way when I have a long travel day ahead. We usually have a 10am ferry and have to get to the dock around 9:15 am to find parking. Then on the other side we get picked up by a coach bus that takes us to our game. Usually we don’t get back to the dock until 1am so we have to take a small mail boat back over. They are long days, but living on the Vineyard is awesome.
Brag a little bit, what would you say was your best game? Could be a Little League game or High School game or something more recent. What made this game stand out in your mind?
I can’t really say I have a best game. I try to stay consistent day to day and not get too high or too low because the game can humble you very fast.
Where can fans find you and follow your baseball journey?
Fans can find me at Bryant University and back playing for Martha’s Vineyard this summer.
Huge thanks to Matt Woods for taking time to answer my questions. I loved reading about his humble approach to baseball, his advice to youth baseball players, and about his past and current baseball journey. Humble aside, Matt is a fantastic baseball player who has performed incredibly at the highest levels of collegiate and amateur baseball for many, many years. If his best game is yet to be played, opposing pitchers, catchers, and teams are in for a long afternoon facing Matt Woods. I look forward to Spring 2022 and watching Matt and the Bryant University Bulldogs Baseball Club. And you can bet that I will be check marking Matt Woods and the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks schedule next Spring to watch him play baseball!
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