Former professional baseball player and author Jim Bouton is quoted as having said, “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
That aptly describes the life of Steve DeMatties.
The Genevan fondly remembers his days as a kid chasing foul balls during games at McDonough Park — and actually getting paid to retrieve them. Large crowds regularly went to watch the ballgames in those days.
He went on to play in the typical Little League and youth baseball leagues, and it was clear a passion for the game was developing.
He starred on the diamond for Geneva High School, and the 1977 graduate was inducted into the Geneva Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
From there he went on to star at Ithaca College, and was inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame in 2003. A catcher, he says he once hit five home runs during a doubleheader and also set school records for most home runs in a season and career. Ithaca played in the Division III College World Series three times during his years there and won the title in 1980.
The accompanying inset photo shows DeMatties as part of the New York Mets farm system with its New York-Penn League Class A team in Little Falls in 1981. He made the Mets’ 40-man roster in 1982 and was assigned to Class AAA Tidewater Tides, also as a catcher.
However, a nagging elbow injury from college prevented him from achieving the potential so many expected, and the Mets released him in 1984.
His love for baseball didn’t stop there. With a teaching degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation, he was able to jump-start a teaching and coaching career in Dade County, at Miami Beach High School, where he was head baseball coach, a physical education teacher and a driver’s education instructor.
He coached over 20 years in both Dade and Broward counties in Florida, accumulating 300-plus high school varsity wins.
In 1992 he became owner of the Pro Baseball Academy, which runs the South Florida Huskies Baseball Team at the high school and college level. The academy has produced more than 75 college baseball players and 12 professional ballplayers, including one major leaguer.
I met with Steve recently in Geneva. He was in the area for a few weeks to escape the brutal Florida summer weather, teach a driver’s ed course in Newark and, most important, visit his hometown.
He says he misses Geneva, a place he has always loved. He returns regularly and maintains some friendships from the old days. He wants to reconnect with many others.
There is a reason for his sentimentality. A funny thing happened during Steve’s life journey. Mortality hit.
He feels he is very lucky to be alive after developing serious blood clots in both legs not too long ago, resulting in an emergency ambulance trip to the hospital. At first it was not clear whether he would survive; then it was not known whether both legs would have to be amputated.
He did survive, and he has both legs, although he does have two knee replacements and a hip replacement due to the rigors of being a catcher for so many years.
That near-death experience shook him up a bit, and it seems to be part of the impetus for wanting to reconnect with old friends — and Geneva, in particular.
Steve sold his baseball academy not too long ago, meaning that in what is truly a rare situation for him — unlike any in the past 48 years — he currently has no involvement in the baseball industry whatsoever.
He says he has never been happier, but it is clear he still has that passion inside. It seems the most logical explanation as to why, while visiting Geneva on this recent trip, he said he spoke with the powers-that-be associated with the local summer college teams, the Red Wings and Pilots.
He has a strong desire to want to provide his knowledge and expertise to help the programs here, especially as he looks to his future “Golden Years” and sees himself resettling in Geneva for half the year.
• • •
I also want to inform readers about a completely different matter regarding DeMatties, one that does not involve baseball.
Steve and his family live in the area of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the Valentine’s Day massacre allegedly orchestrated by Nikolas Cruz. Steve’s son graduated from Douglas, and Steve knows the coaches there, as well as some of the victims.
He even knew Cruz.
You see, Steve currently works in an alternative school for troubled youth in that area, including Douglas.
Cruz was supposed to be in Steve’s class for 39 days. He only showed up for nine of them, so Steve never got to know him well.
The accompanying drawing is the only thing in Cruz’s class file at the school, the only “work” he completed, Steve said.
DeMatties remembers that horrific February day well. He was driving when things around him went haywire. His initial reaction was that a policeman somewhere had been killed.
He still spends time thinking about the incident, and guilt gnaws at him because he wonders if there were signs he missed.
It seems like Geneva is a welcome escape for DeMatties right now — and where he really wants to be anyway.