Much of the success Red Oak’s Matt Curry has experienced over the last two years on the baseball diamond has come from his ability to stay patient at the plate.
It’s that same patience he’s drawing upon now to get him through the final weeks of the 2011 baseball season with the Eastern’s League Altoona Curve.
“The main thing with me at this level is I tend to get myself out a lot,” Curry said in a recent telephone interview during a rare off-day. “I swing at pitchers’ pitches instead of hitting my pitch. I’ve been swinging early in the count or maybe swing at a pitch I can’t really drive but I’m trying to focus on that one pitch I can do something with.”
The 2007 Red Oak High School grad has been on an accelerated pace through the Pittsburgh Pirates organization since being drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft.
After hitting .339 with 18 home runs at TCU his senior year, Curry signed quickly and joined the Pirates’ short-season New York-Penn League team, the State College Spikes. With the Spikes, he hit .299 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 58 games, earning his promotion to the low-A West Virginia Power to start the 2011 season.
The Power seemed a fitting team name for Curry to be on, as he hit .361 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs in 46 games there to start the year.
“In West Virginia, I got out of the box hot and my body was fresh at that time,” Curry said. “I got a lot of fastballs in low-A and that’s the pitch a lot of younger pitchers try to establish at that level. You were guaranteed to get one or two fastballs with each at-bat that you can hit hard.”
The Pirates already had a power-hitting first baseman with Curry’s similar skill-set the next level up at High A Bradenton, so the organization made a surprising move.
“Matt’s an advanced college hitter that probably, in a normal environment, doesn’t start in low-A ball,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told the Altoona Mirror.
The team sent Curry to Class AA with the Curve and even there, his torrid pace continued, hitting .300 through his first 11 games.
“I wasn’t expecting (the promotion),” Curry said. “A bunch of guys have told me it’s almost unheard of in the Pirates system to be able to do that, so I think it shows how much faith they have in me as maybe the next first baseman in the Pirates system. I think I was running off adrenaline I think from the promotion. I was swinging it good and my confidence was sky-high. I had some early success and that gave me the confidence to know I could play here.”
But then the success tapered off. A slow June came with a .227 batting average for the month. A large part of that comes from the strong pitching at the Double-A level.
“Pitchers at this level have command of their fastball and their off-speed pitches. The other night I struck out on three pitches and none of them were pitches I would’ve hit out of the infield,” Curry said.
July saw the return of some success at the plate as his 20 RBIs that month led the Curve. But August has been tough on him, with just five hits so far this month. For the season, Curry is hitting .256 with five home runs and 35 RBIs in 67 games.
The Pirates have exercised their own patience with Curry over the years.
The team drafted him in the 37th round of the 2008 draft, only to have Curry return to TCU. Now they are showing faith in him again, continuing to give him at-bats on a daily basis as the team’s starting first basemen.
“I know I’m going to be out there every day and that feels good,” Curry said. “Every hitter hits these slumps and it’s nice to know they have the confidence in me to know I’ll come out of it. It’s good to go through it now so when I make it up to the higher levels, I’ll know how to react.”
As the grind of the season comes to an end, Curry is patiently waiting for the chance to come home.
Although it could only be for a few weeks. The Pirates have told him he could be a candidate to play in the Arizona Fall League this offseason.
“I miss being around my family. I’m engaged and it’s tough because I don’t get to see her very much,” Curry said. “And I sure miss some of that Tex-Mex back home. I like me some Mexican food from Texas.”
And after some time back in Red Oak, he knows it’ll be back to work soon enough.
“It’s way more of a job than people expect it to be,” Curry said about playing pro baseball. “People look at it as you’re playing pro baseball but when you are working 11 hours a day and not getting paid too much. But having a chance to play in the Major Leagues is the ultimate goal. It’s worth the effort but it’s a lot more difficult than people think. It’s more than I expected coming in.”