Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cal State Hurler Doesn't Like To Lose


Matt Vieira has perfect control. Pick a spot on the outside edge of the plate and he delivers a darting fastball that kisses the black.

Part of Vieira’s rise to the top of the Pioneers rotation has been his ability to consistently throw strikes and appear unwavering on the mound.

His imposing command of his pitching repertoire and his ice cool demeanor belies a guy who doesn’t relish losing control of a game that is too wily to be fully perfected and that’s what bothers him.

Vieira’s mother, Sue, said her son was such a poor loser at the age of 7, that his teacher told them to play board games with their son and rig the games against him.

Games like Monopoly came to resemble smarmy carnival games where the rules were surreptitiously stacked against him.

“I kept trying to figure out why I kept losing every game. The rules kept changing,” Vieira recalls with an incredulous laugh.

To ensure domination of the old Nintendo shooting game, Duck Hunt, Vieira would jam the plastic pistol against the television screen so hard that long, horizontal grooves were soon scratched into the glass.

“I would just pout,” said Vieira, “I guess I was a sore loser.”

He stands six-feet-two-inches tall, but his thin frame makes him appear smaller. His delivery is compact and every pitch, whether it’s his signature fastball or a side-winding slider, hops out of the exact same spot just behind his left ear.

The bill of his cap rises just above his piercing eyes and the bill is bent tightly into an upside-down “u” that only accentuates his gunslinger attitude.

Vieira never runs on the field. He takes slow, deliberate steps to-and-from the mound in what has been a very successful year for the senior lefthander.

His 8-2 record and 77 2/3 innings pitched leads the Pioneers staff, but his success in limiting free passes (he has yielded only 25 bases on balls all season) has been a big part of his success that has been finely honed over the years.

“He puts a lot into what he’s doing,” said his father, Mike Vieira, “Everything he gets, he deserves.”

Vieira’s father never played organized baseball, but slowly learned every little detail of the game while coaching his son in recreational leagues.

“What he didn’t know, he found others who did in baseball clinics,” said Matt.

Mike Vieira would routinely videotape Matt’s games in order to find any flaws in his smooth delivery.

They would go over making sure he was throwing each pitch from the same arm slot and discuss how he could have better approached hitters, he said.

“He doesn’t care too much about the result,” Vieira said about his dad, “He’s more worried about my mechanics.”

Vieira’s attention to ironing out the notoriously fickle arena of pitching mechanics aggravates his need to be perfect.

Even as Vieira pitched seven strong innings April 25 against Menlo College, he still obsessed over giving up a few late runs in the 5-2 victory.

“I’m still mad about giving up that two-run double,” said Vieira.

His father has seen this attention to maximizing his performance before.

“I tell him, ‘Matt, you’re the only who could pitch seven innings and walk one batter and be mad that you gave up one walk’,” said Mike Vieira.

The man now in charge of Vieira’s development, Cal State, East Bay Manager, Dirk Morrison thinks his ace is getting better at focusing his energy.

“He’s been able to control it,” said Morrison, “In this game some things don’t go the way you want them, so you have to deal with that and he has.”

Vieira’s unease may be higher than ever as he awaits a call from the Majors during the June Amateur Draft.

Major League officials have not been in touch with Vieira recently, but he’s still optimistic his dream will come true. He’s not picky about where he goes, either, saying, “I’ll go anywhere. Just give me a bucket of seeds and a bus ticket.”

It’s not that clubs are unaware of Vieira’s capabilities. After graduating from Livermore High School—the same school that produced former Cy Young winner, Randy Johnson—he signed a draft card for the Florida Marlins, but they never called his name in the draft.

Two years later as a sophomore, Vieira’s stock was the highest it had been drawing the attention of scouts from the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates while playing in the New York College Baseball League, a summer showcase for non-drafted collegiates.

Vieira led the NYCBL in saves that season while pitching for the Waterton Wizards in upstate New York, but also tore ligaments in his push-off ankle.

He speculates that some teams may be weary of a hurler with a medical history, but said he hasn’t had a reoccurrence of the injury since.

Even if he doesn’t get the call from the Majors, Vieira’s athletic endeavors have come in handily academically.

“My parents always taught us that if you want success on the field, you have to have success in the classroom first,” said Vieira.

He will graduate next month with a degree in liberal studies and plans to return next fall to begin work on a master’s in kinesiology. with an eye on becoming a physical education instructor.

Even if Vieira’s phone doesn’t ring next June, his talents will be useful in teaching a generation of children susceptible to short cuts, how hard work pays off and where rigging board games is an acceptable learning tool.

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