High school pitcher Matt Liberatore has had a whirlwind month. He led Mountain Ridge on a run to the state championship game and was named Arizona’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Liberatore saved his biggest moment for last, being selected by the Tampa Bay Rays with the 16th pick in the MLB Draft.
“It feels pretty crazy to think that I wasn't just a crazy kid talking about a dream. It's actually starting to happen now,” said Liberatore in an interview before the draft.
Liberatore took AZ Family back to where it all started. Matt honed his craft in his backyard, with his father Anthony as his catcher. Anthony first realized that Matt had a gift when he was 5 years old at a Diamondbacks game.
“They had a radar gun set up and he hits 40 mph on the gun. People are just staring at him because there are adults that aren't doing that,” said Anthony. “That was an 'a-ha moment' for me when I knew he had something special."
Anthony and Matt spent hours in the backyard, with mom, Lauri, getting impatient because dinner was getting cold. Anthony quit catching for Matt once he hit high school and started throwing in the 90s.
“I stopped when I couldn’t see it anymore,” said Anthony. “I pinch myself every day. I’m overwhelmed with what’s happening for him. I never would have imagined any of this.
Matt finished his senior season with an 0.93 ERA. He wasn’t able to pitch in the state championship game because he had exceeded his pitch count in the semifinals. With Matt in the dugout, Mountain Ridge lost the state championship to Sandra Day O’Connor, led Cardinals first round pick and Matt's best friend, Nolan Gorman.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pitch in the championship game but that’s the way the chips fell,” said Matt who struck out 10 in six and third innings in the state semi final. “We put our best guys out there and got beat.”
Matt and Nolan are committed to play college baseball at Arizona but millions of dollars are headed their way if they go pro. Luckily, Matt has had practice budgeting at home.
“Since I’ve had a car and was able to drive my dad has put me on a budget,” said Matt. “If I go over that budget then I end up eating dinner at home.”
Anthony joked that he’s looking forward to getting a raise by getting Matt’s allowance back. The two shared a huge hug when the pick was announced. No matter where the journey takes him, Matt Liberatore can always come back to the lessons learned playing catch with his dad in the backyard.
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