Arizona-raised players living their dream as Diamondbacks

Feb 28, 2017, 7:29 AM | Updated: Mar 1, 2017, 4:00 pm

SCOTTSDALE — Brian Matusz vividly remembers Craig Counsell’s home run ball landing near he and his dad when they sat in right field for Game 1 of the 2001 World Series. Matusz was 14 years old at the time, and that moment has stuck with him ever since.

The Phoenix native and former St. Mary’s Catholic High School standout is now pitching for his hometown team. Less than 12 hours before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, Matusz saw his dream came true when the Diamondbacks signed him as a non-roster invitee.

“This is awesome, words can’t even describe it,” Matusz said shortly after reporting to camp. “Just to play for the hometown local team, to be a Diamondback, to put on the uniform, it’s a pretty cool feeling.”

Matusz has received many texts and calls from family and friends, who can now easily see the left-hander play for the first time since his senior year of high school when he was named to Baseball America’s All-America team.

“Any time you put on a uniform, there’s motivation to perform and do well,” Matusz said. “But obviously being local, it’s that little extra excitement to play for the hometown team, and I’m pretty excited.”

Left-handed pitcher Josh Taylor, another non-roster invitee, also grew up a Diamondbacks fan in Phoenix. The Philadelphia Phillies signed him to a minor league deal in 2014, but he found out he was traded less than a year later.

He was bummed at first, but his sentiment soon changed.

“They were just like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to the Diamondbacks,’” Taylor said. “I just said, ‘Oh, that’s fine. When do I leave?’ From that moment on, I was just enjoying being able to represent this club.”

Taylor attended many Diamondbacks spring training games as a kid. When the regular season began each year, he watched games with his father while doing homework after school.

Arizona is best-known for spring training, but the state also hosts the Fall League, which gives rising prospects an opportunity to develop. The 23-year-old Taylor estimated he once had about 30 family members and friends on hand to watch him pitch.

“That was the best game I had in the Fall League, and it was exciting for me because every time I struck someone out or did something, they would just erupt,” Taylor said. “I was having fun.”

The Diamondbacks won just 65 games in their first year in 1998, but they impacted Arizona residents by bringing professional baseball to the desert. Outfielder Jason Pridie grew up in Prescott and was an Atlanta Braves fan because his father and brother also were fans of the Braves.

However, that changed when the Arizona was awarded the expansion Diamondbacks franchise. Two of Pridie’s oldest memories as a fan of the Diamondbacks are of the 2001 World Series and a time when Travis Lee — first baseman during the team’s inaugural season — came to a Prescott mall to sign autographs.

While special to Pridie, the World Series actually is not his favorite Diamondbacks-related memory.

“I actually got my first hit off the Diamondbacks and my first home run off the Diamondbacks in the big leagues when I was in New York,” Pridie said. “That was kind of a cool thing to have that against your hometown team.”

Pridie, who was drafted in 2002, said he hopes to play for Arizona for a few seasons before retiring.

Said manager Torey Lovullo on the three local players: “It’s their hometown team and I enjoy being around them when they’re telling their stories (about being fans), but I know that to them, it’s their job and it’s baseball and they want to perform. Hopefully they’re not putting any extra pressure on themselves to execute and try too hard for the obvious reasons.”

Matusz, Taylor and Pridie all took different paths to the Diamondbacks and all are fighting to make the club’s Opening Day roster.

But they already have seen a baseball dream become reality.

“It’s what I grew up wishing to do,” Taylor said. “Playing on this field, playing with this logo on my chest and being able to represent them . . . every day I come out here, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to represent the Diamondbacks.”

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