Eastside Catholic pitcher targets team USA

Like nearly every other American kid who ever laced up the skates, Matt Boyd spent his youth on the ice rink hearing about the triumphs of the 1980 USA Hockey team.

Like nearly every other American kid who ever laced up the skates, Matt Boyd spent his youth on the ice rink hearing about the triumphs of the 1980 USA Hockey team.

The story of how the underdog Americans topped all expectations, defeating the heavily-favored Soviets en route to a gold medal gave Boyd, much like many other American youths, an urge to sport the USA name across on his jersey.

“It all started when our coaches would show us videos of the 1980 team,” Boyd said. “That’s what sparked it. The team you want to play for is the team that represents your country.”

Boyd is one step removed from reaching that goal; but it comes not on the rink, where after 11 years, he left the sport. This opportunity comes on the baseball diamond, where the left-hander has willed himself to become one of the nation’s top senior pitchers.

Boyd, who will play at Oregon State as a freshman this fall, has been selected to the USA Baseball 18U National team trials, a step away from making the team. The Eastside Catholic graduate and Mercer Island resident will travel to Cary, N.C., Sept. 12 to compete with 34 of the nation’s best 18-year-olds for one of the team’s 20 roster spots and a chance to compete in the 2009 COPABE Pan Am 18U Championships Sept. 24-Oct. 4 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela.

“It’d mean the world to me to make the team,” Boyd said. “I’ve always aspired, other than being a Major League Baseball player, to represent my country and wear USW across my chest.”

Boyd, the only Northwest Region player selected to attend the trials, was picked to attend the Tournament of Stars, a week-long competition made up of 144 of the nation’s best ballplayers born in 1991 or 1992 from eight different youth baseball groups: AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth, Dixie, PONY, NABF, RBI and USA Stars. Players represented the league they came from, which in Boyd’s case was USA Stars.

“I pitched well, but I felt I could have hit a little bit better,” Boyd said. “It was cool getting to play with some quality players…there were some good ballplayers there, lot’s of guys you’ll see in next year’s draft.”

One of those ‘good’ ballplayers was Sports Illustrated coverboy Bryce Harper, a sophomore from Las Vegas who made national headlines again two weeks after appearing on the magazine’s cover, this time announcing he would skip his junior and senior years of high school and use a GED to enroll into community college. The move would make the 16-year-old eligible for the 2010 Major League Baseball draft.

“He seemed like a nice guy,” said Boyd, who played against Harper at the tournament and will join him at the trials. “There is a lot of hype surrounding him. He’s got quite an arm; he almost threw a kid out at second from his knees.”

But Boyd, the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association player of the year, was quite impressive himself, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 5.1 innings, second most of the pitchers from the USA Stars. In his last appearance, he entered the game with runners at first and third with no outs but retired the side by picking off one runner, striking out the next batter and getting the third to pop up.

“I got into some pressure situations and got myself out of them, which is what I think they were looking for,” Boyd said.

At the end of the tournament, when USA Baseball announced the 34 players who would make the trials, he didn’t have long to wait.

“I was one of the first names called,” Boyd said. “It was pretty cool at the end when they announced your name in center field for making the team.”

With the Sept. 12 trials, Boyd was given blessing to miss fall ball by the Oregon State baseball coaches, he said, adding that the staff told him to go ‘represent his country.’ The evaluations include practices, inter-squad scrimmages and exhibition games.

“I’m not that nervous, I’m excited and I have nothing to lose,” Boyd said about the trials. “If they don’t choose me, it was an honor just to be selected for the trials.

“You don’t get another honor like that,” he added. “It really is the greatest honor to wear your nation’s jersey and hear your anthem. It’d be a dream come true.”