Lake Region’s ace pitcher commits to St. John’s University

LRUHS pitcher Matt Messier, and his father, Principal Andre Messier, pause for this photo Thursday afternoon.  Photo by David Dudley

LRUHS pitcher Matt Messier, and his father, Principal Andre Messier, pause for this photo Thursday afternoon. Photo by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle November 19, 2014

by David Dudley

Lake Region Union High School (LRUHS) ace pitcher Matt Messier has signed a commitment to attend St. John’s University, in the autumn of 2015. Messier’s decision comes on the tail end of a summer traveling and playing with the New England Ruffnecks, a development program for players 13-18 years of age.

“The Ruffnecks give young players structure,” said Messier’s father, LRUHS Principal Andre Messier. “Matt had the opportunity to travel down to Georgia, Nashville, Missouri, and a bunch of other places. Places where he got to showcase his talents while preparing him to play at the college level.”

A scout from the Tampa Bay Rays spied the young right-hander in August, Andre Messier said.

“The scout said he’d be in touch,” he recalled with a smile. “Matt was offered the chance to play in Florida, where he would likely have entered the draft. He may have gone straight from high school into the majors, or the minors, depending.”

Of course, he might also have been passed over, as so many talented young players are. In a show of humble maturity, he declined the offer to play in Florida.

The determining factor, Messier said, was the degree.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing ball,” he said. “But I want to major in criminal justice.”

“Education is very important to Matt,” Andre Messier added.

Messier didn’t receive much attention in his first two years at LRUHS. But LRUHS Vice-principal, athletic director, and baseball coach Eric Degre encouraged the young pitcher to keep up his grades, and to continue developing his skills on the mound from the jump.

In May of 2014 Messier pitched a perfect game against People’s Academy. He was also named to the All Mountain League’s first team in 2013 and 2012, and to the league’s second team his freshman year.

“Mr. Degre has been there since my freshman year,” Messier said. “Though he’s been a family friend for much longer. He really taught me how to take my game to the next level, and how to handle myself on and off the field.”

“Matt is a student of the game,” said Mr. Degre via phone. “He can be a power pitcher, but he plays his best game when he controls the tempo, watches the hitters, and pinpoints his pitches.”

Messier is also quick to acknowledge the huge amount of support he’s received from both of his parents.

“My Mom and Dad have made lots of sacrifices for me,” he said. “Some seasons we’d play 30 games in 45 days. Home games were in Lyndon. Away games were all over Vermont. That’s a lot of time on the road for players. But what about the parents?”

His mother, Kim Messier, is chairman of the math department at LRUHS.

Messier has played at Vanderbilt each summer, as part of a training camp for young players, since he was a freshman.

“Vanderbilt was my dream school,” he said. “But when the recruiting began, they didn’t really show a lot of interest,” he said. “They’re after bigger, more developed, more mature players. And we don’t have a lot of those up here.

“We just don’t have the facilities, and our season is only 16 games. Lots of programs down south can have up to 60 games a season. That’s a lot of time on the field, playing, developing, preparing for the next level.”

That’s why, he said, Vermont is known for producing late bloomers.

“It’s not common, really, for players up here to get a lot of exposure,” he said. “I feel very fortunate.”

When Messier couldn’t play baseball, he took to the basketball court, where he played forward for Lake Region.

“I like playing basketball,” he said. “But baseball is where my heart is. From March to October I’m on the baseball field.”

There’s a delicate balance to be struck when parents encourage their children to play sports. But Messier said that his parents were always mindful of applying too much pressure. Likewise, they were involved enough to keep him engaged in determining and pursuing his goals.

“About a year and a half ago, Matt and I sat down to have a serious talk,” Andre Messier said. “I said, It’s that time. If you want to pursue this, we’ve got to go all in. And from there, we started trying to generate interest in Matt.”

They were pushing for a Division I school to recruit Messier, but the interest just wasn’t there.

“First thing we need to do is get out of Vermont,” Andre Messier said. “He started working with pitching coach Matt Blake of Boston. He’s the one who invited Matt to play with the Ruffnecks. Once Matt started playing with them, the interest was there.”

Too much, according to Andre Messier.

“Matt drew the attention of Indiana, Oklahoma, Cincinnati… Bryant, Fairfield,” he said. “To tell the truth, I can understand why there are rules and regulations where recruitment efforts are concerned. It was overwhelming. And Matt’s not even a five-star athlete!”

With his dream school out of the picture, Messier’s decision ultimately came down to two schools.

“I was looking at the University of Maine, and St. John’s,” he said. “I wanted to be close to home, and they were both pretty close. U of Maine was more like home, more rural, but they didn’t have the criminal justice degree. So I chose St. John’s.”

St. Johns, which is located in Queens, New York City, will be a big change for Messier, who grew up in Vermont.

“It will be different, but I think the experience will help me grow,” he said. “The way I see it, if I go there, and I don’t like it, I can always move after graduation.”

“Matt is a topnotch student,” Mr. Degre added. “He takes tough courses, and is very proud of his academic achievements. Really, St. John’s is the perfect school for him.”

With the scholarship package St. John’s is offering — which will cover 80 percent of Messier’s tuition for four years — he will likely acquire the education that is every bit as important as the opportunity to play for a Big East baseball team.

But first he will finish out his senior year with his LRUHS teammates. Then, this upcoming summer, he will play in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, where he’ll join the Nashua Silver Knights.

“That will give him the opportunity to experience the life before he goes off to college,” Andre Messier said. “He’s worked so hard for this. He really deserves it. Words can’t express how proud we are of him.”

contact David Dudley at [email protected]

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