Words Of Advice Fuel Richmond's Duffy
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 17, 2014, 10:52
RICHMOND — When Matt Duffy steps into the batter's box at The Diamond while suiting up for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, he still hears the best words of advice he has ever received. It remains clear to him even after 10 years have passed since they were uttered.
It has stuck with him through his entire life as he's slowly climbed the ladder from aspiring professional baseball as a child, taking it more seriously as a teenager and seeing his dream realized after just three seasons at Long Beach State University. Even after his career milestones, the words uttered by his father still remain at the forefront of his mind.
Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Duffy dabbled in the sport of hockey, but his love for baseball never wavered. His father, knowing the chances of seeing his son realize his dream were slim, gave him a lesson which he continues to lean on to this day.
"When I was about 13 or so, my dad asked me how much did I really like this game," Duffy explained while sitting in the dugout at The Diamond. "I told him, 'a lot.' His response was, 'one day someone is going to tell you that you aren't good enough to play the game anymore. That's up to you when that day comes.'"
And it was those words which have driven Duffy to this point.
It brought to him the realization he'd have to work hard in order to achieve his goals. He could not be out-worked by anyone else and had to continue pushing himself to become better each day. It's what allowed Duffy to be offered a scholarship to attend Long Beach State University to play for a Dirtbags' program known for its success.
The experience playing for Long Beach State and attending college in general, helped shape the then 18-year-old. He learned a lot about himself and how he can overcome the hardest of obstacles both on the field and off of it. But it was the struggles on the field which truly bothered him the most.
Duffy's best season came during his sophomore campaign when he batted .266 while driving in 31 runs in 214 at-bats. However, he wondered to himself if it would be enough and knew he had to push himself. The words his father echoed still rang inside his head and he delivered during a summer playing in the Cape Cod League. The rising junior hit .348 in one of the tougher collegiate summer leagues across the country and it was enough for the San Francisco Giants to draft him in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB Draft.
For Duffy, it was a dream come true.
"I hadn't heard anything, but a questionnaire from the Giants," Duffy remembered about the day he would realize his dream. "I also hadn't received a call before I was drafted ... I just stopped listening and my dad took a five-minute break to go to the bathroom. That's when I heard my name on the computer and I told him, 'hey, I just got drafted,' and he just screamed, 'what?!' It was just a cool experience and an awesome moment."
But it was just the start of a dream. Duffy had higher aspirations than being drafted. He aimed to be a contributer at the Major League level and started the process of doing so after signing in the summer of 2012 and being assigned to the Giants' short-season affiliate Salem-Keizer.
Duffy went through struggles, hitting just .247, but did enough to be placed at full-season Augusta where his talent began to take over. The then 22-year-old improved his batting average from the previous season by 60 points, impressing the Giants enough to earn a late call-up to their high Single-A affiliate in San Jose.
With his father's words still echoing, Duffy continued to work hard, arriving at ballparks earlier to take additional swings which resulted in more production at the plate. It's what led him to beginning the season in Richmond, in the tough Eastern League, and his impact on Richmond has been nothing short of huge.
The team's record sat at 23-23 in mid-May, but behind Duffy's hot-hitting and an improved pitching staff, the Flying Squirrels have won 15 of their last 19 games and taken control of first-place in the Western Division. Yet, true-to-form, the modest Duffy heaped praise on his teammates.
"Our pitching staff is working ahead. The stuff was never an issue, but now they are getting ahead and that's what leads to results on the field," Duffy said. "Offensively, guys are starting to hit. We're stealing bases and it's our biggest asset with (Tyler) Graham and (Kelby) Tomlinson."
But that would discredit what Duffy has done.
The 23-year-old is leading the Flying Squirrels with a .340 batting average and has a team-high 41 RBIS, in addition to swiping 17 bases while only being caught three times. But most impressive is his production with runners in scoring position.
In such situations, Duffy is hitting an absurd .372 with 38 of his 41 RBIs accounted for with runners in scoring position. No other Squirrels' player is hitting more than .314 or has more than 29 RBIs in such situations. And his production is no doubt fueled by his desire to never hear the words his father once told him.
"When people talk to me about whatever success I may be having, I just say, 'I'm just trying to play a game a little bit longer and see how long I can play it for a living,'" Duffy said. "That's really it. Just working hard and trying to extend the life of the game."
With each hit with a runner in scoring position, the kid who aimed to never allow someone to tell him he wasn't good enough to play the game of baseball is one step closer to making sure it never does happen.