Dodgers sign local pitcher to Major League contract

Former L.C. Bird High School standout Matthew Laney signed a contract July 1, 2011, to play professional baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

Laney, 22, a 2007 graduate of Bird, who in 2009 was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (but did not sign), heard from the Dodgers four weeks after not hearing his name picked in the 2011 Major League Baseball June draft.

“It’s a good problem to have,” said the 6-foot-4, 235-pound pitcher. “It was very stressful in wanting to continue my dream to play pro ball. After the draft, there was nothing to lose pretty much, so I signed as a free agent; and I’m going to pitch as well as I can and see if I can continue to play for a couple of years.”

After the paperwork was signed, Laney flew to Glendale, Ariz., on a plane ticket purchased by the Dodgers, where he has spent the last week undergoing physical examinations while awaiting his assignment to play in the Minor Leagues.

In 2007, after playing four years on Bird’s Varsity baseball squad, Laney was recruited to pitch at East Carolina University where he attended for a year before transferring to Miami Dade Community College (Florida) for his sophomore season. Then in 2009 he trekked north, finally settling in at Coastal Carolina University.

In March 2011, the baseball team at Coastal Carolina played an exhibition game against the Texas Rangers – a franchise of Major League Baseball – and Laney, whose fastball is often clocked in the low 90’s (mph), faced three of their hitters, sending them back to the dugout within minutes.

Laney was majoring in Political Science and with a minor in pre-law at Coastal Carolina the semester before he was drafted, and is currently four classes shy from completing his degree. However, he plans to complete those classes in the fall when he returns to the classroom for just one more semester, that is, when the professional season is done.

“I figured I’d play baseball as long as I can to stay out of the real world, and then go to law school if that’s what it comes down to,” he said. However, his dream since he was a small child has been to make a living playing baseball.

Laney’s father, Bob, said hearing the news was “breath-taking” for him and his wife, Becky, though he said it was certainly no surprise because Laney has excelled at every level of play he’s seen.

 “We are just very excited to see him get the opportunity that he’s worked so hard for all these years,” said Bob. “He has been 100 percent goal-driven to succeed.”   
Becky hopes Laney will be that “one in a million” kind of player – the one who makes it to the Major Leagues despite the massive amount of young players signing contracts each year. “We’re very proud of him,” she said. “His dad’s been right behind him, and I’ve been right behind him.  It’s been exciting.”

His dad credits Laney’s immense hard work as the number one factor in winning the opportunity to play professionally, asserting that he never really takes a day off; even in college when he would visit for Christmas, he would take on rigorous workouts in preparation for the spring season, he said.

Growing up in central Chesterfield, Laney was mentored by a former local pro, the late Johnny Oates, who spent over thirty years in the Major Leagues as a player, coach and manager. According to Laney’s father, Oates once told Laney a bit of advice because the odds are against the young pitcher: “You got a better chance at being an astronaut than you have at being a Major League ballplayer,” said Bob, quoting Oates.

But that perspective surely isn’t slowing down the young man.

“He knows that,” said Bob, “and I think he will go as long and as far as his talents will take him. Do I see him making it to the Big Leagues? I hope so. Am I realistic about it? Yes. We know the odds, and he knows them. But, hey, we got to give it a shot.”

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