It’s always nice to catch a game at Yankees Stadium but even better when the Los Angeles Angels come to town and there is an opportunity to see three New Jersey players on one visiting team.
Add to that the Yankees first baseman Mike Ford of Belle Meade, N.J. and you have a quartet of Garden State legends plying their trade on the biggest of stages.
But with the Angels’ Mike Trout of Millville and Tommy LaStella of Westwood both out of action due to injury, the focus for us on the visiting team on Wednesday night became third baseman and former Super 17 player Matt Thaiss, a Jackson Memorial High School grad.
Thaiss went 1-for-3 with a walk in the Angels’ 3-2 victory over the Yankees, a win that prevented New York from clinching the American League East Division championship. Thaiss is batting just .192 but has six HR and 19 RBI in 125 at bats and 48 games for Los Angeles. The 6-0, 215-pound Thaiss has played 37 games at third base and 11 at first base. His big moment thus far is a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave the Angels a 6-3 victory over the Mariners on July 14.
“Matt is an awesome kid,” said Frank Malta, Thaiss’ coach at Jackson Memorial. “I got up to the Boston series back in early August. We got a chance to grab lunch before the Friday night game. It was kind of surreal seeing him at Fenway, which is my favorite park. He has the perfect demeanor to be a big leaguer, a short memory, onto the next game mentality.”
Thaiss was an All-State catcher at Jackson Memorial before he donned the tools behind the plate at Virginia and helped lead the Cavaliers to their first-ever College World Series championship in 2015. The Angels drafted Thaiss in the first round, 16th overall, in 2016. He was moved to the corner infield spots in the minor leagues thanks primarily to an explosive bat that had Thaiss moving up the Angels’ chain at a precipitous pace
“It’s amazing,” said Malta. “Matt got to the big leagues after switching positions in Double-A and Triple-A. He never played the infield before. He played right field for us before he moved behind the plate.”
Trout, also a former Super 17 player, suffered a foot injury and missed eight games before the Angels decided to put the center fielder and likely American League MVP on the shelf for the remainder of the season. Trout will have surgery today (Friday) on his right foot. He’s been diagnosed with Morton’s neuroma, a condition that causes pain to the ball of the foot.
LaStella was in the middle of a breakout season when he fractured his right tibia in early July. The St. Joseph of Montvale and Coastal Carolina grad was batting an even .300 with 16 HR, 44 RBI and 49 runs-scored through just 78 games. There is an outside chance LaStella makes it back to the field before the end of the season.
Meanwhile Thaiss closed out the series with the Yankees last night and the season as the lone remaining New Jersey player among the healthy with the Angels.
“To see Matt on the field against the pinstripes is really weird and crazy but very cool,” says Malta. “Hearing John Sterling says his name on the radio is really cool for me.
“He’s such a worker. He’s not satisfied with just getting to the majors. He works at his craft. Everyone in Jackson is thrilled for him.”
Ford, who came through the Diamond Jacks program, has quickly become viable and reliable member of the Yankee team since his second call up to the majors this season. And that’s not only because of his walk-off solo home run that gave the Yankees a 5-4 victory over the Oakland A’s on Sept. 1. After a slow start, Ford has raised his average from well below .200 to .231 and has come up in many big spots, hitting 11 home runs in all and driving in 19 while boasting a .324 on-base percentage and an .840 OPS.