Spotlight on the Brown: Matt Nevarez
San Fernando Valley's newest sports star Matt Nevarez
Growing up as a young kid in East L.A. in the 1960's, one of my first heroes (besides John Wayne) was L.A. Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. I remember my older brothers talking about guys like Don Drysdale, Johnny Roseboro, Wally Moon, Norm Van Brocklin...and every kid growing up in the 1960's that ever played Little League or sandlot baseball knew what a "way-back-Willie" was. (For those of you who don't: it was in reference to baseball great Willie Mays, who could chase down a deep fly ball and catch it on a dead run, no matter how deep, and fling it back to a cut off man without a bounce.)
Published on LatinoLA: March 17, 2005
The home of the "Fearsome Foursome" (L.A. Rams, circa 1960's) is what probably attracted Al Davis & the Raiders for a brief stay. Names like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosie Grier, and Lamar Lundy made young guys want to play serious football, and gave professional football some serious attention.
My son's first sports heroes were Eagle's Quarterback Randall Cunningham and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. There's not a whole lotta guys in L.A. over 25 who can't remember the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980's, with names like Magic, Kareem, Byron, Rambis, Worthy, etc.
What gets me, is that there were no Chicanos or Mexicans in this group around this time. Aside from Aurelio Rodriguez of the then California Angels, people assumed Mexican Americans went to a baseball stadium to work the concession stands, or clean up afterwards.( Some exceptions, of course! Ne me pegas!)...
Then, in the mid 1980's, along came a Mexican guy named Fernando Valenzuela. No movie star looks, by any means, but this guy could hurl a 97 mile an hour fast ball, and had a vicious scewball people still talk about. He might not have been a celebrity personality, but he was a MEXICAN, and he struck out some of the deadliest batters in Major League baseball in their prime...to loving the adoration of the Southwestern United States' enormous Latino community. Now...WE HAD A HERO!!
He learned English well enough to make a powerful proclimation that affected the lives of thousands of young people who ever saw him play: "YOUR BEST BET, STAY IN SCHOOL!"...a better message you never heard. Thanks, Fernando!
I have been fortunate to have met many talented Chicano musicians, singers, writers, comedians, poets, promoters, producers, actors, politicians, and other Chicanos - Mexican Americans of distinction, who comprise an impressive ensemble of adults affecting our World today...somehow, I just can't wrap my mind around the fact that they became who they are without being influenced by somebody when they were young...
...and I would be remiss in my dedication & respect to my people and this webpage, if I didn't search beyond the stages & shows that I haunt, and take a brief look into a different part of the Brown world, and a very special young BROWN man who is gaining respect & attention from many outside of his realm, on his terms...with so much good influence from others.
This month's Spotlight on the Brown, not a prominent Sports figure yet, (but keep your eyes & ears open, Mi Gente) is the pride of San Fernando High School, the San Fernando Valley, California, and most importantly, a large and loving family, San Fernando High School baseball pitcher star Mr. Matthew Nevarez.
Affectionately known as "Matt" to family & friends, he first came to my attention one Saturday afternoon as I was lounging around, channel surfing on cable TV, and settling on ESPN for a moment. Then, to my pleasant suprise, here was this handsome young Chicano, sitting uncomfortably between his coach, Mr. Armando Gomez, and 2 veteran sportscasters, talking to him & about him like he was a seasoned pro. Soft spoken, yet obviously proud that he was on a Nationally watched sports channel, I was impressed about what was being said about him, and the fact that he was just a high school senior...
...and you know me: The fact that he was BROWN, brought out the orgullo & curiosity, and made me want to know more about him! Being that he lives in the San Fernando Valley, where I currently hang my hat & do my laundry, this wasn't too hard an endeavor for me to embark upon. After a couple of phone calls, a close friend arranged for me to meet Matt at his family's home. The family was very warm & friendly, and the love & pride beamed in all their eyes, as I pulled Matt away briefly for an interview.
A very humble, yet proud young man, Matt is the 3rd of 4 siblings, easily telling me that 2 of his biggest sports heroes, after Fernando Valenzuela of course, are his 2 older brothers, Steven & Ruben. He proudly states that his large, tight knit family have always pushed sports & education as way of life & living. Besides his brothers, many of his cousins, both male & female, have been, or are currently involved in sports programs. "This is what's kept us off drugs, away from gangs & crime, and keeps us together as a family," Matt says without hesitation.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood like San Fernando, California, this is no easy statement to make. His proud parents, Steve Sr. and Alice, have made many a sacrifice for their children, nieces & nephews, and it shows. The large gathering on this day, for no special occassion, is testament to a loving, Latino familia, and the power it inspires. I've met Steve & Alice...good Gente... and they are committed to all their chidren and family....Nice!
Matt told me "All this attention really suprised me...it's overwhelming...all I ever wanted to do was play the game like my brothers did, to make my parents proud, and not let them down...and now I'm being scouted by Major League baseball teams. Wow! None of this would have been possible if not for my parents. Their love, their support, and their sacrifices motivate me. And then, to have my brothers, my sister, and all my cousins, aunts & uncles there, cheering me on weither I win or lose...well, none of this would mean anything to me, if they weren't there...my family...and I have the best! I've played basketball, football, and baseball for San Fernando High School over the past 4 years, and my family never misses a game! Even if I don't make the big leagues, my Mom always tells me I'm still a winner if I get my education...and you can't let your Mom down, can you? I always wanted to be a teacher and a coach...and I know my dad would be proud of me no matter what I did!".
The next Monday, I went out to San Fernando High to catch the Tiger's opening season game, and the last season of Matt's High School sports career. For being such the mild mannered, polite and humble young man I interviewed at his family's home, on the mound, this kid was impressive! Standing 6 foot, 5 inches tall, dark skinned, and muscularly handsome, Matt cuts an impressive figure on the pitching mound. Serious looking & focused, homeboy owns a 95 miles an hour plus fast ball, and a curve ball that scared me, and I was sitting in the stands! He pitched 5 strong shutout innings, striking out 9, and drawing approving "oohs" and "ahhs" from the 8 or 9 major League scouts in attendance that I saw. One veteran scout gave the ultimate compliment: "Kid's got smoke!"
As expected, his parents and about 20 friends and family members were there! The Tigers won, 3 to 0. There was a good sized crowd, too. San Fernando takes their High School baseball seriously!
The next day, I called SF High and spoke to Matt's coach, Mr. Armando Gomez. I could feel the pride in the man's voice as he spoke highly not only of Matt, but of San Fernando High's other athletes, and the tight, supportive community of San Fernando. "Matt's the first Latino out of San Fernando High to be scouted by the big leagues, and we are all so proud of him. He's a good kid, too. I've had the pleasure of coaching him for the last 4 years...and I really hope he makes it. He's that good!".
Armando pitched for San Diego State and Cal State Dominguez Colleges, earning All-Star, All-City honors in 1986. Also considered and scouted by the major leagues, a shoulder injury & subsequent surgery squashed big league dreams...for him, but not his for others.
"One of the biggest rewards for a coach is not only seeing their students succeed in sports, but in life! Here at San Fernando High, we not only push sports programs to the max, but education. I tell my kids, even if you don't make it to the big leagues, you're still a winner in life if you have an education behind you. In the last 9 nine years that I've been here, many of my kids who didn't make it to the next level in sports, made it to a college campus...in life, that's the big leagues for me, and all my kids are champions!"
During the game the day before, he was able to quiet an annoying student heckler in the stands by shouting "If you had studied more, you'd be out here with us!"...the heckler quieted down, and the crowd appovingly nodded amongst each other. Hearing that, many of the team members "high fived" each other.....no matter what, Coach Gomez was there for them, and they relished in that fact!
With that kind of love & support, who could fail?...not Matt Nevarez, I'm willing to wager! Not any San Fernando High School Tiger!
Matt Nevarez...San Fernando High School pitcher...loving & loved family member...proud Chicano...one of ours!
Si se puede, Mijo! When's your next game?...I'll be there, and I know I won't be the only one!
When not watching young Chicanos being scouted for the majors, Frankie Firme spins the finest Oldies but Goodies and Latin Soul Music on the World Wide Web on www.kclafm.com and www.chicanoexpress.com