LaPorta turns boyhood dream into reality
Indians slugger used failing grade in school as motivation
An open letter to Matt LaPorta's ninth-grade guidance counselor ...Dear (well, let's leave it anonymous), Matt thanks you. That might come as a surprise. You might expect to hear that Matt is still as angry with you now as he was that day 10 years ago, when you gave him a failing grade for the paper he wrote on what he wanted to be when he grew up. You remember the assignment, no doubt. All the freshmen at Port Charlotte, [Fla.], High School were asked to research their chosen profession, how much education they'd need to achieve it, how much money they could expect to get paid and even what kind of clothes they'd have to wear to work. Some kids wrote about becoming lawyers or firefighters or bankers. Matt wrote about becoming a Major League Baseball player. "It wasn't like, 'Oh, I hope it happens,'" LaPorta said. "It was what I wanted to do. Some people want to be a doctor. I didn't want to be a doctor. I wanted to play Major League Baseball." Matt did all the required research and turned in what he thought was a reasonable report. You responded that Matt's dream was "unrealistic" and told him that if he didn't rewrite the paper with a different career path, he'd get an F. Now, in your defense, Matt certainly had the odds stacked against him. Heck, even among those players fortunate enough to be selected in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft (as LaPorta would be in 2007), only about 66 percent make it to the Majors, and even fewer have lasting careers there. The mathematics, then, were in your favor. Matt's conviction was not. "If anybody believes in their dream or their goal, nobody has the right to shoot it down," LaPorta said. "There are going to be people out there that are going to shoot it down and say negative things about it. But if you followed what these people said all the time, where would you be? You'd almost be lost, because you wouldn't have a clear focus. I had a clear focus." Little kid, big talent While Matt always had baseball skills, it took some time for that focus to develop. Matt was an active kid growing up. In addition to Little League baseball, he also played football and took part in a traveling soccer team. He even won a BMX bike racing championship when he was 7 years old. Baseball, though, was the sport in which he excelled. "You knew right from the beginning that he was going to be good in baseball," his father, Vince, said. "When he was 2 years old, we gave him a Wiffle Ball and a bat, and he used to hit it out of the backyard. He just had that good hand-eye coordination and a lot of power." The electric company would get a glimpse of this when street lights would have to be replaced in Matt's neighborhood after he had used a bat to belt small rocks into the sky. And kids on Matt's teams would get a glimpse of it when he'd pound pitches over the wall in Little League games. One summer day, Matt's home run hitting was the hot topic among those gathered at a Little League game in Port Charlotte. Matt's sister, Nina, who was 5 at the time, heard all the ruckus and found a pay phone near a concession stand. She dialed the only number she knew -- 911 -- because she had been taught to call it in case of an emergency or something really important. "The police showed up at the Little League field," Matt's mother, Cindy, recalled with a laugh. "They said they were looking for a little child that may be in need of help. But she just wanted to tell them all about Matt hitting a home run." Yep, even at 10 years old, the kid had pop that stops the cops. Of course, not every kid with Little League talent makes it to the big leagues. You knew this when you marked Matt's paper with the dreaded F. But not every kid has Matt's hunger, either. Vince had helped to instill that in him shortly before high school with a conversation about moving up from the Little League to the Senior League fields.
|"If anybody believes in their dream or their goal, nobody has the right to shoot it down."|
|-- Matt LaPorta|
And so, just as he forecasted a decade ago in a freshman composition, Matt is a Major Leaguer. He defied the odds and proved his big dreams weren't so unrealistic, after all. The LaPortas love to tell the story about that paper and what it meant to Matt. And Matt himself is using it as inspiration for a scholarship he's planning at his high school (not the one where the two of you crossed paths, of course, but the one he transferred to and graduated from). He wants to use the scholarship to encourage kids to follow their dreams and not let anyone get in the way. Some people have suggested to Matt that he write a letter like this one. Or they tell him to give you a call or mail you a copy of one of his big league paychecks. Don't worry, though. That piece of mail isn't coming. "You know what, I'm not here to prove points," Matt said. "The way I look at it, she knows. I don't need to rub it in somebody's face." Really, Matt prefers to thank you for the inspirational F. And come to think of it, the Indians thank you, too.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.