Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lakewood All-Star Maton taking lessons from the grind

Nick Maton greeting a fan, image- Jay Floyd
The grind of a full season is one of the first true measures for a minor leaguer.  An everyday player in his first year out of the draft can commonly endure a grueling campaign packed with lengthy bus rides, minimal days off and very few comforts of home over a five-month stretch.  For Lakewood shortstop Nick Maton it's proving to be a true test, one that may benefit him in the long run.

The Illinois native has been a contributor to the playoff bound Class A BlueClaws for the entire season.  Through 108 games this season, the 21-year-old Maton sports a .262 batting average with 25 doubles, five triples, eight home runs and 47 RBI.

With less than two weeks left before the BlueClaws will open the 2018 South Atlantic League postseason, a spot they clinched when they won the first half Northern Division title back in June, Lakewood, as a whole, seemed to be feeling the effects of a long season.  The club dropped four in a row at home last week to potential SAL finals opponent Lexington and averaged 2.7 runs per game over a stretch of six contests, of which they lost five.

The lefty batting Maton, feeling the grind himself, was batting .188 through 19 August games through action played on Saturday, following a July in which he tallied a .310 average over 24 contests.

The dip in offense is something Maton, who is listed at six-feet-two and 165-pounds, sees value in, though, focusing on a silver lining aspect.

"Right now is a pretty good (learning experience) for me," Maton stated.  "Just being able to stay within yourself and do what you’ve been doing the entire year, even though right now you may be struggling a little bit, it’s definitely kind of tough.  You’ve definitely just gotta go with it and, hopefully, you can get out of it."

The team and its fans should hope that Maton can shake himself of the struggles that have come with the lulls of the home stretch of the season.  According to BlueClaws hitting coach Tyler Henson, as goes Maton and fellow All-Star Jake Scheiner, so goes the team.

"When he's going good, the whole team thrives," Henson asserted.  "So, I kind of look at him and Scheiner the same way.  When everything's going their way, the whole team's clicking."

Despite the lulls of late, the coaching staff sees plenty of progress and maturity in Maton's game.  They point toward the changes he's made to his swing and his overall game as being notable.  Additionally, his work ethic stands out on a team packed with talent.

Going the extra mile and working non-stop seems to be something that he learned at home.  Maton, whose older brother Phil is a relief pitcher with the Padres and whose younger brother Jacob was drafted this year by the Mariners, says that he and his brothers owe much of their success on the diamond to their father, another Phil.

"We had batting cages in the back yard.  We always, the three of us, would be hitting and dad always throwing.  Always before dinner time I was out there hitting." Maton said, describing those times as some of his earliest and most fond baseball memories. 

Per Henson, physically, most players, even the ones that show signs of tiring, can push through and deal with the length of a full season the first time around, but how a player handles the mental side of things can be the difference maker.  He says it's critical to not allow any anger and frustration to carry over to the next at bat or the next game. 

With Maton, any such holdovers are of no concern.  In fact, his mental toughness and the lasting impact of lessons from this season are things that should stick with him and help him greatly as he progresses in the minor leagues. 

Maton, a 7th round draft selection by the Phillies last year, deems the season as one full of achievement even before the postseason gets rolling.

"I just wanted to keep on playing and see how I could handle this level," Maton said of his primary goal for this season.  "I feel like I handled it pretty well and this last month you can feel it definitely, it’s been a grind, more of a grind than it was previously.  But I’m just trying to hang in there and finish out strong and try to be my best for the playoffs."

The BlueClaws' open the best-of-three first round of the Sally League playoffs on Wednesday, September 5th with a game on the road against the division's Wild Card winner.  Games two and three (if necessary) will be played at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park on Friday the 7th and Saturday the 8th.  If they advance, games one and two of the SAL title series would be played at the Southern Division winner's home field on Monday, September 10th and Tuesday September 11th.  Lakewood would host the remainder of the series on consecutive days (barring rain outs) beginning on Thursday September 13th.
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