By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Matt Mottola’s invitation to the Futures Baseball Collegiate League came via a text message.
The Newburyport High alumnus knew the FBCL’s Nashua Silver Knights to be the premier team in the region for summer baseball, and he’d always hoped to earn a spot during his college career at UMass Lowell. That spot was offered to him in late July when Silver Knights manager J.P. Pyne sent him an 11 p.m. text message.
“The text said, ‘Matt, are you in?’” Mottola said. “I said, ‘Of course.’ The next message was, ‘Bus tomorrow at 3:30.’”
UMass Lowell’s Ken Harring had advocated for Mottola, who hit .291 in 22 games this spring. Mottola expected to hear from Pyne after an earlier conversation with Harring, in which the college coach said he’d recommended his player.
Mottola’s college career has been spotted with injuries in three seasons at UMass Lowell; he redshirted as a freshman due to a back injury. Still, Harring, who scouted Mottola during Newburyport’s state-championship season in 2011, felt his right-handed hitter had the talent to succeed in the competitive FCBL.
Mottola proved Harring correct, hitting .364 in 22 at-bats. Albeit a small sample size, Mottola’s perfomance at the plate gave him the highest batting average on the team. A late-season acquisition for a team that lost to Martha’s Vineyard in the championship series, Mottola served primarily as a designated hitter and pinch hitter down the stretch.
“I spent the first part of the summer playing for the Rowley Rams, and I was hitting and training every day,” Mottola said. “When (Pyne called), it was the quickest decision I ever made in my life. The next day, I had to show up at 3:30. After that, I’d get to the park at 2, and get home at 1:30 in the morning. Luckily, I was ready.”
Mottola had an opportunity to play in the FCBL for the Wachusset Dirt Dogs after his sophomore season, but he declined in order to stay close to his grandfather, Mike Mottola, who lives with his family. This summer, the relatively short commute to Nashua made the decision easy.
“It’s the area’s best competition,” Mottola said. “My team was stacked. The second baseman was from (Boston College). The shortstop was from B.C. The third baseman was from UConn. It was a really good level of competition in that regard.”
The FCBL typically draws as many professional scouts as any other collegiate summer league in New England with the exception of the Cape Cod League. Mottola isn’t focusing on the attention of pro scouts at this stage in his career.
“I’m just worried about working hard,” Mottola said. “If things fall into place, that’s great.”
Mottola will certainly face some future professional baseball players this season when UMass Lowell makes the jump to Division 1. The River Hawks will open with Michigan State this season before eventually playing an America East schedule.
“It never ends,” Mottola said. “I’ll take a couple of weeks, then it’s time to get out there and show the coaches how I’ve improved since last year. Baseball is continuous in college. We probably have some scrimmages this fall, and we’ll practice every day.”