By JULIAN BELL
(TEANECK) – FDU grad and former starting shortshop Matt McCann hit a home run on July 22 in Orem, Utah for the Orem Owlz. It wasn’t big news for the Owlz, who last made headlines for their ill-fated “Caucasian Heritage Night” promotion in 2015, which was mercifully canceled before it happened, when a social media firestorm erupted after it was announced.
But it was big news for McCann.
Although he led the NEC in batting average (.379), hits (69) and stolen bases (25), McCann never hit a home run for the Knights. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, though. He never hit one in high school, either.
“I wasn’t surprised because when I hit it I knew I hit it pretty good,” McCann said. “I was excited and I think that’s why I ended up running around the bases faster than most guys do on a homer. I never hit one at FDU and my teammates always gave me a hard time about it, but I’m a pro now, and I got one. So that homer was for them.”
Although Knights Baseball Coach Gary Puccio was surprised by the home run, he isn’t surprised by McCann’s success.
“I was a Matt McCann believer from the moment he set foot on this team,” Puccio said.
McCann was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft on June 14, when he was selected in the 25th round as the 745th overall pick. He is the first FDU baseball player to be drafted since 2004, and only one of two players in the Northeast Conference to be chosen this year, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications Bryan Jackson.
Puccio attributes McCann’s success to his desire to be great.
“He put in the work,” Puccio said. “He has a great work ethic and is one of the most hardest working athletes I’ve seen.”
McCann stood out from the beginning of his career with the Knights. As a freshman in 2014, he hit .281, scored 13 runs, and led the team in stolen bases with 12. McCann’s early success earned him a spot on the New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association Division I all- rookie team.
But even then, he wasn’t without his critics.
“People complain about his weight,” Puccio said. “He’s not a big guy, but if you can steal bases and get the job done it really doesn’t matter.”
McCann said the Knights have a saying about stealing bases.
“Slow feet don’t eat,” McCann said.
McCann continued to bat, run, and steal his way through the record books. He again led the team as a sophomore in runs scored and bases stolen with 39 and 14 respectively. McCann’s batting average also went up to .300 in 2015, another team high as the starting shortstop.
He amassed 48 hits in 160 at bats and walked 18 times that year.
McCann’s winning ways extend beyond the diamond.
“He is first class,” Puccio said. “He is a great student- athlete and he is respected by his peers. There’s nothing not to like about him.”
McCann stole 54 bases in his junior year, and in his senior year he was named Most Valuable Player and team captain of the Knights. He had a perfect season and started in all 46 games, while leading the team in runs scored with 41. His strong senior performance concluded his college career with 639 at bats, eighth most in FDU history. McCann is the all-time stolen base leader with 78 and holds a .332 batting average across his four seasons, 15th in school history. He was honored with the George Braun Alumni Leadership Award at the school’s annual athletic banquet shortly before being drafted by the Angels.
Assistant Baseball Coach Justin McKay also recognizes McCann’s invaluable work ethic.
“He just has things that you can’t teach,” McKay said. “He doesn’t stop working.”
McCann’s journey to professional baseball wasn’t all smooth sailing, though.
“He was leading the country in stolen bases two years ago before he got a concussion that kept him out for 14 games,” McKay said.
“Who knows where he would have ended up, but he never stopped. He was a crazy good leader and he made the rest of the team better.”
Professional teams had their sights on McCann early on, in part for his quickness.
“At the Dodgers workout he had the fastest 60-yard dash time in the whole workout,” Mckay said.
McCann failed to disappoint when he made his professional debut back in July, but says it took some time.
“The transition was exciting,” McCann said. “It was something I’ve waited a long time for, but being a pro has been challenging. While adjusting to the much higher level of play, the main hurdle many first year minor leaguers need to overcome is how to handle the various ups and downs you endure over the course of a season.”
It didn’t take too long for McCann. He started in the minors playing in the Rookie League and had stints in higher divisions. His most recent appearance was made in the AA division, when he played for the Mobile Baybears, an Angels affiliate.
McCann had to make tough decisions in order to be where he is today.
“Honestly, I think I sacrificed a lot of what people consider a ‘regular college experience,’” McCann said. “I put a lot of time into improving my game and it was definitely worth it.”
Coach Puccio sees a bright future for the young man he calls “the best shortstop I ever coached.”
“He has a promising professional career ahead of him,” Puccio said, “and I have no doubt that he will go far in his future.”