By STEVE KRAH
The baseball career of Matt Pobereyko can’t be draw with a straight line.
The 6-foot-3 pitcher from Munster, Ind., has zigged and zagged his way and pursued opportunities at every turn.
“I’ve never been out in the greatest spots in the world,” says Pobereyko (pronounced Poe-Buh-Reek-Oh). “But I wouldn’t change the path that I’ve taken. It’s all been a learning experience.”
Pobereyko graduated from Hammond Bishop Noll Institute, where he did not crack the varsity lineup for then-Warriors coach Paul Wirtz until his junior season and graduated in 2010.
“P-Dub is awesome,” says Pobereyko of Wirtz. “He gave me a chance to pitch when somebody else went down. We are still friends. He coaches at Merrillville now we stay in touch.”
Pobereyko’s five-year college career started with two seasons for coach Steve Ruzich at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and three for coach Todd Lillpop at Kentucky Wesleyan College.
The righty is grateful for Lillpop.
“He was a great guy,” says Pobereyko. “He kept an offer on the table for me. He gave me every opportunity I could get. He gave me his all and I — in return — gave him my all on the field.”
In 2012, the pitcher underwent Tommy John arm surgery. He went 2-2 for KWC in 2013 then tossed just three innings in 2014.
Coming back strong in 2015, Pobereyko went 9-2 with a 1.84 earned run average and 104 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. He was the Panthers’ team MVP and an All-Great Midwest Athletic Conference first team selection and expected to get selected in that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
While waiting on the draft, he went to coach with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
A starting during the college regular season, it was in the summers of 2013 and 2014 with the Oilmen that Pobereyko was asked to be a late-inning relief pitcher.
He has been strictly a reliever in pro baseball.
Pitching from the stretch ever since his Tommy John surgery, Pobereyko says he’s always been max-effort guy whether he’s been a starter or a back end of the bullpen guy.
“I’m aggressive and that puts me into that role,” says Pobereyko, who is comfortable throwing a fastball, forkball or slider in any count. “(As a reliever), I’m able to put that little extra something on it and use a a little more adrenaline. That gives me a leg up being comfortable with it when not every hitter is comfortable with it.”
When the MLB call never came in 2015, the hurler went to the pay-to-play California Winter League for the first two months of 2016 and dominated, allowing just two earned runs (1.05 ERA) and fanning 17 in 13 1/3 innings. He drew the attention of Dennis Pelfrey, manager of the independent Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Freedom.
Pobereyko performed well enough in 20 games for Florence (1.33 ERA, 31 K’s in 20 1/3 innings) to be signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He took the mound at the Rookie, Low-A and High-A levels for a total of 15 games. After going 1-2 with three saves, seven games finished and whiffing 36 in 27 innings, he was released in October 2016.
Hooking on again with Pelfrey and Florence in 2017, Pobereyko showed well enough (1.00 ERA, 38 K’s in 18 innings) for the New York Mets to come calling and signed with that organization on June 22.
In 23 games and 34 1/3 innings with the Columbia Fireflies of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League, Pobereyko went 3-3 with a 3.15 ERA and racked up 53 strikeouts. He finished 11 games and recorded two saves. For less than a week, he was a teammate of Tim Tebow.
“I didn’t see any of the chaos and sold-out stadiums,” says Pobereyko. “He was just a regular guy in the locker room and the dugout.”
Pobereyko now finds himself among the best minor leaguers from each MLB organization in the Arizona Fall League.
So far, he has finished two games for the Scottsdale Scorpions and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA and four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.
He relishes the challenge of the AFL.
“I’m being put to a little bit of a test,” says Pobereyko. “This forces you to make your pitches a little sharper. It shows me what I need to do to compete at a higher level.
“I’m just very thankful for the opportunity (the Mets) gave me. They’ve really put the ball in my hands for my career to show what I can do.”
When the AFL wraps play in November, he sees himself coming back to northwest Indiana to work, train and give baseball lessons. The past few years, he’s done that at Morris Baseball and Softball Center (owned by Munster graduate and former pro Bobby Morris) and Triple Crown Baseball & Softball Academy (ran by former big leaguer Brent Bowers) — both in Schererville.
But Pobereyko, who turns 26 on Christmas Eve, is not looking too far down the road right now.
“Thinking where I’m going to be in the future is an additional stresser,” says Pobereyko. “I want to be in the now.”
Matt is not the only member of his family firing baseballs the past several seasons.
Younger brother Danny Pobereyko pitched at Noll and finished a four-year mound career at Butler University in 2017, twirling all but six of 60 appearances in relief. The 6-foot-5 right-hander played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2015.
A knee injury made Danny decided to end his playing career. He is now teaching and working on his master’s degree at Northern Michigan University. A Creative Writing major at Butler, he is also working on a baseball-themed novel.
Matt Pobereyko, a 2010 Hammond Noll Institute, delivers a pitch for the Scottsdale Scorpions on the 2017 Arizona Fall League. He is a member of the New York Mets organization. (27 Outs Baseball Photo)
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