Freshman walk-on pitcher Matt Leon arrived at Seton Hall University this year without an athletic scholarship, but instead a recommendation from a former walk-on and SHU baseball standout.
From Bethlehem, Pa., Leon played for Liberty High School where his high school career included a pair of no-hitters and an impressive senior season recording a 1.55 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 54 innings to cap off his high school career.
As a senior, he served as captain and looking to extend his baseball career he got a recommendation from a former walk-on and Liberty High captain in Scott Kalamar.
Kalamar walked onto SHU baseball’s program in 2010, seeing 51 at bats and 10 hits as a freshman all while being named a Big East Academic All-Star. The outfielder record over 120 hits in his collegiate career and repeat honors as an academic all-star each of his following three seasons. His recommendation to head coach Rob Sheppard and pitching coach Phil Cundari wasn’t taken lightly.
Kalamar, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks system shares a similar path to Leon in terms of how both have got here.
“Matt is very similar to Scott in that they’ve earned everything they’ve gotten,” head coach Rob Sheppard said. “They really worked hard and they weren’t guaranteed anything coming here.”
Since making the team, Leon has made nine appearances for the Hall pitching 17.1 innings, getting his first opportunity early on coming in relief Anthony Elia in the opening series in North Carolina, going four innings allowing two hits and a run, striking out two.
“He was just thrown into the fire that first weekend,” pitching coach Phil Cundari said. “He pitched really well for someone coming out of the bullpen for the very first time and I think that did quite a bit for his confidence.”
Leon has helped headline a pitching staff that is filled with freshman and underclassmen talent. Cundari said Leon has helped do his part coming in multiple roles including stints as a spot starter and relief pitcher.
“He’s done a little bit of everything and that’s what’s impressive about him.”
For Leon, any role that helps the team is one, the freshman who, has worked hard to get to this level is willing to do.
“I’ll take any role I can get, just to try and help out,” Leon said.
Leon also has done a strong job fighting off any kind of intimidation one might have walking onto a program, especially one with the success of Seton Hall’s.
“When you’re first here, you don’t really know what to expect,” Leon said. “I just felt comfortable right off the bat. You feel like you can play here—once you prove it to yourself, you prove it to everyone.”
He has done his part helping not only prove he can play but getting accolades from his coaching staff that took a chance on him.
“One of the things that was impressive about Matt and going to see him pitch is that he was a competitor,” Cundari said. “They felt like he was really a fit for our program.”
That fit Cundari attributed to Leon’s work ethic on and off the field.
Sheppard too sees the fit and work ethic that has gotten the freshman to a regular role on the bump.
“Matt really worked his tail off to make the roster and since doing that he wasn’t content with just being on the roster, he really worked hard in becoming a guy that has been a good addition to our staff, a good addition to our team and our program,” Sheppard said. “That says a lot about his character and his makeup about a guy that has the drive and determination to have an impact.”
Leon’s message to anyone who wants to follow in his steps as a walk-on success story:
“If you really want to do something just work hard and put your mind to it,” Leon said. “It’s not as hard as you think if you just keep working hard.”