Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Seeing is believing for former Magruder High baseball star

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Maryland Redbirds outfielder Matt Boyd has never had a problem keeping his eye on the ball — for better or worse.

The 2005 Magruder graduate and current George Washington University rising junior had his college sophomore season derailed after a freak accident left his vision blurred for several weeks. But he has gotten back on track this summer in his second season with the Redbirds of the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League.

Not only has he played the centerfield position ‘‘as good as I’ve seen,” according to Redbirds manager Mark Russo, but Boyd has hit just a shade under .260 and stolen nine bases in 37 games, earning him a starting spot in the league’s All-Star Game Monday.

‘‘He’s started in center both years for us, and the way he tracks fly balls ... in my opinion, I have not seen one as good as Matt Boyd, defensively,” said Russo. ‘‘He’s a big kid but has great speed, range and an arm in the field, and he’s got a good bat for us, too. If he continues on this path I would rate him a pro prospect.”

Boyd’s size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and speed made him a natural on the diamond as well as the hardwood at Magruder, where he led the Colonels in rebounding during his senior season as a starting forward. But it was baseball where those gifts were most prevalent, and where he helped lead his school to division titles as a junior and senior.

His versatility as a fielder allowed Boyd to make himself a fixture in the George Washington lineup in 2006, his freshman year. He played all three outfield spots while appearing in all 33 games for the Colonials, while also converting on eight of nine stolen base attempts and registering a .647 on-base plus slugging percentage.

But adversity came calling this spring in the blink of an eye. During batting practice early in the season, Boyd was standing behind a net that a teammate was pounding with tennis balls from close range. One unfortunate swing sent a ball through the netting and squarely into Boyd’s face.

The blow sent him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with hythema, which occurs when a blood vessel pops in the iris. He was told not to do anything physical for at least three weeks, and missed the first seven games of the season. Boyd was affected even upon his return, hitting just .171 for the season while starting only six games, 16 fewer than in his freshman season.

But his steady performance in the Ripken League this summer seems to prove he’s healed 100 percent.

‘‘Oh yeah, I’m completely recovered, it’s not a problem anymore,” said Boyd. ‘‘You know, as a freshman, a lot of people aren’t expected to play, and I got a lot of experience. Then I got to play for the Redbirds last summer and I felt that this year would be the year. But obviously, I got hurt at the beginning and just had to dig myself out of a hole.”

Part of the explanation for his strong summer play is because it’s his second time around. After his senior year with Magruder, Boyd played on a Baltimore-area U-20 summer team called the Mile One Mustangs under the tutelage of manager Dave Schwartz, who is good friends with Russo.

Schwartz recommended the wooden-bat league to Boyd, who was stellar in the field last summer, but could never find a rhythm at the plate. But he has been one of the few bright spots for the last-place Redbirds (11-26) thus far in 2007, hitting 43 points better than the team’s .215 overall batting average.

‘‘Matt’s clearly one of our best guys in terms of production — because usually the transformation from metal to wood bats is severe,” said Russo. ‘‘Most of the time you’ll see dropoffs from 60 to 100 points, but Matt’s done well.”

Boyd could have his hands full winning the starting job back at GW, with all three everyday outfielders returning from last year. But Boyd is hungry to show he belongs in the lineup every day, and as his performance with the Redbirds has shown, he’s never looked better.

Not just because he can actually see.

‘‘Last year when I got to the Redbirds, I was trying to do a lot of different things with my swing to adjust,” Boyd said. ‘‘From college, it was in the transformation stage, and that just made things really tough. I think now I’m clearing my mind and just playing, and I’ve been fortunate. [I] absolutely think that this summer is going to be a springboard for a great upcoming season individually.”