Matt Pushard began dreaming about pitching in the Major Leagues at a very early age.
He began the journey on Thursday.
The University of Maine relief pitcher from Brewer flew to Jupiter, Florida, to join the Miami Marlins organization after he agreed to a free agent contract with the National League team. Pushard is coming off a season in which he earned All-America East second team honors with 44 strikeouts and a league-leading nine saves in 30 innings.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” said the 24-year-old Pushard. “It’s a dream come true.”
Pushard didn’t know the specifics of his contract or where the Marlins intend to send him but he isn’t concerned.
He just wants to pitch.
“My arm feels great. Better than ever,” said the hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 250-pound Pushard. He has been throwing to UMaine catcher Colby Emmertz on campus in anticipation of landing a professional contract.
Last season at UMaine, Pushard allowed 34 hits and was 3-1 with a 6.00 earned-run average but he compiled a 2.38 ERA over his last 10 outings spanning 11 ⅓ innings.
Pushard regularly hit 94-97 mph with his fastball, but UMaine head coach Nick Derba said the key for Pushard to climb the ladder in pro baseball will be his curveball.
“His chances revolve around his breaking pitch, to be honest,” said Derba, a former AAA catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
“It can be a real good pitch but he was inconsistent with it. He needs to develop it a little more,” Derba said.
“It has to become a plus-breaking ball that he can throw in the [strike] zone. A 94 mph fastball is a very hittable pitch when you don’t have a secondary pitch.”
Pushard agreed with Derba’s assessment but said that he’s confident in his abilities.
“I know my stuff is good enough and that I can compete every day. I’ll be able to throw my curve for strikes.”
He said having success in the prestigious Cape Cod League, where he didn’t allow a run and struck out 11 in four appearances spanning 8 ⅔ innings with Harwich a year ago, was beneficial.
“It was the first time I got a real taste of how good I could be,” Pushard said. “I was competing against the best players in the country. It was a great organization and I had great coaches.”
One of the things Pushard will have in his favor is that pitchers who move on to pro baseball have a tendency to add velocity to their fastball, Derba said. With his frame, Derba predicted Pushard could throw 100 mph.
“If he is able to consistently throw 96-98 [mph] with a good breaking ball, he’ll be a guy who will be on TV,” Derba said.
Pushard was plagued by injury issues early at UMaine but was able to string together two solid back-to-back campaigns to close out his career.
In 2021, he posted a 3.78 ERA with 38 strikeouts and just seven walks over 33 ⅓ innings.
He only served up three home run balls over his final two campaigns covering 63 ⅓ innings.
Pushard has four other former UMaine teammates who are pitching in the minor leagues.
Moscow native and former Valley High of Bingham star Cody Laweryson was called up from Class A Cedar Rapids to AA Wichita and, between the two Minnesota Twins affiliates, he is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA this season. He has struck out 55 and walked 17 in 48 ⅔ innings and has surrendered just one homer.
He was a 14th round pick of the Twins.
San Francisco Giants seventh round pick Nick Sinacola is 5-5 with a 3.07 ERA for the San Jose Giants in Class A ball with 80 strikeouts in 67 ⅓ innings. He has allowed only two earned runs in three appearances spanning 17 innings in July with 17 strikeouts and no walks.
Bangor’s Justin Courtney is 4-3 with a 3.90 ERA and five saves in six opportunities for the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, who are affiliated with the New York Mets. His string of 10 straight appearances without allowing an earned run was snapped on July 14.
Former Hampden Academy standout Alex McKenney is 2-0 with a 5.23 ERA between two Class A teams in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.