LAKE STEVENS – The dominance seemingly came out of nowhere.
Matt Fields of Lake Stevens was a decent enough high school pitcher in 2003. In 2004, he owned virtually every opponent, overmatching batters with a fastball that suddenly had people digging for their radar guns.
“The last few years, I wasn’t an overpowering pitcher,” said Fields, a senior who has been named The Herald’s 2004 All-Area Player of the Year. “I just kind of went in and got the job done. This year I started striking people out. I don’t know where it came from.”
The source may not be known – working with pitching specialist Jose Rijo helped, he said – but the results were clear. Fields struck out 86 batters in 61 innings, compiled an 8-1 record and a 1.55 earned-run average. He hit 91 miles per hour on the radar gun and was consistently in the high 80s.
But, wait, that’s not all.
While many top pitchers sit in the dugout as observers when it’s not their turn on the mound, Fields plays shortstop. He committed just three errors all season while playing the most demanding defensive position on the field. He also carried a big stick while hitting second in the lineup. Fields batted .391 with six doubles and an on-base percentage of .512. He scored 28 runs and stole seven bases in 25 games.
“He’s pretty much the total package,” Lake Stevens coach Rodger Anderson said. “He’s just very, very consistent.”
Though Fields could blow people away with his fastball, he used an arsenal of four pitches to bury batters. His best pitch may be a splitter that Anderson said “drops right off the table.” Fields also can throw a curveball or a changeup and put them where he wants them.
“It’s pretty unusual to see a high school pitcher who can throw four pitches for strikes,” Anderson said.
Though quiet by nature, Fields was the unquestioned leader on a team that came within a victory of reaching the Class 4A state regional playoffs. Fields admits that final loss still burns him. He wanted to be on the mound during what turned out to be a season-ending loss to Edmonds-Woodway, but his coach knew his player’s arm would pretty much fall off onto the field.
“I thought about putting him out there for a little bit,” Anderson said. “But, I knew if I put him in the game, there was no way I’d be able to get him to come out.”
Fields’ lone loss – to Jackson in the first round of the district playoffs – was an example of how difficult it can be to coax Fields off the mound. He pitched with a blister on his hand – a condition that often causes major league pitchers to miss starts. The blister popped at some point during the game. He threw pitch after pitch, until his uniform pants became striped with smeared blood during a 5-2 loss in which he gutted through all seven innings. He beat Kamiak 3-2 four days later to keep the Vikings on track. Despite a sore arm, he started two games at shortstop three days after the Kamiak game, feeling somewhat helpless as the Vikings fell to Edmonds-Woodway.
“It was tough,” said Fields, who will pitch for Gonzaga next season. “But, it probably was best for my arm.”
Fields shut out a powerful Marysville-Pilchuck team on May 3, the only time in 2004 M-P did not score a run.
Despite his ability to do just about anything the team needed, Anderson said success has never gone to his pitcher’s head. Fields sat in on the interviews when the Vikings were looking for a freshman coach. And when there was a problem with a player during the season, Anderson turned to Fields to talk to him.
“If I had a daughter,” Anderson said. “I’d want her to go out with someone like that.”