Discipline, Heart Separates Szczur from Pack

Matt Szczur was a model for plate discipline this past season at Villanova. The right-handed batting outfielder led the Wildcats in eight offensive categories and batted .443 in 39 games. He struck out just nine times in 174 at-bats.

A two-sport athlete, Szczur (pronounced ‘See-zur') was an FCS Associated Press All-American in football, playing wide receiver, running back and kick returner. He was instrumental in helping the Wildcats to the 2009 FCS Championship, catching 51 passes for 610 yards (12 yards average) and four touchdowns last season, and rushing for 813 net yards on 108 carries (7.5 yards average).

In the FCS championship game against Montana, Szczur ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He also caught four passes for 68 yards.

But on the baseball field, Szczur's limited number of strikeouts relative to his amount of games and at-bats were among many attributes that caught the eye of the Cubs, who last week selected him in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB Draft.

"He is an 80 runner and has excellent hand-eye coordination," Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken said of Szczur. "If we're fortunate enough to sign him, we'll start him right away in (Low-A) Boise I would think. This is a very fun situation to watch."

Szczur said he was ecstatic when he learned he'd been drafted by Chicago.

"We still have to go through some (contract) negotiations, but other than that I am ready to get started," he said.

Szczur still has a year of college eligibility left in football. He said he hasn't had much contact with NFL scouts.

"They knew I wanted to play baseball," Szczur said.

Szczur became Villanova's first .400-plus hitter in 13 years this past season. He describes himself as a slap hitter with good hand-eye coordination that puts the ball in play.

Speed is one of his most dangerous weapons. While he stole only 10 of 15 bases, Szczur was ranked as the second fastest runner among all college position players by Baseball America prior to the draft.

"I still have things to work on, but I think speed does help me get singles and doubles," said Szczur, who wrapped up his sophomore season with four home runs, 12 doubles, seven triples and 38 RBI – all team high's. "I'm kind of a raw athlete, and a lot of singles, I turned into doubles."

Szczur credited a change in his approach for his success at the plate.

"I was able to drive the ball better this year because instead of hitting on my front foot, I stayed back on the ball and tried to drive it a little more," he said.

"He's a line drive hitter who might develop more power as he gets more at-bats," added Wilken. "He's probably got 500 to 1,000 less at-bats than any amateur you know. He has great make-up."

In spite of his numbers and projection, what Szczur might be most known for is something he did away the baseball and football fields.

Just days before his team was to play for the FCS championship in December, Szczur made the decision to donate blood cells to a 15-year-old girl with leukemia.

He would have been forced to miss the championship game against Montana, if not for the operation being pushed back till after January 1. Szczur ended up missing time away from the baseball field instead.

It was an act of kindness that garnered national attention. Mike Lupica, the famed sports writer for the New York Daily News, wrote a column on Szczur's heroics. Reports of Szczur's good will were also written about in newspapers across the country, the New York Times included.

And that good will caught the eye of the Cubs.

"He made the donation, went through the procedure, and three weeks later, he's got one more series left and goes 9-for-15 and hits a homer his first at-bat back after three weeks of donating bone marrow to a 19-month-old gal. That's skill-making," said Wilken.

Szczur said it was never a difficult decision.

"It was just the right thing to do and it gives her a chance to live, and her family hope," Szczur said. "I wouldn't believe it if someone denied a request like that.

"Coach (Andy) Talley has run something for 10 years, a bone marrow program, and they got in touch with me. I first got called on during football season and it was during the playoffs. I told the coaches that no matter what I was going to help this girl out. They weren't mad at me or anything. They knew from the start that I was going to do that because that's just the type of person I am."

Privacy laws have kept Szczur from getting in touch with the girl after the procedure, he said. But it's something Szczur, the girl and her family, and the Cubs won't soon forget.

"Being such a great athlete and a great human being to boot, that's not a bad combo," said Wilken.

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