Antonelli everything the Padres hoped

EUGENE- Growing up, Matt Antonelli's athletic ability was not limited solely to baseball. In high school at St John's Prep in Peabody, Mass., he was named Player of the Year in both football and hockey. In fact, it wasn't until his sophomore year at St. John's that he decided to stick with baseball.

"Probably when I got to high school, probably in my sophomore year in high school, I figured baseball was my sport even though I did okay in the other sports. I thought baseball, long-term, would be my best shot," Antonelli explained about the decision to try and go professional in baseball over hockey or football.

The decision paid off for Antonelli as he wound up committing to Wake Forest and becoming a key component in its lineup.

As a Demon Deacon, Matt Antonelli was the team's sparkplug. He started every one of his team's 161 games during his three years in North Carolina. During that time he compiled a .324 batting average, hit 18 home runs, drove in 110 runs and scored 183. Those gaudy numbers caught the attention of Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development, and the San Diego Padres, who made him the 17th overall pick in the first round of this year's amateur draft.

"[He's a] very athletic third baseman, well above average runner, good instincts in the field, a good hitter with a great idea," Fuson said upon completion of the first day of the draft.

By being chosen seventeenth overall, Antonelli had already done something no other Wake Forest position player had managed to do in the school's distinguished history: Be selected in the first round.

"It's definitely pretty cool. There's been a lot of great players there. It's definitely a pretty good honor to be the first guy," Antonelli said of his high draft status.

The 2006 season was not the first time he was drafted however. The Los Angeles Dodgers chose him out of high school with their 19th round selection. Despite the fact that if he had chosen to sign with Los Angeles then he probably would be closer to the show than he is now, and he would playing in the same system as Nomar Garciaparra, his childhood hero, Antonelli has no regrets.

"No, definitely not. San Diego is a great place to play also, and I think it helped me out to go to school for three years."

During those three years, Antonelli also got to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League, something few college players get to experience. In 42 games with the CCL's Falmouth Commodores, Antonelli played shortstop and hit .280 with 42 hits, three doubles, two longballs, 13 RBI and nine stolen bases. Additionally, his 31 walks and three hit by pitches helped him compile a team-high .413 on-base percentage.

In between his sophomore and junior seasons, Antonelli added ten pounds of muscle to his then-185-pound frame. This may have been due in large part to the regimen of heavy lifting he does in the off-season to help him gain weight for the upcoming year.

"Usually in the off-season is when I lift my heavy weights, try to put on some strength and some extra muscle for the season ‘cause it's such a long year, you've got to work hard on in the off-season," Antonelli said.

Coming into his third and what would be his final year, Antonelli was bigger and stronger. And it showed.

That year, Antonelli notched career-highs in average, home runs, RBI and slugging percentage with marks of .333, 11, 38 and .529, respectively. He also added 18 doubles, two triples and 15 stolen bases in 2006.

A month after his Wake Forest season ended, Antonelli joined the Emeralds. At first, he was getting on base, but only by drawing walks. Hits, it seemed, were few and far between. Antonelli drew six walks in as many games, but only notched three hits during that 19-at-bat span. Despite the slow start, Antonelli didn't worry or try to change much in his approach at the plate.

"I hadn't played in a while. I took like a month off after my college season. So I was just getting back into things, and the speed of the game was a little faster. I was having a tough time recognizing pitches, but the more I played, the better I felt," Antonelli explained.

Now, nearly a month into his first professional season, Antonelli is thriving.

"Matt's been everything so far that we thought he'd be. He's showing off all his skills, as far as his legs, his arm, his athleticism and his patience, discipline and knowledge of the strike zone, and it's all showing up for him. He's getting his knocks, scoring runs. He's been a big contributor to the offense there," Fuson said in Salem before a game between the Emeralds and the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

In 21 games with the Emeralds, Antonelli is hitting an even .300 with three doubles, a triple, nine RBI and six stolen bases without being caught. Additionally, Antonelli has gotten the opportunity to do something he had never done before: play designated hitter. Of his 70 at-bats this season, 22 have come as a DH. As a designated hitter, Antonelli has gotten a chance to rest more during ballgames, a chance he has relished.

"I just rest pretty much…when you can get your rest, you've got to (take) it. So, it's nice to get a few days just to sit around and just concentrate on hitting," Antonelli said.

At designated hitter, Antonelli is hitting a whopping .455, as compared to a paltry .213 when he plays third base. At each position he has ten hits, but he has accomplished that feat in 25 fewer at-bats as a DH.

With his early struggles behind him, Antonelli has flourished. At the rate he is currently going, he may one day be able to watch Garciaparra, his childhood favorite, play the game. Only this time he won't be rooting for him to knock one off of the Green Monster, he'll be trying knock one past him into the lush green expanse that is right-field in San Diego's PETCO Park.

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