BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — It’s tough to tell when seeing — and hearing — Matt Toy in action that he’s in his rookie season as catcher for the Niskayuna varsity baseball team: The sophomore has become a stalwart for the Silver Warriors behind the plate, and not just because of his defensive ability.
“I always believe that catchers need to be tough kids and be leaders,” said Niskayuna head coach John Furey. “That’s what Matt gives you.”
“Even as a sophomore and a first-year player, you can see he has the qualities you want in a leader,” said Niskayuna senior center fielder Garrett Whitley. “He gets on guys’ backs when he needs to, but he’s also there to talk to everyone and give encouragement.”
The traits that make Toy a leader for Niskayuna were on display April 15 in the team’s 10-5 loss to Guilderland. That defeat followed a 17-3 loss for the Silver Warriors to Saratoga Springs and Toy caught every one of the long innings in those two games — yet, his enthusiasm never waned in the second of those two games.
Working with rookie varsity starting pitcher Alec Ritzenthaler, a freshman, the words of encouragement flowed constantly from Toy’s mouth against Guilderland. After a four-run first inning, Toy showed his value to the Silver Warriors when he helped Ritzenthaler get through a second inning before things could spiral out of control.
After starting the second inning with back-to-back outs, Ritzenthaler hit a batter.
“You’re good, you’re good,” was Toy’s message to Ritzenthaler before the next batter.
After a fielding error and a walk loaded the bases, Toy was ready with more vocal support for his battery mate.
“Hey, let’s get the one that matters,” he shouted.
After a Guilderland batter walked to force in a run, Ritzenthaler’s shoulders slumped — and Toy’s mouth quickly opened.
“No big deal,” Toy called out to Ritzenthaler. “Let’s get out of this.”
A fly ball to center field was next, ending the inning with the damage standing at one unearned run. As the Niskayuna players trudged off the field, Toy ran up to Ritzenthaler and threw his arm around him.
“Hey — good job, good job,” Toy told him. “You’re doing well out there.”
That inning was Ritzenthaler’s last for the day, leaving him with two innings pitched and five runs allowed, four earned. During the bumpy moments of his first varsity start, Ritzenthaler said it was a relief to be throwing to Toy.
“It helped a lot having Matt back there for me,” said Ritzenthaler. “I’m used to having him back there and he’s always very encouraging.”
Toy said remaining optimistic is part of his job description as a catcher. “You’re just trying to make them feel confident, calm them down,” he said.
Against Guilderland, Toy hit in the No. 9 spot in the batting order. He went 1-for-4 against the Dutchmen, but offensive output is not what Niskayuna needs from the sophomore. Toy’s job is to steady the team’s pitchers and help the squad develop a staff.
Furey said the club’s coaches recognized Toy as a leader during early-season practices. Seeing Toy translate his leadership skills from the preseason to the game field has been one of the bright spots early in Niskayuna’s 2015 campaign.
“It’s a real positive thing for us,” said Furey. “It’s a great thing to have a young kid like that.”